Tea might be gaining “ground” over coffee. Teas have some compelling health benefits. You’ve probably heard of antioxidants like lycopene in tomatoes or beta-carotene in orange vegetables, and even the rich antioxidants in red and purple fruits. But did you know that oolong, white, black, green and pu-erh teas contain 10 times the amount of antioxidants than veggies and fruits?
These teas all come from the same plant, Camellia sinensis, and the leaves are processed differently to make different teas. Black and oolong teas are crushed and fermented, while green teas are withered and steamed, but not fermented. Pu-erh tea is a black tea that is fermented, aged and pressed into cakes. The more processing, the fewer antioxidants, and as such, green teas have more of the powerful antioxidants like flavonoids and polyphenols, but the other teas still pack an antioxidant punch.
Tea contains naturally occurring compounds called antioxidants that serve to protect cells from free radical damage. Free radicals are unattached, circulating oxygen molecules that attack cells. Rusting metal and apples that turn brown after being cut are both examples of oxidative damage; the same effects occur to your cells.
Every part of the cell—the proteins, DNA and membrane—is damaged by free radicals, leading to eventual cell death. Free radicals can’t be prevented; when your body uses oxygen, they are naturally created from this process. The only way to reduce them is to always have a plentiful supply of antioxidants that can slow down cellular damage. The free radicals naturally bind to antioxidants, thus rendering the harmful free-floating oxygen molecules as harmless.
Compounds in tea actually detoxify harmful chemicals. The polyphenols actually activate enzymes in the body that work to detoxify cells and tissues.
Green and black teas can have powerful effects on inflammation. In a study of different extracts of teas and their effects on stopping protein breakdown (denaturation), both green and black tea leaves possessed a marked anti-inflammatory effect. Green tea was more active, likely because it contains more flavonoids. Because of the dramatic effect on reducing inflammation, teas are associated with anti-aging, since regular tea drinkers exhibit healthier cells and a younger biological age that non-tea drinkers.
Roughly 20 percent of the body’s total intake of oxygen is used by the brain. This is why brain cells are particularly susceptible to free radicals. Tea is a great way to get rid of them. All teas have caffeine as well as theanine, which increases mental alertness. Tea can definitely boost brain health. A study of elderly adults who had a daily consumption of two or more cups of green tea had less age-related memory loss. Green teas have even been shown to have a positive effect on the neurons that produce dopamine, and show promise as a way to counteract the neurodegenerative effects of diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Several studies have correlated osteoporosis with tea consumption. A review of research through 2016 revealed 14 studies on nearly 140,000 patients. Seven of the studies showed that bone mineral density (BMD) increased in tea drinkers. In another study, the researchers concluded that the bioactive compounds in green teas have a protective effect on cells that make new bone (osteblasts) and slow the rate at which bone loss occurs by suppressing activity in the cells that break bone down (osteoclasts).
Teas, especially green tea, contain a very potent antioxidant called epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). Oxidative damage is particularly known to contribute to cancers. Studies have shown that EGCG definitely interferes with cancer cell growth and the cell’s ability to develop blood vessels (called angiogenesis), particularly in breast, stomach, bladder and colorectal cancers. Mechanisms are not completely understood, but EGCG is being widely studied in clinical trials. White teas are uncured and unfermented and may have the most potent cancer fighting properties of all the teas.
EGCG also plays a role in prevention of heart disease, along with other tea compounds like polyphenols, and black tea’s theaflavins and thearubigins. These compounds reduce oxidation of LDL or “bad” cholesterol and have been shown to reduce hardening in the blood vessels.
Certain intestinal bacteria are altered by the polyphenols in tea, meaning that beneficial bacteria flourish while undesirable bacteria are halted in their tracks.
In conclusion, there really doesn’t seem to be a downside to teas. Black tea has the most caffeine, but all teas have less caffeine than coffee, which packs 95-200 mg of caffeine into an eight-ounce cup. By comparison, black tea has 14-70 mg of caffeine, with green tea coming in at 24-45 mg per cup.
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