A hot cup of tea might be just the thing to soothe a sore throat, warm the body, or relax with after a stress-filled day. But tea is more than just a comfort drink. Its healthful properties make it a smart choice for just about everyone. Tea has been used as a medicine in other cultures for many years, but it has only recently gained a great deal of media attention for the many nutritional benefits it offers.
Tea's Medicinal Past
While most Westerners drink tea for pleasure and refreshment, people in the East, particularly Japan and China have drunk tea for medicinal reasons for centuries. For over 5,000 years, the Chinese have been serving up tea as both a refreshing beverage and a drink that touts many healthful qualities. Tea, according to the Japanese and Chinese cultures, offers a variety of healing properties for the body. Now, as more studies are conducted at major medical institutions, doctors are realizing that tea is something more than just a hot beverage served with lemon and sugar.
There are various types of tea from green to black to oolong to white. These different teas all come from the leaves of the camellia sinensis plant. The different colors, in terms of black, green and white, refer to the various preparation methods for tea. Black tea is fermented so that it completely oxidizes. Oolong is oxidized for a brief period of time. Green tea is not fermented, but instead steamed. White tea is the least processed of any tea product. It results from dried leaves of the tea plant that have been shielded from the sun to prevent chlorophyll from forming.
One can determine how processed a tea is by its color. Darker teas have undergone greater processing, which causes the teas to lose some of their natural nutritional benefits.
The Benefits of Tea Drinking
Tea contains a polyphenol compound called epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), which is known to be an antioxidant, or cancer-fighting substance. Black tea offers only miniscule amounts of antioxidants resulting from its intense fermentation. Green tea provides higher amounts of EGCG due to its unfermented state. The greatest level of EGCG is found in white tea because it is the least processed tea.
In addition to helping protect against cancer, the polyphenols in green tea and white tea work as an antiseptic against infections and tooth decay, reduce strokes, prevent food poisoning, lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels, reduce heart disease, prevent the development of kidney stones, lower the chance of osteoporosis, and alleviate the pain of rheumatoid arthritis. These polyphenols found in tea are considered to be more beneficial than some vitamins.
The antioxidants in tea prevent free radicals, which can cause cell damage and abnormal cells to develop within the body. These abnormalities and damages to cells can lead to cancer. When tea is consumed over time, its antioxidant properties have been linked to reduced risks in developing cancers that target the stomach, breast, lung, and skin.
Tea offers antibacterial and antiviral properties that can enhance products currently on the market. White tea extract has been added to some of the top toothpaste brands to make them more effective at fighting cavities. Tea also contains fluoride so it has its own natural cavity prevention built right in.
In addition to the benefits of fighting cancer and heart disease, the strong antibacterial properties in tea help alleviate food poisoning. Sipping strong tea can end bouts of diarrhea brought on by food poisoning and kill off the bacteria that causes sickness and weakness.
Herbal Teas: Other Benefits
Besides the traditional black, green, oolong, and white teas, supermarkets and health food stores tout a number of herbal teas to suit any palate and treat a number of different illnesses from indigestion to premenstrual syndrome to migraines. Most tea aficionados will not call these herbal beverages "teas" because they are not made with camellia sinensis leaves but rather from other plants, herbs, and roots. While these herbal teas will not offer antioxidant power, many of them have been used for centuries for the healing effects that they have on different bodily ailments.
Peppermint tea and ginger tea are widely used for problems related to the stomach. Ginger tea has been utilized for centuries as an aid for digestion, nausea, morning sickness, and for motion sickness. Peppermint tea relieves indigestion, cramping, bloating, gas, constipation, and diarrhea. Lemongrass tea is drunk to fight off flu symptoms and ease nasal congestion. Horehound tea suppresses coughs, and in large doses, acts as a laxative.
Chamomile tea, a popular herbal beverage, alleviates insomnia, calms nerves, soothes colds, menstrual cramps, stress and even aids the stomach. Doctors have been known to recommend cool chamomile tea to calm babies with gas or colic. A recent study reports that the benefits of drinking chamomile tea can last days after the person has drunk a cup. Chamomile's properties stay in the body for up to two weeks.
Drink Up the Benefits
To receive the maximum benefits that tea can provide, one should drink at least two to three cups daily. Always opt for freshly brewed, high quality tea as opposed to prepared beverages in bottles. The best way to purchase quality tea is from an importer who restocks his or her supply often.
When preparing the tea, allow it to steep for approximately four minutes. The tea can be drunk hot or cold once brewed.