Tea is one of the most popular beverages consumed worldwide, and for good reason. Beyond the soothing relaxation it provides, a cup of tea is also brimming with powerful health-promoting properties.
Next to water, tea is the most consumed beverage in the world.
It has been cultivated and enjoyed daily for more than 3,000 years for its medicinal properties and its ability to prevent chronic disease.
How exactly does tea promote our health? Let’s take a deep dive into the science of tea to discover how regularly consuming this health-promoting drink can restore and maintain our health.
What is tea made of?
Tea is primarily produced from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant. There are 4 main types of tea: black tea, green tea, white tea, and oolong tea. Black and green teas are by far the most consumed, making up 99% of our tea drinking habit in the United States.
While originating from the same plant, the way teas are fermented helps determine which type they become. Green tea is not fermented at all, white and oolong tea are partially fermented, and black tea is fully fermented.
The fermentation process not only specifies the kind of tea, it also influences the type and potency of beneficial polyphenol compounds found in the tea.
How the antioxidants in our tea help keep us healthy
What exactly makes tea so healthy? It all comes down to its polyphenols.
Polyphenols are compounds that are naturally found in plant foods. These powerhouse compounds are packed with antioxidants that greatly benefit the body in a variety of ways.
Tea is especially rich in antioxidants called catechins, flavanols, and anthocyanins.
Day to day, our bodies create and are exposed to free radicals. These are highly active and unstable molecules that can cause a harmful state called “oxidative stress” when accumulated in large amounts.
Oxidative stress leads to damage to our cells which is associated with inflammation and diseases like cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s diseases.
Antioxidants are shown to actually counteract oxidative stress by neutralizing the free radicals in the body, consequently preventing disease before they even develop.
Tea’s long list of purported health benefits
The antioxidants brimming in a cup of tea have long been studied and are believed to elicit a wide variety of health perks when we drink it regularly.
These benefits include lowering inflammation and cholesterol, fighting against bacteria, protecting the nervous system, lessening the risk of heart disease, and preventing cancer cell proliferation.
Daily tea drinking also regulates our blood sugar, keeps our blood from clotting, stimulates our immune system, and prevents obesity.
How much caffeine does tea have?
Tea naturally contains caffeine, and as teas differ in color, fermentation, and antioxidant potency, they also differ in how much caffeine they deliver.
A number of factors determine exactly how much caffeine your cup of tea will supply.
Commercial tea brands vary in caffeine levels, and steeping crushed leaves in a bag will yield more caffeine than brewing loose tea leaves.
Also, the longer the tea is steeped and the hotter the water, the more caffeine is extracted. One study showed a significant jump in caffeine for a cup of white tea that was steeped in water above 176°F for longer than 10 minutes.
Tea generally supplies much less caffeine than a standard cup of caffeinated coffee.
Are there any risks to drinking green tea every day?
Green tea has especially become trendy among health and wellness circles as a low-caffeine, antioxidant-rich alternative to coffee.
Green tea is generally considered safe to drink for most people, but there are a few guidelines to be mindful of if you are thinking of starting a daily green tea drinking habit.
- Green tea is shown to be safe when consumed up to 8 cups a day.
- Your box of green tea may label the amount of caffeine it contains, but this usually does not include the amount of caffeine that naturally occurs in green tea.
- Green tea is safe to drink during pregnancy and while breastfeeding at no more than 300 mg of caffeine, which amounts to roughly 6 cups per day.
- Taking green tea extract in pill form has been shown to cause liver conditions in some people. Those with liver disease should consult with their healthcare provider before taking any green tea supplement.
- Green tea may interact with certain medications, including blood-pressure lowering beta-blockers. Always consult with your healthcare provider to make sure green tea is safe for you.
- Drinking more green tea than is recommended can interfere with iron absorption and lead to anemia, an iron deficiency.
- Like drinking too much coffee, drinking too much green tea can also cause caffeine-related issues like trouble sleeping and anxiety.