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Tea Antioxidants and the Health Benefits of Tea

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There’s an even better reason to delight in tea drinking than just enjoying a warming and comforting treat- the stuff is actually good for you! The health benefits of tea have been known for centuries in the East. The reason behind tea’s health creating effects is the presence of special tea antioxidant nutrients, called flavonoids. A vast body of epidemiological studies has linked increased dietary intake of antioxidant flavonoids from fruits, vegetables wine, chocolate, coffee, tea, and other foods to reduced risks of a range of diseases including cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Developing a tea drinking habit in addition to getting your minimum of 5 servings of fruit and vegetables a day can seriously boost your health.

TEA TYPES

Black and Green Teas

Black and green teas are both produced from the leaves of an evergreen plant, Camellia sinesis. The difference lies in the area in which they are cultivated and the manner in which they are processed. All tealeaves are picked, rolled, dried, and

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heated. With the additional process of allowing the leaves to ferment and oxidize, black tea is produced. A 2007 report published by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) compared nearly 400 foods for their flavonoids content, and found green tea contained the highest amounts of a special flavonoid called catechin. Catechin is what is responsible for most of teas health effects. Black and green teas contain similar amounts of flavonoids, but green tea has almost 4 times more catechins than black tea, according to the USDA report. The main catechin in green tea is Epigallocatechin Gallate (ECGC), and is the substance that most tea research revolves around.

 

The health benefits of Black and Green Teas

The benefits of green tea are multiple, with most of the focus being around chronic disease prevention. A review study published in Current Medicinal Chemistry in June 2008, confirms green tea’s health effects on the cardiovascular system. According to the researchers green tea catechins help mop up free radicals that would otherwise damage blood vessels. Catechins also reduce the intestinal absorption of fats from food thus improving lipid profiles. They also prevent vascular inflammation and suppress platelet adhesion, thereby inhibiting thrombogenesis. A study in the European Journal of Cardiovascular Prevention and Rehabilitation looked at the effects of green tea on flow-mediated dilation (or the measure of a blood vessel's healthy ability to relax), and found that green tea increased flow-mediated dilation by 4 percent after 30 minutes of consumption, while patients receiving a placebo showed no effect.

The heart health benefits of tea are not limited to green tea though. A study in the British Journal of Nutrition, April 2008 found that the efficacy of black tea in ameliorating endothelial function is equivalent to that of green tea and that there may be another antioxidant, besides catechin, that is mediating these effects.

Research into tea and cancer has produced mixed results. A large review study on green tea catechins and lung cancer in the

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Are there any downsides?

Black and green teas both contain caffeine (although black tea contains more). Most studies on the effects of excess caffeine suggest that we should keep our daily intake at or below 300mg per day to avoid any ill effects. Depending on how it is harvested and brewed a cup of black tea contains 25-110mg caffeine and green tea 8-16mg. Decaffeinated black and green teas are available but the decaffeination process lowers the antioxidant potential of the tea by 15 and 3 times respectively, according to the USDA report. Black and green teas also contain oxalic acid and should be used with caution in people prone to calcium-oxalate kidney stones. The other element of concern is compounds found in tea called tannins, which decrease our ability to absorb iron from food and may contribute to the development of anemia in susceptible individuals.

Red Tea or Rooibos

Red tea (more affectionately known to South Africans’ as Rooibos tea) originates from the leaves and stems of the indigenous plant Aspalathus linearis, which are then fermented to form rooibos tea. Made from the red bush trees on the slopes of the Cedarburg Mountains and found nowhere else in the world, the medicinal value of our very own rooibos seems to be endless.

Health Benefits of Rooibos Tea

Rooibos contains one of the highest concentration of tea antioxidants of any tea. Rooibos was first recognised for its ability to ease stomach cramps and is an age-old remedy for infant colic. A review study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology (June 2008) is the largest and most up-to-date review of the health benefits of rooibos tea. The main flavonoids in rooibos, dihydrochalcone aspalthin, rutin, hesperidin and orientin, exhibit a comparable effectiveness with ECGC, according to the review. The review points out that rooibos tea has shown promise as an anticancer remedy, with applications in skin, breast, liver, esophageal. Rooibos also exhibits immune modulating effects by stimulating antibody and other immune cell production and by it’s an anti-microbial and anti-viral effect. Rooibos may also help lower blood pressure by inhibiting the constriction of blood vessels.

Are there any downsides?

Rooibos is low in tannins and caffeine free, so it’s safe for anyone- including infants. It’s also free from oxalic acid, so it’s safe for people with kidney stones. There is some concern, according to the review study, that rooibos can interfere with certain medications, especially those utilizing the cytochrome P450 pathways (speak to your doctor if you are on medications to ensure that there is a minimal effect).

Herbal teas

A herbal tea may have either a black, green, or red base with herbal ingredients added to it or it is simply crushed flowers or leaves and is not actually a tea at all. A herbal tea with a tea base will offer antioxidant benefits, while plain herbal teas won’t offer you anything beyond the normal therapeutic and antioxidant potential of that particular herb. That does not mean that herbal teas don’t offer you benefits. For example chamomile tea has been shown to help prevent high blood sugar in diabetes patients, when taken close to a meal (Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry September 2008); ginger tea can help improve digestion and quells nausea (Hawaiian Medical Journal, December 2007) and rosehip tea is a good source of vitamin C and may help reduce arthritis pain (Osteoarthritis Cartilage, September 2007).

A version of this article appeared in Business Day Health News

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