Although tea drinking has been associated with health benefits for centuries, only in recent years have its medicinal properties been investigated scientifically. The October issue of Harvard Women’s Health Watch recognizes the healthy power of tea while helping readers get the most out of their cups.
Tea’s health benefits are largely due to its high content of flavonoids — plant-derived compounds that are antioxidants. Green tea is the best food source of a group called catechins. In test tubes, catechins are more powerful than vitamins C and E in halting oxidative damage to cells and appear to have other disease-fighting properties. Studies have found an association between consuming green tea and a reduced risk for several cancers, including, skin, breast, lung, colon, esophageal, and bladder.
Additional benefits for regular consumers of green and black teas include a reduced risk for heart disease. The antioxidants in green, black, and oolong teas can help block the oxidation of LDL (bad) cholesterol, increase HDL (good) cholesterol and improve artery function. A Chinese study published recently in the Archives of Internal Medicine showed a 46%-65% reduction in hypertension risk in regular consumers of oolong or green tea, compared to non-consumers of tea.
Drinking a cup of tea a few times a day to absorb antioxidants and other healthful plant compounds. In green-tea drinking cultures, the usual amount is three cups per day. Allow tea to steep for three to five minutes to bring out its catechins. The best way to get the catechins and other flavonoids in tea is to drink it freshly brewed. Decaffeinated, bottled ready-to-drink tea preparations, and instant teas have less of these compounds. Tea can impede the absorption of iron from fruits and vegetables. Adding lemon or milk or drinking tea between meals will counteract this problem.
Harvard Health Publications, September 2004