Over the centuries, tea has been considered a healthy beverage as well as a pleasurable one. Its therapeutic powers have long been glorified by scholars, scientists, and journalists. Lu Yu, the Chinese tea scholar, described tea in a.d. 780 as a cure for headaches, aching limbs, constipation, and depression. Today, medical journals throughout the world report that tea, especially green tea, stimulates mental clarity, reduces the risk of certain cancers and heart disease, lowers blood sugar levels, and helps to prevent viral infections, bad breath, and tooth decay.
A primary reason for tea's preventive powers, which applies to all types of teas, is strictly hygienic. In many cases, today as in ancient times, tea is safer to drink than water because it's boiled first, killing any disease-carrying bacteria. This is certainly advantageous, but let's look at some other health concerns, bad and good, associated with tea.
Caffeine in tea is a health issue for many tea drinkers. Tea does contain caffeine in moderate quantities. A naturally occurring drug, caffeine gives you a pleasant lift and revives the spirits. It stimulates the central nervous system, its levels peaking within an hour of reaching the bloodstream. Because it also has a stimulating effect on the kidneys, caffeine is a mild diuretic. It is mildly stimulating to the respiratory system as well-one reason that many athletes hydrate their bodies by drinking tea before they exercise.
Research has yet to confirm any ominous diseases related to the moderate use of tea, although health providers advise women suffering from severe fibro-cystic disease and people with high blood pressure not to ingest much caffeine. If you're concerned and would like to cut down on caffeine, you're one jump ahead by choosing tea as your beverage. As noted in the previous section, all teas, especially green teas, contain less caffeine per cup than coffee. If you want to lower the caffeine still further, there are two simple ways to cut down: buy decaffeinated tea, or make a "second potting."
A second potting is simply the second pot or cup made from the tea leaves. Once boiling water touches the tea leaf, the caffeine it contains begins to dissolve. After a three-minute infusion, half of the caffeine will have dissolved into the water. By removing the tea leaves (another reason a tea infuser is handy) and using them to make your second pot, you will have effectively cut down on the caffeine.
Recently, the Western world has taken a greater interest in the health benefits of green tea. Research scientists are confirming what the Chinese knew centuries ago: the naturally occurring compounds found in green teas (and herbal teas) help to promote good health. As I mentioned earlier, green teas are high in unoxidized, and therefore unaltered, polyphenols. These polyphenols have strong antioxidant properties. Antioxidants help control the activity of free radicals, unstable molecules that damage cell structures and are implicated in a host of illnesses, including cancer and cardiovascular disease.
One of the most powerful polyphenols, found only in green tea, is epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). Studies indicate that EGCG's antioxidant effect can be more powerful than that of vitamin E. The polyphenol also has been shown to keep influenza viruses in check. Another plus is that EGCG inhibits the growth of the bacteria that cause halitosis. (That's one reason the Japanese traditionally drink green tea after a meal.)
Tea, especially green tea, is also a rich source of fluoride. In fact, green tea contains more fluoride than fluoridated water. Tea has minerals such as manganese, the vitamins C, B2, D, and K, and a number of amino acids. Clearly, tea is one of those earthly wonders that's delicious and good for you.