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Tea Consumption Linked
to Numerous Body Benefits

Excerpt By Melinda T. Willis,

If tea time isn't your cup of tea, you may want to reconsider.

That's because the latest medical research is finding potential healing powers in this ancient beverage. Recent research, for instance, suggests drinking tea may help prevent everything from cavities to Parkinson's disease. And some studies indicate it may even save lives.

The benefits of tea consumption may extend throughout the body, experts believe. Here is a partial list of conditions some research has shown may be prevented or improved by drinking tea:

Heart Disease: A recent study published in the journal Circulation found that drinking more than two cups of tea a day decreased the risk of death following a heart attack by 44 percent. Even less spirited tea drinkers were rewarded: Consuming just two cups a day decreased the risk of death by almost a third.

Cancer: Green tea extracts were found to inhibit the growth of bladder cancer cells in the lab — while other studies suggest that drinking green tea protects against developing stomach and esophageal cancers.

Arthritis: Research suggests that older women who are tea drinkers are 60 percent less likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis than those who do not drink tea.

Bone Density: Drinking tea regularly for years may produce stronger bones. Those who drank tea on a regular basis for 10 or more years had higher-bone mineral density in their spines than those who had not.

Parkinson's Disease: Tea consumption may be protective against developing this debilitating neurological disorder.

Oral Health: Rinsing with tea may prevent cavities and gum disease.

Some Sugar, Cream and Antioxidants, Please

What's responsible for tea's many health benefits? It's the complex brew of chemicals that make up this seemingly simple beverage.

"The big class of chemicals in tea are flavonoids — a natural class of antioxidants that are found in many natural plant-derived foods," explains Dr. Kenneth Mukamal, an internist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston and author of the Circulation report. "In American diets, black tea represents probably the single biggest source of flavonoids."

Antioxidants rid the body of molecules called free radicals, which are side products of damage done to the body by pollution and the natural aging process. Free radicals in the body's cells are very unstable and tend to react negatively with other important molecules like DNA, causing malfunctions and injury on the cellular level. The destruction these free radicals produce may therefore pave the way for diseases like heart disease and cancer.

In the case of heart disease, antioxidants in tea may prevent death from second heart attack by helping blood vessels relax, thereby allowing blood to flow through more easily, potentially lowering blood pressure and reducing stress on the heart.

Antioxidants are thought to be behind the benefits of tea on dental health as well. A number of studies have suggested that rinsing with black or green tea may lead to better oral health.

"We have found that the [antioxidants] in black tea will suppress the growth of bacteria in the mouth that cause cavities and gum diseases," says Christine Wu, professor of periodontics at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Dentistry. "These will inhibit or interfere with the attachment of bacteria to the tooth surface."

A Prescription for Better Health?

With so much compelling research, isn't it about time for everyone to consider brewing up more of this potent potable?

"For nearly everybody, there are few, if any, downsides to drinking tea. It's hard for me to tell people not to do it," says Mukamal. "But I'm not sure our evidence is quite at the stage where we would be recommending that everybody drink tea."

That's because some people may be sensitive to certain components of tea. And while the caffeine content is 1/3 that of a cup of coffee, some people may react to caffeine at any concentration.

Additionally, researchers need to pin down how much and how often tea should be consumed for optimal health. "Drinking tea is beneficial, but we need to do more studies to substantiate it," says Wu.

In the meantime, adding tea to your list of possible beverages is probably a good idea, experts say.

"I think it's reasonable for people looking to make healthy lifestyle choices to consider tea as a better option than other beverages — which aren't necessarily harmful, but which may not give people the added benefits that something like tea does," says Mukamal.

Black, Green or Herbal?

First cultivated in China nearly 5,000 years ago, tea is consumed in greater quantity worldwide than any other beverage except water. The beverage is made from the leaves of the plant Camellia sinensis, which is native to India and perhaps parts of China and Japan.
Black, green and oolong teas are all made from this plant but differ in their methods of preparation. All tea leaves are withered, rolled and heated, but black teas go through an oxidative process known as fermentation before the final heating process. Oolong teas are partially fermented.

Herbal teas are not derived from Camellia sinensis, but from the leaves, bark, roots, seeds and flowers of other plants. These teas have not been associated with the many healing benefits related to black and green teas.

Source: Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition; Tea Association, Tea Council and Specialty Tea Registry (STAR) .

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