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Volume 15 Issue 5
January/February 2010

Eat Well! Food as a Vital Part of Our Spiritual Journey

Better Health in a Teacup

Help Yourself with Colour Therapy

Breath, Body, and Voice Work, Fitzmaurice Voicework®

Singing: It's About Having Fun and Feeling Good

Meditation Enhances Physical and Mental Health

Wounded Healers: Finding Our Sacred Paths Together


Better Health in a Teacup
by Joe Smulevitz, CH, MH

Congratulations, if you are a tea drinker. Whether you prefer green, black, white, or oolong tea, you are drinking much more than a simple hot beverage. If you are not a tea drinker, you’re missing out on a natural drink that is free of fat or calories, inexpensive, good tasting, and loaded with unique, health-yielding properties. Polyphenol catechins, a class of chemicals with potent antioxidant properties, predominate over the other constituents in these teas. One catechin in particular, epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), is the most powerful and reported to have multiple health benefits.

Green tea has been identified as having an abundant amount of EGCG. This component is increasingly recognized in regard to cancer prevention, especially in cancers of the digestive system, lungs, prostate, ovaries, skin, and breast. EGCG also offers heart protection by lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol, lowering blood pressure, and improving blood flow. Additionally, freshly brewed green tea has demonstrated the ability to reduce the build-up of dental plaque, promote normal blood sugar levels, assist in the reduction of abdominal fat, improve bone health, fight infection, and ease rheumatoid arthritis.

Tea contains other impressive, health-enhancing substances. Clinical studies indicate L-Theanine, a powerful, calming amino acid found in green tea is a natural relaxant. It reduces stress and anxiety, strengthens the immune system, and improves sleep quality, memory, and learning. Black tea, oolong tea, and white tea also contain naturally occurring compounds that make them a healthy beverage. Theaflavins in black tea are gaining the attention of researchers for their disease-preventing capabilities, and may be responsible for black tea having comparable positive health effects to its green tea cousin. The compound is also present in oolong tea. Not as popular as the other varieties, research has shown that oolong tea helps reduce body fat, inhibits the growth and acid production of cavity-producing bacteria, and is useful in treating skin disorders. Scientific findings have indicated the antioxidant capacity of white tea is similar to green tea. Further research may prove it to have overlapping health-protective potential like the other varieties of tea.

Not all teas provide an array of healthful properties. The type of tea having a substantial amount of scientific literature backing up its health claims comes from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant. Green, white, black, and oolong tea are all derived from this large evergreen shrub, native to Southeast Asia, where it has been used for thousands of years as a medicinal beverage. The antioxidant-rich plant should not be confused with herbal tea made from flowers, leaves, roots, barks, seeds, stems, or fruits of many other different members of the plant kingdom. Although many plants have healing medicinal properties, most have not been studied to the same extent as the Camellia sinensis plant.

How the leaves of Camellia sinensis are processed after harvest determines the type of tea. All teas produced from the plant contain caffeine. The light processing of green and white tea makes them the lowest in caffeine levels and highest in antioxidants. Green tea is made from leaves that have been steam-roasted, rolled, and dried immediately after picking. Less mature leaves are used for white tea. The leaves are steamed and air-dried to prevent oxidation. Black and oolong tea have higher caffeine levels, but less than in coffee. The leaves to make black tea are withered, rolled, and fermented, which produces the darkened leaves, before being dried. Oolong tea type is between black and green tea; the leaves are processed similarly to black tea with a shorter fermentation period.

According to experts, the water for black tea should be added at the boiling point. Water for oolong tea should be slightly below boiling. The more delicate green and white tea is best brewed at even lower temperatures, around 60ºC to 85ºC (140ºF to 185ºF), well below the boiling point. In general, when preparing tea, the longer it is allowed to steep the more antioxidants are released.

Drinking as little as a cup of tea a day is a healthful addition to the diet. However, most of the research for optimum health benefits is based on long-term consumption of 3 or more cups of tea a day. Drinking this amount of tea may cause nervousness, insomnia, anxiety, restlessness, and heart irregularities in persons hypersensitive to caffeine. Individuals who need to limit their caffeine consumption should use green tea capsules, available in lightly-caffeinated form or decaffeinated form. One capsule is often the equivalent to 3 cups of tea. It is an easy way to obtain the multi-faceted benefits of drinking tea, but make sure the supplements are purchased from a reliable source.

Persons with heart problems, kidney disorders, ulcers, depression, or an overactive thyroid should consult their healthcare provider before drinking large amounts of tea. Pregnant or breast-feeding women should also restrict their tea consumption.

Joe Smulevitz is a Chartered Herbalist, a Master Herbalist, a nutritional researcher, and author of numerous health articles. He can be reached at herbalistjoe@sympatico.ca.


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