When things start going wrong, where do you turn? The kettle? You’re not alone.
Lots of us sip a soothing cuppa to make us feel better, but the benefits of a brew could be more far-reaching for our health in general.
Research suggests it can boost our concentration and alertness, strengthen our bones and teeth, help weight management and reduce our risk of Type 2 diabetes. All while improving our circulation and reducing our risk of heart attacks and strokes.
‘The reason tea is so good for us is because of a group of natural phytonutrients called flavonoids,’ says tea expert Dr Tim Bond, from the Tea Advisory Board. These plant chemicals are also found in fruit and veg, and are why we are urged to eat increasing amounts of them to improve our health.
Dr Bond believes the evidence is strong enough for a cup of tea to be included as one of your five-a-day. ‘It’s also great for hydration, which can be a problem in older adults,’ he says. ‘Tea is basically a very flavonoid-rich water.’ Other countries, including the Netherlands, recommend three cups of tea a day as part of official health advice.
Benefits of tea on our health
Cutting your stroke risk
Research suggests that tea is great for our circulation and could add up to a year to your life. Recent studies from China, which followed regular tea drinkers for seven years, found they were 20% less likely to develop cardiovascular disease (which can lead to heart attacks and strokes) than non-tea drinkers.
‘Flavonoids improve the performance of blood vessels – called endothelial function – in helping to control blood pressure,’ says Woman’s Weekly GP Dr Gill Jenkins.
‘By this action, flavonoid-rich foods such as tea, and fruit and vegetables, can help to support cardiovascular health.’
‘Tea has a beneficial effect, overall, on the circulatory system, keeping things moving,’ says Dr Bond. ‘We know the consumption of black tea helps reduce blood pressure in people who are prone to high blood pressure. ‘Tea reduces arterial stiffness and the stickiness of white blood cells, which are the basis of our immune system.’
Boosts your concentration
Tea’s boost to circulation can help brains too. ‘Maintaining healthy blood vessels means good blood flow to the brain,’ says Dr Bond. ‘There’s an amino acid called methionine, which is pretty unique to tea – it’s found there and in a very particular Russian mushroom. And it’s been shown to cross the blood/brain barrier and help maintain focus.’
Researchers found tea could enhance cognitive function and suggests tea drinking reduces the risk of cognitive impairment in older people by up to 50%, and by as much as 86% in those genetically at risk of Alzheimer’s. The caffeine hit obviously increases alertness too.
Did you know? More than half the UK population think tea drinking is an important part of British heritage. And a third think tea-making skills should be taught in schools, according to research by Ember, the design-led temperature control brand.
Benefits of different types of tea
All tea comes from the same bush – the Camellia Sinensis plant. ‘The way tea is processed gives it the different colours,’ says Dr Bond.
Our most popular builder’s brew is drunk by 72% of UK households. The leaves are processed – cut up, dried and oxidised – to produce our most recognised blends.
Speciality teas are made from this black tea by different processes, such as smoke-drying over pinewood fires (for Lapsang Souchong) or adding bergamot oil (for Earl Grey).
So what about green tea. The fresh leaves are steamed to retain their green-ness and then dried for preservation, leaving out the oxidation step as used for black tea. When only the unopened buds and young leaves of the tea plant are used we get white tea and, with a little oxidation (30%), green tea becomes oolong tea.
Infusions (herbal and fruit teas) are becoming increasingly popular. However, technically they’re not teas, as they come from herbs, fruits, flowers, spices and roots, and not the tea plant.
‘The evidence on health benefits are strongest for black and green tea,’ says Dr Bond. ‘But there’s some strong emerging evidence for these three.’
Chamomile for stress. Rooboos as an anti-inflammatory. Hibiscus for helping to lower blood pressure.
Three things you shouldn’t do with tea
- Drinking it piping hot. Research suggest anything above 60C can raise your risk of oesophagus cancer by burning cells which increase your liklihood of inflammation and cancer. Let it cool or add milk.
- Drinking too much. Tea is a rich source of tannins – which can bind to iron in certain foods, rendering it unavailable for absorption in your digestive tract. So if you have low iron levels, excessive tea intake could exacerbate your condition.
- Adding sugar. It’s best to keep our sugar intake down as much as we can. Try Earl or Lady Grey. ‘People are less likely to add sugar because they find them more palatable,’ says Dr Bond.
The all important question answered – milk or tea first?
It’s all well and good talking about the benefits of tea, but what is the best way to make it? Pouring the milk into your cup before the tea does alter the flavour – making it more creamy – as the fat in the milk emulsifies in a different way, and in the old days, adding milk to your tea was considered by some to be “more refined”. But however you make it has no effect on the health benefits. Did you know? Tea makes a great breath-freshener, as it’s anti-bacterial. It also helps with bone density and strong teeth.