The Health Benefits of Teas by Alyse Levine
Back to Health
The media has exhaustively publicized the numerous ways drinking
tea is good for you: from fighting certain cancers, to decreasing
the risk of heart disease and Alzheimer's disease, to controlling
cholesterol and even reducing tooth decay! Although most people are
aware of tea's health benefits, they are not aware of which teas
are the most beneficial. So, from a health perspective, are all
teas created equal?
Nutritional Facts and Figures
What are the purported health benefits of consuming
Before we begin, note that here we are talking about tea from the
tea plant, Camellia sinensis, and not herbal teas,
which are really derived from the flowers, leaves, seeds, bark, or
roots of certain plants but contain no actual "real" tea (herbal
teas do have purported health benefits, but they are beyond the
scope of this bite).
Studies have shown that tea may promote good health in the
*Heart Health: The polyphenols (antioxidants) found in tea are very
effective in preventing cholesterol from oxidizing and damaging
blood vessels. Green tea has been shown to improve the health of
the delicate cells lining the blood vessels, which helps lower
one's risk of heart disease (1).
*Cancer Prevention: The polyphenols (catechins in particular) in
tea may help prevent or decrease the growth and spread of certain
cancers. They scavenge oxidants before cell injuries occur, reduce
the incidence and size of chemically induced tumors, and inhibit
the growth of tumor cells. In studies of liver, skin, and stomach
cancer, chemically induced tumors were shown to decrease in size in
mice that were fed green and black tea (2,3).
*Skin Protector: Not only has tea been shown to be effective in
decreasing cancer risk when consumed orally, but it may also be
beneficial when applied superficially to the skin (4). Some
research has shown that when green tea is applied to sunburned skin
it decreases the development of cancerous skin tumors. This
evidence has led many cosmetics companies to start adding green tea
to their skin care products.
*Alzheimer's Disease Arsenal: Both green and black teas have been
shown to hinder the activity of two enzymes in the brain associated
with Alzheimer's disease. Although tea consumption cannot cure
Alzheimer's, it may be another part of the puzzle in treating or
slowing down the development of the disease (5).
*Good for Teeth: Compounds in tea protect teeth by increasing the
acid resistance of tooth enamel and acting as antibiotics that kill
off dangerous, decay-promoting bacteria (6). Tea also contains
fluoride, which is essential for keeping teeth strong and
Which tea varieties provide the above health
All "real" teas, which include green, black, and oolong tea
varieties, are beneficial to your health. As mentioned above, these
teas are all derived from the same tea plant, Camellia sinensis,
and contain numerous healthful compounds including polyphenols
(particularly catechins), tocopherol, vitamin C, as well as other
antioxidants. The polyphenols are believed to be responsible for
most of tea's role in promoting good health. Although black, green
and oolong teas have different polyphenol compositions due to
processing differences, they all have been shown to provide the
above health benefits.
The differences between the teas are depicted below. As you can
see, the main difference between the "real" teas is simply in how
the leaves are processed.
Green Teas (Japanese, Chinese, Gunpowder,
Green teas are the freshest and least processed because they are
not at all fermented. Of all "real" teas, green tea has the
lightest and most subtle taste.
Black Teas (Darjeeling, Earl Grey, China Black, Jasmine,
Black tea is simply green tea that has been fermented for around 6
hours. Fermentation turns the green leaves black and alters the
polyphenol content, though it is still very high in antioxidants.
Black teas have the strongest taste.
These teas are made from green teas that are briefly fermented.
Therefore, they are a compromise between black and green tea in
both taste and color.
To Get the Most Out of Tea:
*To get the benefits claimed above, opt for a "real" tea variety
(green, black, or oolong), as opposed to an herbal tea
*Steep tea for about 3 minutes; this time allotment enables the
health promoting compounds to be released; steeping for much longer
turns the tea bitter and releases too much tannin, which can
irritate the digestive tract, cause constipation, and decrease iron
*Hot or Cold? Go for what you like! Bottled teas, iced tea, and
teas made from mixes are also all rich in polyphenols. However,
keep iced tea fresh, the polyphenol content starts to deteriorate
after a few days.
Note on Caffeine:
If you are worried about the caffeine content of tea, opt for the
decaffeinated varieties...they provide the same health benefits
without keeping you up all night.
The next time you reach for a warm, soothing cup of tea, opt for
either green, black or oolong varieties, and steep for about 3
minutes. If you prefer the iced kind, follow the same guidelines
but make sure to finish it within a few days before the antioxidant
content starts to decline. A few cups of tea a day may help keep
the heart doctor and dentist away, as well as cancer and
Alzheimer's disease at bay.
Copyright 2010 NutritionBite LLC. All rights reserved. No part of
the contents of this article may be reproduced or transmitted in
any form or by any means, without the written permission of the
publisher. "NutritionBite LLC" should be prominently displayed on
any material reproduced with the publisher's consent.
1. The acute effect of green tea consumption on endothelial
function in healthy individuals. Alexopoulos N, Vlachopoulos C,
Aznaouridis K, Baou K, Vasiliadou C, Pietri P, Xaplanteris P,
Stefanadi E, Stefanadis C. Eur J Cardiovasc Prev Rehabil. 2008
2. Dufresne CJ, Farnworth ER. A review of latest research findings
on the health promotion properties of tea. J. Nutri Biochem 2001;
3. Hakim IA, Harris RB. Joint effects of citrus peel use and black
tea intake on risk of squamous cell carcinoma of the skin. BMC Derm
4. Non-sunscreen photoprotection: antioxidants add value to a
sunscreen. Matsui MS, Hsia A, Miller JD, Hanneman K, Scull H,
Cooper KD, Baron E. J Investig Dermatol Symp Proc. 2009
5. Naturally occurring phytochemicals for the prevention of
Kim J, Lee HJ, Lee KW. J Neurochem. 2009 Dec 26. [Epub ahead of
6. Association between green tea consumption and tooth loss:
cross-sectional results from the Ohsaki Cohort 2006 Study. Koyama
Y, Kuriyama S, Aida J, Sone T, Nakaya N, Ohmori-Matsuda K, Hozawa
A, Tsuji I. Prev Med. 2010 Apr;50(4):173-9. Epub 2010 Jan 25.