The healing power of tea was first discovered more than 4,000 years ago when the emperor of China, Shennong, claimed in The Divine Farmer’s Herb-Root Classic that certain tea infusions were useful for treating a variety of health conditions, including abscesses, bladder problems and lethargy. According to modern science and recent research, the emperor may have been on to something. Teas contain high concentrations of a variety of nutrients we know to have health boosting properties. Read on to discover the science behind Shennong’s observations.
One of the principal reasons tea is considered to be such a healthy beverage is because it contains high concentrations of catechins, a type of potent antioxidant. In a tea leaf picked freshly off the plant, up to 30 percent of the dry weight can be composed of catechins. Not all teas are equal, however; white and green teas contain more catechins than do oolong and black teas. On the other hand, oolong and black teas contain more theaflavins.
The health benefits of catechins have been studied extensively in humans and in animals. These are the same nutrients responsible for the health-boosting properties of red wine and dark chocolate. Of the many benefits of catechin-containing teas, one of the greatest may be the nutrients’ role in healthy ageing. Research studying mice found that consuming ample amounts of catechins and engaging in regular physical activity delayed some forms of ageing in mice as well as reduced oxidative stress in mitochondria, the primary energy-producing component of every cell in our bodies.
Because different teas contain different amounts of various nutrients, they can produce a variety of different results. If you are in need of a warm beverage to help ward off the chilly night air and help you relax before bed, black tea has been shown to affect a specific stress hormone and help one recover from life’s stresses (though you may want to choose a decaffeinated form if you are not a heavy caffeine user).
Further scientific evidence of the health benefits of tea comes from clinical trials done at the University of Geneva in Switzerland. In this particular study, researchers discovered a positive relationship between green tea and metabolism. Green tea seems to help stoke your metabolic fire, which helps increase the rate at which your body burns fat and calories. Yet another study, published by the Imperial College of London, found teas containing theobromine, a diuretic and stimulant, to be particularly effective at reducing coughs (even more effective than is codeine, according to the study).
One more component of tea that many people look for is caffeine. Though amounts can vary greatly depending on brewing methods, freshness, species and drink additives, tea is generally one of the healthiest sources of caffeine available. This is one of the reasons that hot and cold teas are popular beverages around the world. Many people turn to tea to help support a modern lifestyle that causes them to try to wake up early and stay active later into the night. Caffeine is a natural stimulant. It affects the nervous system by increasing coordination, energy and awareness. There is even evidence that caffeine can temporarily boost memory function. And the benefits don’t stop there. Countless other studies on tea and its nutritional content have shown that caffeinated teas can also lower the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
There is much evidence that tea can be a healthy boost to nearly any diet, but tea drinkers need to read labels closely. There are many herbal “teas” on the market that are not actually teas at all. They are actually herbal infusions more properly called tisanes. While these drinks can be delicious and relaxing and possibly supply other types of health benefits, they do not contain the same health-boosting nutritional content as actual tea (Camellia sinensis). So always read labels carefully, especially when looking at teas described as “herbal infusions.”
No matter why you choose to drink tea, always drink it freshly brewed. As time passes, tea can lose some of its nutritional content. So if you drink it throughout the day, brew several small batches rather than one large one in the morning. This will help ensure optimum freshness, taste and nutritional content.
From traditional Chinese medicine that used tea to treat a wide variety of ailments, such as peripheral vascular disease and coronary artery disease, to modern research that is continually discovering new ways that tea affects our bodies on a cellular level, it does appear that many teas possess potent healing powers. Ongoing research continues to find new ways tea may be good for our bodies. So the next time you are trying to decide what to drink with your snack or meal, try brewing a cup of one of nature’s healthiest beverages.