Whilst increasing attention is now rightly being paid into the health benefits of green and white teas, the virtues of the far more familiar, and much more prevalent, black tea, shouldn’t be neglected. These are products of the camellia sinensis plant and as such have many common features, especially in their anti-oxidant functions; the distinction between them being completely attributable to the differing methods by which they’re produced.
So-called “herbal teas”, by contrast, are beverages made from infusions of the leaves of a large selection of other plants. Although these are often quite beneficial to health, they’re not”teas” at all in the strict sense, this expression being restricted to the goods of the camellia sinenis plant, and must be considered separately, likely as a branch of herbal medicine or treatment.
The brand new, ie unprocessed, leaves of the camellia sinensis plant are rich in compounds called polyphenols, and especially those of a type called catechins, which are strong anti-oxidants. The thing is that these compounds can easily be destroyed by the processing that the leaves undergo. In the case of black teas the procedure, called fermentation, results from the nearly complete oxidation of the catechins leading to a dramatic loss of the anti-oxidant power.
Good to Know
The highly prized white teas, by contrast, are created by steaming the very young leaves of the camellia sinensis plant, protecting them from the harmful oxidation. Green teas are produced by a similar process of heat treatment, but the older leaves used aren’t generally as abundant from the busy ant-oxidant compounds. There’s still another category of teas, called oolong, which fall somewhere between the black and green varieties by being partly oxidised (fermented).
Whilst traditional medicine continues to insist that the evidence for its health giving benefits of all of these teas remains inconclusive, there is actually ample evidence of the anti inflammatory power of those drinks. For instance, several commendable studies have concluded that moderate tea consumption (only a few cups daily ) may decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease by about a third, in the case of black tea, and a half in the case of green tea. At least one study report further indicates that tea consumption may reduce the risk of stroke by as much as two-thirds.
Since heart disease and stroke remain two of the biggest causes of premature death and disability in the Western world, these findings alone would seem to make the regular ingestion of tea, and green tea particularly, a worthwhile precaution.
But the benefits do not end there
Free radical oxidative damage to the lining of these blood vessels is known to be a factor in the progression of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) another significant cause of life threatening cardiovascular disease. The use of black tea has been shown to have a protective effect on the cells lining the blood vessels (the endothelium) and to the extent that this result is because of anti-oxidant polyphenols, it seems highly possible that evaluations with green tea could produce results at least as great.
Less Significantly, but interestingly, there’s also evidence that the anti-oxidant attributes of these polyphenols in both black and green tea can have a role in combatting both osteoporosis and cancer.
In the case of cancer, such effects have been clearly demonstrated in animals, although the evidence in respect of people is not as clear cut. But to the extent that cancer is a disease of illness, the beginning of which can be quickened by oxidative damage in cells caused by free radical action, the anti-oxidant activity of green and black tea may only be of possible benefit.
Similarly, there is observational evidence that bone mass density is positively correlated with tea consumption, which is protective against osteoporosis, maybe due to the beverage’s anti inflammatory properties, but the causal connection isn’t fully understood.
Despite the familiar reservations of traditional medicine, there seems good evidence for its anti inflammatory properties of the polyphenols in tea in general, and green tea in particular. But that is not all. Tea is also a fantastic source of several trace minerals, including manganese, which is itself a potent anti-oxidant. Tè nero is a particularly good source, and a convenient means of getting this vitamin, which is often drastically under provided in food. Besides its overall anti-oxidant properties, manganese is also known to nutritional therapists as an aid to cardiac and bone health, in relieving the symptoms of diabetes, and in treating certain kinds of seizure.
The only likely downside to the use of significant amounts of tea is that both black and green varieties may contain appreciable amounts of caffeine. Strong black tea is also full of tannin, the acidic chemical that also provides the flavour flavor to red wines, and which can cause minor stomach disturbances if overdone This issue doesn’t appear with green tea, however, and both green and black varieties are readily available in decaffeinated form, the latter also in a range of improved natural flavours for improved palatability.