Brewing up is more than just a great British tradition. Recent research shows it has some significant health benefits including helping you live longer.
Everything looks brighter after a nice cup of tea. Perhaps it’s the caffeine lift, the soothing sip of something warm or the chat that often sits alongside the teacups. But the benefits might be more than merely psychological. People who drink tea three or more times a week may live longer and have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease (including heart attacks and strokes), according to a recent study published this year in the peer-reviewed European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.
It follows on from research across the globe pointing to other health credentials. American research says drinking tea can enhance cognition and memory. It can reduce depression and anxiety, claim Singapore studies. And it can cut your risk of type 2 diabetes, say Chinese and Thai scientists. A study published in the British Journal of Ophthalmology found that tea could reduce your risk of glaucoma and cataracts. The Health Council of the Netherlands was so convinced by the weight of all the research that in 2016 they published guidelines recommending people drink between three and five cups a day.
‘The “secret ingredient” in tea is the flavonoids,’ explains Bristol GP Dr Gill Jenkins, an advisor to the Tea Advisory Panel. ‘Flavonoids part of the polyphenol family are natural compounds made by the tea plant as it grows.’ They’re the anti-inflammatory, disease-fighting antioxidants also found in fruit and veg.
Tea contains a rich tapestry of plant compounds, says dietitian Dr Carrie Ruxton. ‘Flavonoids open up the blood vessels, helping oxygen and nutrients to energise our brains, caffeine creates alertness and focus, while theanine an amino acid provides comfort and relaxation.’ Globally, tea is the most consumed beverage after water and it’s drunk in a variety of ways whether it’s Stateside iced, green as in Japan or the British way with a splash of milk.
Black tea comes from the Camellia sinensis plant, and goes through a drying and oxidation process to make our favourite cuppa drunk by 72% of British households although that number is slowly declining as speciality teas and infusions surge.
Green tea comes from the same plant but doesn’t go through the fermentation process, so it has a more bitter flavour, but perhaps enhanced health benefits. Infusions (herbal and fruit teas) are enjoying massive growth throughout the UK, although they’re not technically teas because they don’t come from the Camellia sinensis plant, originating instead from herbs, fruits, flowers, spices and roots.
Most of these plants are caffeinefree so they’re an increasingly popular choice among the health (and weight) conscious, particularly as certain plants lay claim to individual health-promoting properties. Herbal teas can be great for weight management, says London nutritionist Lily Soutter. ‘With near zero calories, a calming hot liquid gives you a feeling of fullness, suppresses your appetite and can also help stop “mindless” eating.’
But whichever tea tickles your tastebuds, make sure you don’t have it scalding hot. Research suggests drinking beverages hotter than 60-65C increases your risk of oesophagal cancer the developed world’s fastest rising cancer. Hot liquid can burn cells, which may cause inflammation and raise the likelihood of cancer developing. So let your tea cool or add some milk, then kick back and enjoy your medicine in a mug.