Tea-ing off to great health
In Asian countries such as China, Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore, there have always been a strong tea-drinking base, but this used to be confined largely to the older generation.
In recent years however, with increased awareness of its health benefits, more and more of the younger generation are taking to tea. In Western nations such as the US, tea houses have even sprung up all over, each one as modern and trendy as the ubiquitous coffee joint.
Health benefits of tea
Tea is made from steeping the processed leaves, twigs or buds of the tea plant, known as Camellia sinensis, in hot water for some time.
Many studies have highlighted the numerous health benefits of tea. Chief among their claims is that tea, especially green tea, offers protection against cancer.
According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI) of the US National Institutes of Health, laboratory studies using animals have shown that potent antioxidants in tea – catechins – significantly inhibit cancer growth by getting rid of cell-damaging chemical compounds. They also slow down and reduce tumour growth.
However, study results involving humans have had mixed results. A study at the University of California, Los Angeles’ Center for Human Nutrition showed that combining the breast cancer drug tamoxifen with green tea yields a more potent cancer growth suppression effect than either agent alone.
In contrast, a Netherlands study found no link between tea consumption and the subsequent risk of stomach, colorectal, lung and breast cancers in almost 12,000 men and women. Nevertheless, NCI researchers are continuing with their investigations into green tea.
Clinical trials by researchers at Switzerland’s University of Geneva have shown that green tea has a significant fat-burning effect, attributable to its caffeine content and catechins.
In fact, regular consumption of green tea is recommended as a good way of losing weight as it is not associated with negative side effects like increased heart rates.
A 2003 study by researchers at Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston showed that an amino acid in tea, L-theanine, can prime the immune system to attack invading viruses and bacteria.
A secondary finding was that the immune cells of tea drinkers responded to germs significantly faster than those of coffee drinkers.
Regular consumption of green tea can help impede mental deterioration, according to a study of over 1,000 Japanese elderly with an average age of 74.
Those who drank more than two cups of green tea a day were half as likely to develop cognitive impairment, compared to those who drank less than three cups a week.
The L-theanine in tea also helps enhance mental clarity, increase energy levels, promote deep relaxation and reduce anxiety at the same time.
Hale and hearty
Drinking tea apparently helps to prevent potentially fatal clogging of arteries, and even reverse poor arterial functioning, factors leading to strokes and heart attacks.
Tea has also been found to be able to reduce overall cholesterol levels by 4 percent and ‘bad’ cholesterol by 8 percent, translating to decreased risks of heart diseases.
Fundamental to health
Despite all the glowing findings, it is important to note that tea is not a panacea for all ailments. However, the evidence that tea should be one of the basic components of a healthy lifestyle is very strong.
At the very least, it contains as few calories as water does and is a good source of carotene (a component of vitamin A), the B group vitamins, folic acid, manganese, potassium and fluoride.
Go on, drink up!