by Marcelle Pick, OB-GYN NP
Tea time—12 amazing ways that tea helps keep you young
- Protection against stress and depression
- Protection against weight gain and diabetes
- Protection against infections and chronic disease
- Support for heart and bone health
Take a walk with me into a department store, and let’s see all the shelves of expensive anti-aging products. The media (written and electronic) constantly reminds us that we should look younger. Girls and women are given the impression that they should look a certain way, have a certain kind of body, and often are found trying hard to look like someone that they are not. Let’s change that!
I don’t think it’s as much about how we look, as it is about how we feel! I want to have a healthy balance in my life. I want to feel good as I age, and I want to participate in activities that keep me engaged and passionate. It is possible for us to live to be 90 years old and be living a life that we want. And the good news is that there is something simple and inexpensive to help us do that.
As a practitioner, I was thrilled to find out that the latest medical discovery for healthy aging is actually a remarkably commonplace substance. It’s tea! This is the same kind of tea found in your local grocery or health food store—readily available in a variety of kinds and flavors, and it is reasonably priced. Let’s take a look at this remarkable substance.
Tea, known as Camellia sinensis, has been revered by many cultures for thousands of years, plenty of time to make note of its positive effects on health. But now there is evidence that drinking tea truly does help you live a longer, better life: recent research show that tea (black, green, oolong, and other varieties—and the different ingredients each can contain), has distinct effects at the cellular level that enhance health and slow down the natural aging process. And of course the ritual of drinking it is also very helpful to calm the nervous system.
Let’s review the power that tea has – it can:
- Relieve certain health-related symptoms
- Reduce the risk of developing, and dying from, a long list of illnesses
- Prevent chronic diseases, and those related to lifestyle, by reducing inflammation
- Promote wellness and improve quality of life
You might ask, how could it be that something as simple as tea has such important health benefits? Well, in truth, the list of molecules in various teas is lengthy, and their interactions with the body are quite complex. Researchers have pinpointed a number of individual elements as responsible for tea’s wide-ranging health advantages, and now, a tremendous amount of new research is filling in the details.
More than cozy comfort: tea warms physically and emotionally
Drinking tea is refreshing, comforting, and relaxing, so a direct correlation between tea consumption and better health just adds new benefits to this habit. The newest scientific inquiries are helping define the specific actions that tea has on our bodies and our longevity.
Let’s start with the effects that you can feel, because in some ways those are the most noticeable and immediate benefits. While we’ve learned from experience that a nice, hot “cuppa” can help calm and relax us, research shows that black tea actually promotes quicker recovery from stress events at a physiological level. Because this effect is measured by the speedier return to normal levels of stress hormones, it could also confer significant downstream benefits, such as reduction of adrenal imbalance and risk of heart disease.
If you drink several daily cups of green tea—a common practice all across Asia—you may have less psychological stress overall. And studies on older people show that green tea can also reduce the prevalence of depressive symptoms and even improve psychological well-being. Green tea has also been found to help with the livers detoxification abilities which become that much important as we age.
Health span effects you can measure—and weigh
As the prevalence of obesity and diabetes increases, it’s a relief to know that tea can help with both conditions. While a study of instant tea showed it can help stabilize blood sugar, other research indicates another type of tea—oolong—helps control the blood sugar effect that carbohydrates have on people with type 2 diabetes.
Green tea contains some caffeine, like most teas, but it also contains phytochemicals with powerful antioxidant properties called catechins. Researchers think that both these substances can help increase your ability to lose abdominal fat while exercising and may even reduce triglyceride levels in people who don’t exercise at all! Most detoxification programs encourage the use of green tea on a daily basis.
Green tea is liver-friendly. It helps you metabolize fats, and may even stop the build-up of fatty deposits in the liver. But I think the most interesting and youth-preserving effect is how green tea can improve your body’s all-important ability to detoxify.
The catechins found most abundantly in green tea (but also present in black, oolong, and white teas) increase levels of key protective enzymes. The protective effects of catechins need more exploration, but to date these enzymes have been found to help balance the two stages of liver detox (phase I and phase II), reduce toxic effects of reactive intermediate substances created during the detoxification process, and neutralize certain cancer-causing molecules.
A teakettle-full of immune support
We all try to avoid catching seasonal illnesses, such as colds and flu, but it still happens. When I’m achy or have a scratchy throat, I find a soothing cup of hot tea hits the spot. But now there is scientific proof that this benefit transcends the psychological. Green tea can actually reduce cold and flu symptoms and get you back on your feet faster. In fact, people who drink green tea just seem to get fewer colds overall.
The tea plant contains ingredients that work individually to help you fight germs and bugs, like L-theanine, which is thought to activate the infection-fighting T-cells in your immune system. Theanine is found most abundantly in fine green teas that are shade-grown, but again, in all types of true tea. Theanine is also helpful as a support for the neurotransmitters.
Other tea ingredients have effects that are anti-inflammatory and antiviral—polyphenols or catechins, such as epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). In theory, the ability to suppress inflammation may translate into less autoimmune activity in cells exposed to EGCG, accounting for lower incidence of autoimmune diseases, such as dry mouth (xerostoma) and rheumatoid arthritis in green tea–loving populations.
When taken with antibiotics, green tea has been found to effectively supercharge them and help knock out “superbugs” and bacterial strains previously resistant to treatment. White tea can also protect against bacterial infections.
Tea can shrink your risk of chronic disease
In Japan, where even the preparation of tea is an ancient and beloved ritual, green tea is a household staple. Several studies there focus on its health effects offer encouraging results: along with helping prevent cells from becoming cancerous, green tea may also help prevent recurrence of the disease in cancer patients. Emerging research around the globe points to the power that green and black teas may have to prevent gastric cancer, and cancers of the blood, breast, ovaries, colon, mouth, and prostate.
Drinking tea regularly may help ease another common fear many of us have about aging: loss of cognitive function. Research shows that both black and green teas protect against Alzheimer’s disease (AD), and guard against the memory loss that is a telltale hallmark of AD.
In the prevention and treatment of Parkinson’s disease (PD), a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system, black and green teas both have value. Black tea decreases your risk of getting PD by a staggering 71%, while green tea is able to slow down the progression of this devastating disease. The research is still not quite clear on the exact mechanism for the action.
Tea for the heart: more than an ounce of prevention
If you’ve followed recent health trends, you know that the greatest overall threat to women’s longevity is cardiovascular disease. After menopause women’s risk of heart disease almost approximates that of men. We’ve learned a lot about how diet and lifestyle can contribute to this degenerative condition, and now we’re starting to pinpoint effective ways to help prevent it. Tea fits right into a healthy lifestyle focused on avoiding cardiovascular disease.
For people who drink lots of green tea, such as the Japanese, there is a measurable reduction in the risk of death from heart disease. The polyphenols in green tea have the ability to facilitate blood flow through the vessels, and this circulatory effect can actually reduce the incidence of cardiovascular disease and the risk of dying from it.
Stronger bones for longer life
Natural bone health also enhances a woman’s health span as the years advance. Again, tea comes to the rescue with well-documented, bone-conserving benefits. For starters, drinking tea is linked to higher bone mineral density (BMD), a reduction in hip fractures, and preservation of the hip structure in general. And tea helps protect against bone loss even after menopause.
Bone tissue is intended to naturally break down and build back up throughout your life. Green tea can perform double duties in this process because it helps stimulate mineralization to generate bone formation, while simultaneously inhibiting the formation of osteoclasts, the cells that remove bone tissue.
Can tea make you younger?
A large amount of recent, cutting-edge science has focused on the factors that influence our ability to grow old gracefully. Now, tea is not a “fountain of youth,” but it might make a difference in the rate at which you age. Several studies show that black tea, and especially green tea, can help protect your DNA’s telomeres. Telomeres cap the ends of your chromosomes, protecting the genetic information they contain, and by preserving them from fraying, ingredients found in tea can, in essence, help you stay “younger” than your chronological years.
Additional studies show that tea can support healthy aging by promoting eye health and oral health. Specifically, tea has been associated with the preservation of retinal function in glaucoma and ischemia and protects against gum disease.
Invite tea into your lifestyle
The body of scientific evidence proving the health advantages of tea continues to blossom more each year. As a practitioner, I think it’s been fun to watch this familiar, everyday drink—enjoyed for thousands of years and revered as an elixir of longevity—morph into the latest medical marvel. But it makes perfect sense! When we look at the cultures where tea drinking has been most embedded throughout human history, the distinct health benefits of tea are apparent.
Many of us have been told—by our practitioners, families, or society itself—that we are too old to change; or that weight gain, exhaustion, and a loss of energy are the inevitable companions of aging. But both the research I have reviewed and the patients I have treated offer ample evidence that this is simply not true. You’re never too old to change. You’re never too old to lose weight, regain your energy, and face life with a sense of wonder and delight. You may be able to make several changes quickly, or you may need to dig in for a long haul. Either way, if you are determined to make things better for yourself, you absolutely can.
We as women want to become braver and clearer about the path that is right for us. We can choose to follow a better diet that will bring renewed health and vigor. We can choose to support one another in a partnership of growth. And with aging, we will bring the wisdom to make a difference in our lives and the lives of others.
So today, why not choose one of the many varieties of tea, invite a friend to join you in a cuppa, and sit back and enjoy the moment. What a great way to naturally get a balance in your life! This preventive lifestyle habit might be one that helps keep you as young as you feel. Here’s to your health!
Tea, breathing, and lung health
- Helps limit lung damage caused by cigarette smoke
- Limits the mental impairment that may result from obstructive sleep apnea
- Prevents oxidative damage (from free radicals), inflammation, and cell death associated with exposure to cigarette smoke
Tea’s effects on arthritis
It used to be thought that arthritis was an inevitable fact of life for us as we grew older, but there is a lot more to the equation, including a strong inflammatory component.
Studies show tea consumption can protect against autoimmune arthritis, delay the onset of rheumatoid arthritis, and reduce joint damage and inflammation in those who already have it.
Top 12 health benefits of tea
- Stress recovery and relief from psychological distress
- Insulin regulation and weight maintenance
- Arthritis prevention
- Immune system support and cold/flu relief
- Reduction in risk of certain cancers
- Protection against Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases
- Reduced risk for cardiovascular disease
- Bone health promotion
- Prevention of lung damage
- Healthier aging
- Detoxification benefits
- Enhances parasympathetic changes
Doesn’t tea contain caffeine?
Yes. Tea’s caffeine content varies according to the variety and steeping time. It’s perfectly fine for most people to have a daily 8–10 ounce cup (or two) of tea or another caffeinated beverage—just don’t overdo it.
- Black tea: 6 oz—50 mg caffeine
- Green tea: 6 oz—30 mg caffeine
- Coffee: 6 oz—110–170 mg caffeine