It may seem daunting to adopt healthier habits, but this doesn’t mean you have to overhaul your whole life at once. One really easy thing you can do to today to benefit your brain is drink tea. That’s right. Research is showing that simply adding a few cups of tea to your day can help your brain and body stay healthy.
What Exactly is Tea?
Tea, which has been consumed for centuries, is still one of the most favorite drinks around and is the second most popular beverage in the world today – surpassed only by water. Over 158 million people in the US drink tea on any given day, according to the Tea Association of the USA. In Britain, 165 million cups of tea are consumed daily.
Just to clarify, the term “tea” can be broadly used to mean any blend of herbs, fruits, flowers, or leaves, steeped in water to make a beverage. True “tea” comes from the leaves of the tea plant, Camellia sinensis. What many of us call herbal teas, such as chamomile and rooibos, are actually tisanes or infusions. The differences in true teas result from how the tea plant’s leaves are processed: black teas are oxidized (exposed to oxygen) a few hours before rolling and drying, deepening their color, while white teas and green teas are simply steamed, rolled and dried. Think of oolongs as hybrids; their leaves are partially oxidized before drying.
Brain-Boosting Ingredients in Tea
Tea, in general, contains a number of plant polyphenols, catechins, antioxidants, and other phytochemicals, which have been proven to have a wide range of health benefits for your body. Science is also determining that these ingredients may be just as beneficial for your brain and cognitive health. A phytochemical is any of various biologically active compounds found in plants. Some of the many found in tea are:
Flavonoids are a diverse group of chemicals, found in almost all fruits and vegetables, which are responsible for the vivid colors. They have antioxidant powers and reduce inflammation. Diets rich in flavonoids have been associated with reduced risk of a variety of diseases. Flavonoid-rich foods include cocoa, apples, onions, cranberries, tea, and red wine.
Caffeine, which is found in most teas, but not all, in smaller amounts than coffee, is the most well-known brain booster. As you are probably aware firsthand, the effects of caffeine are fairly immediate and include increased alertness, wakefulness, and attention. Caffeine works by blocking adenosine, an inhibitory neurotransmitter. Studies have discovered that people who consume caffeine regularly have improved thinking ability and long-term memory performance.
Tea also contains the amino acid, L-Theanine, which has a relaxing effect without inducing drowsiness. When caffeine and L-Theanine are consumed together, as in tea, research shows that people experience increased alertness, reaction times and working memory while the mental fatigue that can be felt with caffeine alone was reduced. When ingested regularly over 16 weeks, the combination also improved memory and cognitive alertness.
Studies reveal that L-theanine increases the production of the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA, which has anti-anxiety effects. It also increases serotonin and dopamine and the production of alpha waves in the brain.
Tea has various catechins. Catechins are phenolic compounds, found in abundance in tea, cocoa, and berries, with potent antioxidant properties. In studies with mice, the catechins in green tea prevented cognitive dysfunction and other negative changes in the brains of “at-risk” mice while improving working memory. One study found them to also have cognitive enhancing and anti-depressive effects. Another study on humans showed catechins to improve attention.
The Many Ways Tea Helps Your Health
The outcome of much scientific study proves that tea is a powerfully healing elixir. Specifically:
- Research shows that tea drinking appears to lower the risk for heart disease and stroke.
- Natural compounds called polyphenols protect against several cancers, including prostate, GI tract, lungs, breast, and skin.
- Green tea has health benefits for a wide variety of health conditions, including different types of cancer, heart disease, liver disease, and weight issues, primarily due to the catechins.
- Science has shown that drinking tea daily can boost your immune system due to its antioxidant properties. Specifically, the ingredient L-theanine gets broken down in the liver to ethylamine, a molecule which primes the response of the immune system.
- Caffeine and catechins increase metabolism and promote weight loss.
- Tea polyphenols strengthen bones and protect against fractures.
- People who drink tea could see improvements in mood, concentration, and performance.
- Some studies suggest that drinking tea lowers the risk of Parkinsons Disease.
- Studies showed evidence that green tea can reduce anxiety and influence psychopathological symptoms. It can also aid in brain function by enhancing working memory.
- Regularly drinking tea several times a day — green or black — may cut the risk of dementia among older adults by as much as 50 percent, according to one study.
Which Tea for What?
The article, Types of Tea and Their Health Benefits, provides the following information about which teas to drink for specific benefits:
- Green tea: Made with steamed tea leaves, it has a high concentration of EGCG and has been widely studied. Green tea’s antioxidants may interfere with the growth of bladder, breast, lung, stomach, pancreatic, and colorectal cancers; prevent clogging of the arteries, burn fat, counteract oxidative stress on the brain, reduce risk of neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, reduce risk of stroke, and improve cholesterol levels.
- Black tea: Made with fermented tea leaves, black tea has the highest caffeine content and forms the basis for flavored teas like chai, along with some instant teas. Studies have shown that black tea may protect lungs from damage caused by exposure to cigarette smoke. It also may reduce the risk of stroke.
- White tea: Uncured and unfermented. One study showed that white tea has the most potent anticancer properties compared to more processed teas.
- Oolong tea: In an animal study, those given antioxidants from oolong tea were found to have lower bad cholesterol levels. One variety of oolong, Wuyi, is heavily marketed as a weight loss supplement, but science hasn’t backed the claims.
- Pu-erh tea: This tea is considered a black tea and is made from fermented and aged leaves. One animal study showed that animals given pu-erh had less weight gain and reduced LDL cholesterol.
- Chamomile tea: The antioxidants may help prevent complications from diabetes and stunt the growth of cancer cells.
- Echinacea: Often touted as a way to fight the common cold, the research on echinacea has been inconclusive.
- Hibiscus: A small study found that drinking three cups of hibiscus tea daily lowered blood pressure in people.
- Rooibos (red tea): Rooibos is a South African herb that is fermented. Although it has flavonoids with cancer-fighting properties, medical studies on this tea are limited.
A Few Words of Caution
- Most teas are benign, but the FDA has issued warnings about teas marketed to dieters. They may contain senna, aloe, buckthorn, and other plant-derived laxatives.
- It’s best not to drink tea on an empty stomach. Tea can dilute and inhibit the secretion of gastric fluids, reducing lower digestive tract function.
- Try not to drink tea 20 minutes before or after eating. The oxalic acid in tea can interact with iron and protein in food to inhibit absorption.
- Watch your caffeine intake with tea. Too much caffeine can lead to increased anxiety. Drinking tea before sleeping. could disrupt your sleep.
- People with gout should know that drinking too much tea can aggravate the condition. The tannin in tea can interact with uric acid casing high levels in the body.
- It’s best not to medication with tea. The tannin in tea can interact with certain medications, lowering their efficiency and absorption.
- If you have a stomach ailment, green tea can irritate the problem. Red tea is better.
- Children under 12 should avoid drinking strong teas because the polyphenols can interact with iron in food. This can inhibit absorption and result in anemia in children.
- Pregnant women should also avoid drinking strong teas because both the polyphenols and caffeine. These substances can interfere with the development of the fetus.
Michael Austin is a blogger, healthy lifestyle enthusiast with slight “addiction” of planning and organizing – whether it’s about weight loss, body detoxing or yoga. Evidence of these addictions can be found as informative articles at sirjasonwinters.com website where Mike is currently working as a content manager.