With all of the information thrown at us about tea and its health benefits, do you ever wonder, “Is tea really good for you?”
Every time I turn on the news, I see that eggs aren’t healthy, then they’re healthy. Then heart disease is caused by fat, but wait, be sure you’re eating lots of healthy fat, or your arteries will become enflamed, and you’ll get heart disease.
What’s a girl to do with all this conflicting info?
I had to get to the bottom of this question.
Each of us have different reasons for making tea part of our day. It could be the taste, the caffeine boost, the way it makes you feel. Or maybe it’s for the health benefits. But is tea really good for you in the way we know eating our fruits and veggies is good for us?
I’ve been obsessed with seeking out ways to better my health since I was diagnosed with breast cancer at 29. I was a tea lover anyway, so the idea that what I was drinking may have health benefits interested me. Turned out I was drinking tea wrong for years adding tons of sugar and drinking tea dust from tea bags.
You can keep scrolling to learn more, or watch the video here:
A bit about what makes tea tasty and (potentially) healthy.
Let’s make sure we’re on the same page. I’m talking about REAL tea, not herbal infusions aka herbal teas or tisanes. Chamomile, peppermint, and Raspberry Zinger are not teas.
Herbal infusions are great, but they don’t come from the tea plant Camellia sinensis, and they don’t have the same natural compounds that we’re talking about in this article.
Plants transform sunlight, rain water, and carbon monoxide into a carbohydrate.
Carbohydrates are sugars that give natural chemical energy to help plants grow.
Along with carbohydrates, plants are also made of amino acids and lipids.
Enzymes are a kind of amino acid that facilitate the chemical reactions that need to happen within the plant to do what it needs to do like grow, fight off bugs, etc.
L-theanine is another amino acid you may have heard of, and is found almost exclusively in tea plants.
Lipids make up a lot of the tea plant including the cell membrane and the waxy cuticle guarding the leaf from predators.
Carbohydrates, amino acids, and lipids are present in every cell of the tea plant. They are the essential molecules of life. And they have some benefits to those who consume them too.
There are natural secondary metabolites within the plant that helps the plant ward off and adapt to stressors like heat, predators, and weather. It just so happens that we like the taste of these natural chemical compounds in the tea including caffeine and catechins.
Polyphenols is one category of secondary metabolites. It’s an antioxidant, and research suggests antioxidants protects cells from DNA damage that can lead to cancer and other health issues. This category includes flavanols, flavanoids, tannins, catechins, and epicatechins. Flavanoids are thought to reduce inflammation. All teas are high in polyphenols.
The catechin you may have heard of in relation to tea and its health benefits is ECGC (epigallocatechin-3-gallate). Wow, that’s a mouthful.
All you need to know is that ECGC is more prevalent in green teas than other teas, so most of the research you hear about is focussed on green tea right now. However, the difference in amounts of this catechin in tea is relatively tiny; you’re still getting potential health benefits if you drink teas besides green tea.
All teas are high in polyphenols, which is a type of antioxidant that research suggests protects cells from DNA damage that can lead to cancer and other health issues.
So far, the answer to the question, “Is tea really good for you” sounds like a solid yes, right? Unfortunately, there’s more to know depending on the reason you’re drinking tea.
There is growing research that shows that tea may be something more of us should drink. Unfortunately, most of it’s anecdotal or involves organic and animal studies that haven’t been verified in a controlled experiment with humans. It may just be that tea drinkers lead healthier lifestyles that those who don’t.
Here are the most recent and relevant studies on tea, so you don’t have to do the research yourself.
Know enough about the research? Click here to learn 5 Rookie Tea Mistakes (and how to avoid them).
Here’s what you need to know about the latest tea research and the answer to the question…
Is tea really good for you?
1. Is tea good for the heart?
A study published in 2016 by Dr. Elliot Miller at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore reported that people who drank one cup of tea per day were 35% less likely to have a heart attack or have other major cardiovascular issues compared to non-tea drinkers.
This study also showed that tea drinkers were less likely to have calcium build up in their heart’s coronary arteries. Calcium deposits are know to have a link to hear disease and strokes. Researchers couldn’t prove that there was a cause and effect between tea and these benefits though, so it’s still a theory.
Dr. Miller said this was, “an observational study, and [they] can’t say for sure if it was the tea or just the healthier lifestyle of the tea drinkers.”
Dr. Miller and his team of researchers looked at information collected since 2000 for over 6000 men and women. Before the study started, none of them had heart disease.
They tracked the participants’ health conditions over 11 years and found that people who drank one cup of tea per day had 1/3 less risk of major heart disease. People who drank one to three cups per day showed a decline of the calcium build up in their arteries.
There were few people who drank four or more cups of tea, so there’s no information on whether drinking more tea could increase these potential benefits.
In fact, a doctor from Harvard recommends staying away from supplements that could give you too much of a boost of those natural chemicals in tea. Read more on that below.
A 2015 Harvard Health Publication explains that flavonoids in the tea leaf could explain why tea drinkers seem less likely to have cardiovascular disease.
Dr. Howard Sesso — an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and an associate epidemiologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital — noted that, “Tea is a good source of compounds known as catechins and epicatechins, which are thought to be responsible for tea’s beneficial health effects.” Catechins and epicatechins are compounds that fall under the umbrella of those secondary metabolites that protect the tea plant, remember?
Researchers believe that flavonoids reduce inflammation, which may be what caused the reduction of plaque build up in arteries in the Johns Hopkins study.
2. Can tea prevent dementia?
Is tea really good for you if you’re drinking it to prevent dementia?
In early 2017, the Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging published a study that investigated whether there’s a link between tea consumption and a lower risk of dementia. Researchers observed 900 Chinese people in the 55 and older population. Basically, there’s not a definitive conclusion. The female population seemed the most positively effected though. Again, lifestyle could play a role.
3. Can tea increase focus?
One study showed that the combination of L-theanine (that healthy amino acid we talked about) and caffeine improved reaction time and memory better than caffein of L-theanine alone.
P.S. This is the reason Japanese monks took tea plants from China back with them to use in their meditation practices.
4. Can tea help with diabetes?
One study suggests the answer is yes. Researchers studied the effect of green tea on glucose control and insulin sensitivity. They conducted randomized trials on 1133 subjects. They found that green tea seemed to have a favorable effect on decreasing fasting glucose and fasting insulin concentrations. There’s still a lot of research that needs to be done to confirm this though.
5. Can tea prevent cancer?
Is tea really good for you if you’re drinking it to prevent cancer?
A study was done that included both men and women and the effects of tea and coffee on their DNA make up. There are 28 different gene regions for women that are known to interact with cancer or estrogen metabolism.
If you or someone you know has had estrogen positive breast cancer, this research gets interesting.
Drinking tea seemed to turn off these regions in women (not men). However, there were too few male tea drinkers in the study to make a definitive decision on whether it could affect them the same.
Bottom line: this is an interesting study, but there’s not enough information to say that tea can prevent cancer. This was really an observational study with a fairly small population and not enough checks on the research. Even the National Institute of health is super vague on this. They said that drinking black tea is “possibly effective” for reducing the risk of ovarian cancer, and “possibly ineffective” for lowering the risk of stomach and colorectal cancers. Best to just drink what you enjoy most until the verdict is in.
6. What’s the best tea for health?
All tea has flavonoids. Green tea has a slightly (slightly!) higher amount than black teas, which is why it’s used for studies, and which is why you usually hear studies about green tea.
Researchers are having a difficult time differentiating between whether the positive results they’re seeing in people are because tea drinkers tend to have healthier lifestyles generally or whether the tea is truly causing the benefits. So drink what tastes best to you.
7. Can you drink too much tea?
Dr. Sesso warns that people shouldn’t take green tea supplements or extracts to boost their consumption of polyphenols because excessive amounts of them (as with anything) has a downside. Excessive amounts of flavonoids may harm your kidneys. The New England Journal of Medicine actually traced a man’s kidney failure to his GALLON per day tea habit! (Black tea in large amounts can cause kidney stones, and here, kidney failure.)
8. Are green tea extracts and supplements safe?
So, is tea really good for you if you’re taking it in supplement form? This is an easy one: no.
For those taking green tea supplements to lose weight, there was a recent study conducted by Consumer Reports that showed that there is little evidence to show that green tea extract powders, tablets, and liquids actually help people lose weight.
The health editor at Consumer Reports, Jeneen Interlandi, said, “Green tea extract can potentially cause serious liver damage” and it “has been found to alter the effectiveness of a long list of drugs, including certain antidepressants and anti-clotting medications.” She went on to say, “The manufacturers who make these supplements are not required to prove to federal regulators that their products are safe or effective, or even that they’re actually labeled, so you really don’t know what you’re buying.”
9. Bottom line: Is tea really good for you?
More research needs to be done on humans before anyone can come out and say that tea is the source of all the positive results mentioned above. It may be that tea drinkers simply lead healthier lifestyles. Drinking tea in moderation may have a positive effect on you physically. For me, the tea ritual I create is what makes me know that tea has a positive effect on my state of mind. Taking a time out with a cup of tea lets me get grounded for the day.
What’s your reason for drinking tea? Let me know in the comments.
Want to learn some tea trivia? Click here to learn 5 Rookie Tea Mistakes (and how to avoid them).
P Elliot Miller, et al. Associations between Coffee, Tea, and Caffein Intake with Coronary Artery Calcification and Cardiovascular Events. The American Journal of Medicine. September 2016.
“Brewing evidence for tea’s heart benefits.” Harvard Health Publications, Harvard Medical School. Published online June 2015.
Fahd Syed, M.D. A Case of Iced-Tea Nephropathy, N Eng J Med 2015; 372: 1377-1378. April 2, 2015.
Lekh Raj Juneja, et al. L-theanine — a unique amino acid of green tea and its relaxation effect in humans. 1999. Published online and at Trends in Food Science & Technology, Volume 10, Issues 6-7, Pages 199-204, June 1999.
Feng L, Chong MS, Lim WS, et al. Tea consumption reduces the incidence of neurocognitive disorders: Findings from the Singapore longitudinal aging study. The Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging. Published online January 15, 2016.
Weronica E. Ek, Elmar W. Tobi, et al. Tea and coffee consumption in relation to DNA methylation in four European cohorts. Hum Mol Genet ddx194. Published May 23, 2017.
Crystal F. Haskell, et al. The effects of L-theanine, caffeine and their combination on cognition and mood. Biological Psychology, Vol. 77, Iss. 2. Feb. 2008, Pages 113-122.