Questions on the Health Benefits of Drinking Tea

Is tea good for you? Does Tea dehydrate you? Does tea contain more caffeine than coffee? How much tea is healthy? Is green tea better than black tea?

For many thousands of years Chinese writers have espoused the health benefits of tea, the semi-legendary emperor Shennong prescribing it as a cure for ailments from tumours to lethargy, whilst the writer Lu Yu describes a concoction of bitter tea and centipedes as a cure for skin ulcers.

Similarly panegyric claims were made with the introduction of tea to the West, though John Wesley, founder of Methodism, spent many years arguing for abstinence from the drink, claiming that it brought about in him a paralyzing condition and writing that “When you drink tea it has brought you near the chambers of death”. However, after a number of years he relaxed this rather radical position and resumed the habit, being welcomed back into the tea drinking fold with the gift of an enormous, gallon capacity tea pot presented to him by Josiah Wedgwood (innovator of the famous Wedgwood china). But where now do we stand on the question of whether tea does us harm or good?


What does tea contain and is it good for you?

Though tea contains as many as 400 different chemicals, for our purposes we are interested in three main groups of chemicals; vitamins and minerals, polyphenols (known for their antioxidant effect) and caffeine.

Caffeine

Whilst tea in its raw form does contain twice as much caffeine as coffee, the method by which the two drinks are prepared means that a cup of tea contains only half as much caffeine as a cup of coffee.

In addition, tea, unlike coffee, combines caffeine with polyphenols, which have a soothing influence on the drinker. A cup of tea will give us an initial kick but then give an opposing, calming effect, giving a gentler, longer lasting stimulant effect than coffee. For this reason tea is much less likely than coffee to induce insomnia or energy peaks and slumps, though excess of tea, particularly late in the evening is still not recommended.

As to caffeine’s health effects, it seems that within sensible limits (around 5-8 cups of tea a day seem to be well within this limit dependent upon certain characteristics of the drinker) tea drinking does not contribute to the risk of any chronic illness. It is even associated with lowering obesity by raising the metabolic rate. Caffeine can also help to cool the body by widening the blood vessels and allowing blood to flow closer to the surface of the skin.

Vitamins and Minerals

Freshly picked tea contains vitamins B2, C and E, the effects of which are fairly commonly known. As tea undergoes processing the vitamins are removed or destroyed; the greater the processing the lower the vitamin content (i.e green tea has a higher vitamin content than black tea, which has been fermented).

Tea also contains, though in very small amounts, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and iron, all of which, in correct quantities, are beneficial to health, though it has been argued that the tannin in tea impedes iron absorption. To avoid this an interval of half an hour so should be maintained before and after eating to allow the iron from foods to be absorbed.

Polyphenols

Polyphenols are an antioxidant found in many fruits and vegetables but also in tea, though notably they are present in much greater concentrations in green tea than black tea.

Antioxidants protect us against a whole range of conditions by countering the formation of free radicals and increasing the number of infection fighting white blood cells. By countering the effects of free radicals tea protects us from a number of cancers and cardiovascular illnesses.

Black tea seems to be affective in dealing with conditions related heart attacks and strokes; blood clotting, high cholesterol and blood pressure.

However the addition of milk to tea may negate these beneficial effects and drinking tea too hot may increase the risk of cancer of the oesophagus.

Tea and Dehydration

It has been argued that the status of caffeine as a diuretic (a chemical which causes us to urinate) will mean that caffeinated drinks will cause us to lose more fluid than we gain by drinking them. However research seems to show that this is not the case, and that tea is equally as affective in hydrating us as plain water.

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