Everyday, around six o’clock, tea and cookies are served at my house. My grandma will steep a pot of black tea and set out an array of cakes, biscuits, toast and jams. My family will gather around the breakfast table in the library and relax, pouring ourselves cups of the delicious black liquid, leaning back and recounting the events of the day, nibbling on delicacies and letting stress and aggravation sluice from our minds and shoulders. Tea time, it’s called, and that sets most of my American friends to sniggering. But I just smile serenely, knowing that the particular joys of a hot mug wafting steam into the air is one to be savored quietly, and requires no proselytization. However, exciting news! Tea has begun to accrue a wide array of scientifically researched benefits, and soon my American friends may be tucking into Queen Victoria Sponge Cake and cups of Earl Gray with gusto.
Before I dive into the multifarious benefits of a good cuppa, let’s review what we’re talking about here. First, we’re talking about the kind of tea infused from the Camellia sinensis plant, not the thousand varieties of (admittedly scrumptious) herbal teas that now abound. Furthermore, there are three kinds of tea, though all are derived from Camellia sinensis: white, oolong, and black tea. The difference stems from how they are processed (fermented), and how much oxidation is allowed to take place. It’s the amount of oxidation that determines the color and type of enzymes and flavonoids present.
What are flavonoids, I hear you cry? They’re a kind of polyphenolic compounds with a wide array of potential health benefits. They’ve been associated in animal studies with inhibiting the growth of cancer, retarding aging, preventing cardiovascular disease and more. However, no conclusive tests have been run on humans, and thus their benefits are not yet 100% solid. However! Research is still underway, and more promising results may yet be forthcoming. Either way, flavonoids have a whole bunch of people excited, so keep an ear open for more news as it comes.
Of course, tea also is high in caffeine, with some people even claiming that a mug of black tea has more caffeine than coffee. To this we say: hogwash! According to the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University, black tea has about 177-303 mg of caffeine/liter, while coffee has 306-553. Tea also has a a decent amount of fluoride, though unless you’re drinking ‘brick tea’ which is a lower quality tea made from older tea leaves and contains much higher quantities, you’re liable to be fine and ingest only as much fluoride as is required for dental health.
Health-wise, a number of exciting researches have been published. Several seem to indicate a significant drop in the danger of cardiovascular disease for those who drank three mugs of black tea/day, while a recent prospective cohort study in 40,530 Japanese adults reported that green tea consumption (5 mugs) was associated with a 16% reduction of mortality in all causes and a 26% reduction in mortality from cardiovascular diseases. If that doesn’t cause an impression, I don’t know what will.
Furthermore, a number of promising studies have been conducted on animals in regards to the effect of tea on cancer, though numerous epidemiological studies focusing on different kinds of cancer have failed to show any consistent evidence of that tea consumption reduces the risks of cancer in people. Which, while not as exciting as the cardio news, is ameliorated by the fact that perhaps the benefits are there, but we just don’t injest enough of the tea flavonoids to get the benefits.
Then! (is there no end to these tea-related benefits?) Another study has shown that habitual tea consumption is is associated with higher bone density, which is excellent if you’re worried about osteoporosis. Tea can also help prevent tooth caries and the formation of kidney stones.
What about weight loss? If you’ve done any investigation into many purported weight loss pills, you’ll have seen that many of them contain green tea powder. Some studies have shown that green tea powder can help with preventing the regaining of weight after it has been lost, while others have shown that green tea powder helped 35 overweight men reduce their body mass index (BMI), waist circumference, body fat mass and subcutaneous fat when compared to those who only had oolong tea. So–interesting? More research is underway, but the jury is still out on this one.
So who’s sniggering now? Tea time is not only a delightful and civilized ceremony (ask anybody from England, India, China, Japan or any other number of places) but a way to keep your teeth health, prevent dental caries, perhaps aid in weight loss, prevent cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis. So set that Coke aside, brew yourself a pot, and kick back and enjoy yourself a cuppa!