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Tonic In A Teacup | Summer 2007 Out Here Magazine

3 to 5 cups of tea a day just might keep the doctor away

By Bethanne Black

Next to water, tea is the most commonly consumed beverage in the world and appears to be the most potent health drink.

"Besides being a very pleasurable beverage, consuming tea might just be the easiest thing that you can do to improve your diet and your health," says Joe Simrany, president of the Tea Association/Council of the USA, Inc. and the Specialty Tea Institute.

Tea — served hot or cold — is a potential heart tonic, cancer blocker, fat buster, immune system stimulant, arthritis soother, and virus fighter, say studies in leading medical journals.

What makes tea such a powerful beverage? "The scientific and medical worlds are still discovering the mysteries of tea," Simrany says. "But most often, the beneficial components of tea are thought to be antioxidants."

Antioxidants are natural chemicals that render free radicals — cells that have been damaged — harmless before they can cause disease, he says.

Though most attention has focused on green teas, primarily because many of the researchers are Asian, where green tea is the most consumed, all real teas contain similar health benefits, Simrany says.

The jury is still out on whether decaffeinated teas produce the same healthy punch as caffeinated teas. Some experts say it makes no difference; others say decaffeination reduces antioxidants.

"Regular consumption of Camellia sinensis (the tea plant) has been associated with a great many health benefits ranging from stress reduction to the inhibition of a great many chronic diseases," he adds.

Ongoing research suggests that tea provides the following health benefits, according to the Tea Association/Council of the USA:

  • Cardiovascular health.Patients who drank one to two cups of black tea daily had a 46 percent lower risk of hardening of the arties, a Dutch study found.
  • Cholesterol reduction. Five servings of black tea per day reduced LDL ("bad" cholesterol) by 11.1 percent and total cholesterol by 6.5 percent, compared to placebo drinks given to patients, researchers found.
  • Cancer risk reduction. Flavonoids — antioxidants found naturally in various foods derived from plants — found in tea may reduce cancer by preventing uncontrolled cell growth. Tea may reduce the risk of digestive, skin, oral, lung, and ovarian cancers. Scientists found that tea drinkers had a 42 percent reduced risk of colon cancer, and men who drank more than 11/2 cups of tea daily had a 70 percent lower risk of colon cancer.
  • Better oral health. Flavonoids may prevent the plaque-forming action of oral bacteria, and fluoride in tea may support healthy tooth enamel.
  • Decreased obesity. After three months of green tea consumption by moderately obese patients, their body weight and waist size decreased by about 4.5 percent.
  • Reduced risk of osteoporosis. Older women who drank tea had higher bone mineral density than those who did not, one study reveals.
  • Prevention of dementia. Exposure to a substance in tea called EGCG reduces the production of amyloid protein, a component associated with Alzheimer's disease.

If you're not sure how much tea to drink to reap health benefits, most of the tea studies were based on amounts of tea that may easily be consumed by individuals, Simrany says, such as three to five cups per day.

Bethanne Black, of Atlanta, is a freelance journalist who specializes in health care.