Will we soon replace the word “apple” with the phrase “cup of tea” in the old adage advising us how best to remain healthy and avoid doctor visits? According to a variety of researchers that include the unconventional Institute for Cancer Prevention and the traditional Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, it should.
The natural antioxidant properties of tea—said to be ten times the amount found in fruits and vegetables—are believed to help protect against a variety of cancer types, heart disease, diabetes mellitus and even the development of Parkinson’s Disease.
According to organic tea experts, all the different varieties of tea actually refer to the varying methods by which leaves from the plant Camellia sinensis are processed and stored. As dissimilar as the different tea types taste—Black Tea, Oolong Tea, Green Tea, White Tea and the aged and less common Pu-erh Tea—all come from the same plant. As with wines, different regions, climates, altitudes and soil types can lead to subtle changes in flavor.
Despite these taste differences, all of these tea types have similar health benefits due to the large amount of antioxidants they contain, including polyphenols and flavonoids (such as the subtypes thearubigins, epicatechins, and catechins found only in tea and epigallocatechin gallate found in green tea). All antioxidant nutrients provide protection against free radicals, DNA-damage and residual chemicals secondary to the metabolic process by search-and-destroy missions through which cellular damage is minimized.
Among the diseases said to be minimized by tea’s effect against free radicals are cancers and the precursors to heart disease, atherosclerosis, lower cholesterol and blood clot formation. Cancers that have been studied in association with tea intake—such as bladder and skin cancer, and varied tumors—behave differently with a slower growth response and a measurable difficulty in reproducing.
Other studies seem to point to a promising relationship between green and black tea ingestion and weight loss. Study participants demonstrated higher metabolic rates, greater weight loss and specifically, more fat loss.
Health benefits associated with tea that are as yet unexplained include a reported protection against Parkinson’s disease, a delayed onset of diabetes mellitus, a decreased incidence of osteoporosis, and improved bone health. Enhanced oral health is also associated with drinking tea as demonstrated by a decreased incidence of cavities and complaints of bad breath.
Reading the Tea Leaves?
John Weisburger, PhD, senior researcher at the Institute for Cancer Prevention, suggests that skeptics give tea a chance. In fact, he suggests drinking tea as opposed to water because the latter doesn’t contain the protective polyphenol antioxidants that tea does. Dr. Weisburger recommends drinking six to 10 cups of black or green tea throughout the day, starting with breakfast and switching to decaf tea around noon, if needed, as flavonoids are unchanged by the decaffeination process.
Perhaps our timeworn adage of “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” will fade into oblivion as research continues to underscore the dramatic health benefits of tea. With the varieties of flavor and preparation, one can hardly claim to become bored with the taste and varieties are available appropriate to both the cold of winter and the heat of summer. Perhaps, as Dr. Weisburger suggests, drinking tea can actually be considered healthier than drinking water, and just as hydrating to the body when decaffeinated varieties are used, so drink up!
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Guest Post by: Matt Herndon
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