Tea is really good for you, everyone knows that, right? When you try to think why you know that, though, a cloud of acronyms and contradictory facts floats up, and pretty quickly you try to stop thinking about it and just drink your tea, which you are sure is healthy for you. Somehow.China Trip 2 146

At least, that’s how it goes for me, and judging by all the people who ask me “which tea is healthiest?” and similar, it goes that way for a lot of other people out there. It isn’t just us, either! People have been looking into their tea cups and saying “I’m sure this is good for me, somehow” for thousands of years, and modern cancer researchers read through the results of all the studies and find they have to drink their tea and hope for the best. I’m just a blogger, so I’m not going to solve the problem, but I’ll lay out the information as clearly as possible. Once you look at all the information out there and take a shot at synthesizing it, you feel really extremely sure that tea is healthy, even if it’s still a cloud of acronyms and contradictions at the end of the day. It’s an encouraging cloud!

Tea has been considered healthy, even medicinal, since the very beginning. The mythical Chinese inventor of the tea drink is the emperor Shennong, a culture hero who is said to have reigned from 2737 to 2698 BC, and brought us agriculture and traditional Chinese medicine as well as tea. A book about the ingredients used in Chinese medicine (written a couple thousand years after those scary dates back there) is attributed to him, and it contains a list of benefits from tea as as long as your arm. In Japan the monk Eisai wrote the first Japanese book on tea, back in the twelfth century, and it’s called How to Stay Healthy by Drinking Tea.

Traditional medicine and the modern scientific type don’t always agree, but when researchers started applying the scientific method to tea, they found plenty of evidence that tea is, in fact, really good for you. The lists of benefits modern medicine thinks tea has are as long and varied as the ones in the old books of traditional medicine. Indeed, they’re more so, for you and me, because there are only a few dusty old books of ancient medicine hanging around, and another study on tea and how it totally cures cancer of the left pinky in rats comes out every day.China Trip 2 064

Cancer makes everything difficult. The data is never clear, outside of the question of whether or not you should smoke two packs a day. But scientists try their hardest! So what have they found about tea? Well, tea contains polyphenols, which are a kind of chemical that plants produce, and which are great cancer fighters. Have you heard of EGCG? It’s a polyphenol. It’s broken down by the oxidation process, so it’s only found in white and green tea, but there are a lot of other polyphenols in tea, and you’ll find them in any drink based on the Camellia sinensis plant. Exactly how they work and how to get them in the right part of you is harder. Putting some EGCG in a test tube with some cancer cells and shaking it is definitely bad news for the cancer cells, and the Japanese have low rates of lung cancer even though they smoke like chimneys, but it’s hard to get more clarity than that. There’s even indications that one kind of polyphenol, tannins, and also hot drinks (!!!) can promote cancer! At this point, just tell yourself the Japanese have low rates of lung cancer and make another cup of tea. Maybe not too hot.

The other major interest is cardiovascular health, and thankfully, hearts and veins and such are much easier to deal with than cancer cells. Drinking tea is definitely awesome for your heart. Unless you put milk in it, in which case the casein (a protein in milk) gets in the way of the polyphenols (from the last paragraph, the nice plant chemicals), and it’s just a tasty drink. (Good news on the lemon front, though, lemon helps your body absorb the good chemicals.) China Trip 2 372There are studies suggesting that tea will do practically anything you want to have done to your cardiovascular system, lowering blood pressure, reducing cholesterol, improving the elasticity of veins, performing a charming little tapdance number. And there are other studies that didn’t get those results when they tried it. Of course. So the bottom line is that the FDA won’t let tea marketers call their product blood pressure pills in a cup, doctors generally agree that drinking tea is a good idea for your heart. Even the FDA is expected to relent on that point eventually, once they see enough studies come out well.

There is way more to tea and your health than just the big two killers, though. The range of possible benefits from tea are so varied that they almost sound like they’re being produced by a random generator somewhere. The caffeine in tea speeds up your metabolism and boosts weight loss, but some of the other chemicals in tea may enhance the effect, so you’re better off drinking tea than popping NoDoz pills. The tea plant takes up fluoride from the ground it grows in, some of which ends up on your teeth when you drink it. Tea also inhibits bacterial growth, which cuts down on plaque, improving your teeth and your breath, and suggesting broader antibiotic uses for tea, but that’s the medical researchers’ problem. White tea is probably best for freshening your breath, stick to that. Tea improves your alertness, again beyond what just the caffeine content can explain. An amino acid in tea called theanine is improving your alertness, too, and it gives a calm energy instead of the jittery one from caffeine. One study even showed that habitual tea drinkers recovered from stress more quickly than average! Gyokuro is best for theanine.

China Trip 2 102There are a million more. Poke around the internet, someone’s probably run a study on whatever ails you personally and what tea does for it. They probably got some positive results, and are out trying to replicate them right now. I’m not going to think about it more, though. I’m going to have another cup of tea, instead, because it’s tasty. Also, I’m really pretty sure it’s good for me.
Elizabeth, Teahouse Kuan Yin Staff

Come to our class on the health benefits of tea for more in-depth discussion, this Wednesday, November 11th, at 7pm, for just ten dollars each. E-mail us at teahousekuanyin@gmail.com, call at (206)632-2055, or sign up at the teahouse in person!