At the time when the FDA and their European counterparts are cracking down on many natural remedies that have been used for hundreds of years, tea and flower infusions still hold their ground as the basic solutions for many common afflictions: sore throat, common headaches, cough, common flu, etc.
Antioxidants in tea
Recently, many scientists around the world have been trying to find out whether tea can be used to tackle even more serious problems. It turns out that the leaves of Camellia Sinensis – the plant used to produce green, black, pu’er, wulong, and many other kinds of tea – are rich in poly-phenolic antioxidants, chemical compounds that can improve blood circulation, reduce inflammation, and even fight cancer.
The active ingredients responsible for all this good work are called catechins, and the most prolific type of catechin present in tea is epigallocatechin gallate or simply EGCG. One cup of brewed tea (240 mL) contains roughly 200 mg of this compound. However, its half-life period is quite short in humans, so it is recommended to consume several cups of tea a day in order to achieve the desired prophylactic effect.
In 2007 a research team from the Claremont University tried to use EGCG to target a specific enzyme responsible for growth of cancer cells in patients with Small-cell lung carcinoma. “Less than 24 hours after introducing EGCG to the tumor cells, we saw a 50-60 percent reduction in telomerase activity,” says David Sadava, the head of the medical research team. That is definitely good news for all the SCLC patients, because no conventional therapies work well for this disease and cancer quickly develops resistance to drugs. The green tea, however, not only effectively slows down the growth of tumours, it also has none of the terrible side effects always brought by conventional chemo- or radio therapies.
Milk in your cup
A study published in 2007 suggests that addition of milk to tea inhibits most, if not all of its potential medicinal value. That happens because compounds in milk form complexes with tea catechins and thus alter their functionality.
Tea Symposium in DC
On Sep 19, 2012, the world’s leading nutrition scientists convened at the United States Department of Agriculture to discuss some of the latest research findings regarding health benefits of regular tea consumption. The body of scientific evidence presented at the convention makes it very clear that people who have made tea part of their diet enjoy numerous health benefits. One study claims, for instance, that “having as little as one cup of freshly made tea a day supports healthy arterial function and blood pressure”. Another research shows that the caffeine in green tea serves as a good trigger of substantial weight loss (2.9 pounds in 12 weeks on average). Tea in combination with moderate exercise, such as Tai Chi, has a pronouncedly positive effect on bone health and muscle strength.
In addition, it was reported that bioactive compounds in tea can improve mental sharpness, promote growth of beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract, and even “ward off inflammation and vascular damage linked to chronic conditions associated with aging.”
The full article about the convention can be found here.
Prevention as medical expertise
It is hardly surprising that such a simple and effective solution came from China, the country that’s been consuming tea and combining medicinal plants for thousands of years. Traditional Chinese culture makes little distinction between “eating and “treating”. For example, in Chinese, you don’t “take medicine”, but “eat” it. In the west cuisine is often diversified by using different spices. In China, many people experiment with herbs and roots of various medicinal plants. Most of the time, these components hardly contribute to the dishes’ flavor. However, for many Chinese, health comes first, and people often boast how seldom they go to the hospital or that their children never get flu in winter, just because they knew which herbs to use in their food in which season.
There was a time when prevention, as opposed to treatment, was considered the highest level of medical expertise. In pre-modern China, people used to have family doctors who would pay a visit to the household every so often and perform regular painless check-ups. At that time, the doctors who were busy treating their patients were considered inferior to those who simply made sure that the people they were looking after never got sick in the first place. This approach hardly plays well with today’s perception of health-care as a money-making enterprise. It’s also a strong reminder about the unlimited potential of natural remedies, of which tea, with its numerous types and flavors, is the most pleasant and easy to reach.
Disclaimer: tea cannot be used as a stand-alone remedy for cancer. It should be used to complement conventional treatment but not replace it.