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Is Tea the Magic Elixir for Health?

Is tea the second-most popular beverage in the world (after water) because it’s the cheapest? Or because it’s available in so many varieties? Or because tea drinkers instinctively know the many health benefits it provides?

Our primary care doctors in Delray Beach think it’s probably a combination of all these factors. But of course, we’re mainly concerned with your health, so we want to bring you up to date on the latest research on this soothing beverage.

Longer life?

The newest study, published last month in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, found that drinking two or more cups of black tea daily resulted in a 9-13 percent lower risk of death from any cause, versus those who never drink tea.

The observational study reviewed the records of nearly 500,000 men and women ages 40 to 60 who are enrolled in the UK Biobank, which tracks their health and genetic information. Participants provided information about how often they drank tea from 2006 to 2010 and what, if anything, they added to it.

Ten years later, researchers followed up with the individuals and found that those who reported higher tea intake were less likely to have died from such causes as cardiovascular disease (CVD), ischemic heart disease, and stroke.

They adjusted their conclusions to account for other risk factors such as health, socioeconomics, diet, age, race, gender, smoking, and alcohol intake. Adding milk or sugar, or drinking the tea hot or cold didn’t affect the outcome.

Some observers reacted cautiously to the results. In an email to CNN, Howard Sesso, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and associate epidemiologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, was somewhat skeptical.

“The authors tried to control for other dietary factors, but tea drinkers typically differ from non-tea drinkers in other ways that would likely weaken these findings,” he said.

“We really need more randomized clinical trials testing tea intake,” he added.

Extensive research

Yet multiple studies have shown beneficial results from drinking any type of traditional tea: white, green, black, oolong, or matcha.

For example, according to a peer-reviewed study published in 2020 in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, researchers found that drinking tea regularly may help you live longer.

“Habitual tea consumption is associated with lower risks of cardiovascular disease and all-cause death,” lead author Dr. Xinyan Wang of the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences in Beijing, said in a statement.

Black tea has long been known for its numerous health benefits. One 2019 study found that it could help control diabetes by inhibiting glucose in the blood, which may help in the management of diabetes.

And a 2021 study from the University of California showed that compounds in both green and black tea relax blood vessels, which is why the beverage has been known for years to lower blood pressure.

And cancer, too

Other research has shown that tea can help inhibit free radicals, substances that can trigger cancer and rheumatoid arthritis.

In one 2014 paper published in the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) National Library of Medicine (PubMed), the authors flatly state that “The evidence supporting the health benefits of tea drinking grows stronger with each new study that is published in the scientific literature.” 

This includes extensive studies demonstrating the beneficial effects in preventing CVD, including atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and coronary heart disease.

As for cancer prevention, they add that “Currently there are 1,000 scientific publications in the scientific literature found on PubMed documenting [the] cancer-preventive ability of tea,” including skin cancer, prostate cancer, lung cancer, and breast cancer, based on cell-culture, animal, and human studies.

Other studies have found that green tea possibly helps prevent prostate and colorectal cancers.

What’s the secret?

So how does tea work its magic?

“Tea is rich in flavonoids, a natural, plant-derived antioxidant that has been shown to reduce inflammation and improve heart and vascular health,” Dr. Benjamin Hirsh, director of preventive cardiology at Northwell Health’s Sandra Atlas Bass Heart Hospital in Manhasset, New York, told USA Today.

Herbal teas, by the way, which confer many health benefits on their own, are not the same as those teas derived from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant, which was used in these studies:

  • White tea is made with young Camellia sinensis tea buds and contains the least amount of caffeine.
  • Oolong tea is processed between the green and black stages.
  • Green tea is processed so that the leaves retain their color. It contains the most flavonoids of any version of Camellia sinensis tea except matcha.
  • Black tea is produced from crushed Camellia sinensis leaves that have been fermented to produce a darker color and flavor. 
  • Matcha is a fine green tea powder made from the entire leaves of the Camellia sinensis bush grown in the shade. It is highest in flavonoids because it contains the whole leaf. It also has the highest concentration of caffeine.

So if you’re looking for a relaxing beverage that also confers numerous health benefits, we recommend tea, with one caveat: Its caffeine content can possibly produce side effects such as headaches and irregular heartbeat if you’re sensitive to it. So be careful not to drink too much, defined as more than eight cups a day.

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