Legend has it that in 2737 BC, tea was discovered by the Chinese Emperor Shen Nung. A scholar and herbalist, the Emperor was sitting beneath a tea tree as his servant boiled some drinking water. Leaves from the tree fell into the water and Shen Nung decided to taste the results. With three different natural stimulants (caffeine, theophylline, and theobromine), the brew must have seemed like powerful medicine to the ancient herbalist. Nearly 5,000 years later, tea is a beverage that ranks second only to water in worldwide consumption. And now there is a growing body of evidence that all that tea drinking is offering some very real health benefits.
BLACK TEA AND HEART ATTACKS
In 1998, Harvard University researchers found that drinking one cup of black tea a day lowered the risk of heart attack by as much as an astounding 44%, all other factors being equal. Using regular tea from black tea leaves the study, by Dr. Michael Gaziano, a heart specialist at the Harvard Medical School-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, was presented at a Royal Society of Medicine conference in London. It examined 340 men and women who had suffered heart attacks and matched them by age, sex and neighborhood with people who had never had heart attacks. It then investigated their coffee- and tea-drinking habits over the course of a year.
GREEN TEA AND CANCER
Tea comes from the Camellia sinensis, an evergreen that grows in the warm-weather regions of about 30 countries. The leaves contain plant polyphenols similar to - in some cases identical to - the antioxidants believed to act as cancer preventatives in fruits and vegetables. According to a research paper published in the June 1997 issue of the journal "Nature", one such component, ECGC, may stop a developing cancer by inhibiting the activity of the enzyme urokinase. In cancer, urokinase helps dissolve the proteins in living cells, making room for the tumor and the blood vessels that feed it. Jerzy Jankum, a professor of urology at the Medical College of Ohio in Toledo, authored the paper with Medical College researchers Steven Selman and Rafal Swiercz, and Ewa Skrzypczak-Jankun of the University of Toledo. Their conclusion? Inhibiting the process essentially starves the tumor. Separate from these antioxidant effects, researchers at the University of Arizona demonstrated that topically applied EGCG inhibited ultraviolet light-induced activation of AP-1, a gene involved in the induction of skin cancer.
A case-control study appearing in the June 1, 1994, issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, found that Chinese men and women who drink green tea have a reduced risk of up to 60 percent of developing esophageal cancer. At a meeting of the American Chemical Society in 1991, researchers reported that even cigarette smokers who consumed green tea had a 45 percent lower risk of cancer than nontea drinkers.
Mitchell Gaynor, Director of Medical Oncology at the Strang-Cornell Cancer Prevention Center in New York City says, "When people ask me for something good and cheap they can do to reduce their cancer risk, I tell them drink real tea."
GREEN TEA AND BLOOD PRESSURE
Green tea is a hypotensive, lowering blood pressure and helping to increase blood flow to the heart. Many Asians have long consumed green tea with meals, and this practice is now showing to reduce arterial disease. Many heart attacks are brought on by blood platelet aggregation and green tea prevents the blood from "clumping together" and forming clots that can lead to stroke. One study indicates that 6,000 Japanese women who were nondrinkers and nonsmokers over 40 drank about five cups of green tea a day had a 50 percent decrease in the risk of stroke (Natural Health [March/April 1994]).
So have a cup of tea! It's a soothing respite from a hectic world. And Ron Prior, a researcher at the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging says you'll be getting about the same amount of antioxidants as you would in one serving of vegetables.
To get the most benefits from your tea, brew it fresh and drink it within minutes after steeping.
Sandy and Jim Laurie live at Frog Pond Farm in Iroquois County, Illinois, where they grow their own organic produce and tend to a large flock of rescued chickens and guinea fowl.