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For thousands of years, teas has been known as the key to good health, happiness and wisdom in the East. Now modern science is discovering what people in China and elswehere have known all along.

Tea is a name given to alot of brews, but purist consider only green tea, black tea, white tea, oolong tea and  pu-erh tea to be the real thing. All of these are derived from the Camelia sinensis plant, a shrub native to China and India and contain unique antioxidants called flavonoids. Flavonoids inhibit the growth of cancer cells and prevent the development of new ones. The most potent of these is ECGC (Epigallocatechin Gallate). All of these teas also contain caffeine and theanine, which affect the brain and seem to heighten mental alertness. The more processed the tea leaves, usually the less polyphenol content which include flavonoids. Oolong and black teas are oxidized or fermented, so they have lower concentrations of polyphenols than green tea but their antioxidizing power is still high.

Studies have found some teas may help with several different disease conditions, weight control and even improve brain function. “I think it is a great alternative to drinking coffee, says American Diabetic Association spokesperson Katherine Tallmadge, MA,RD,LD.

Black Tea

Made with fermented leaves, black tea has the highest caffeine content and forms the basis for flavored teas like chai, along with some instant teas. Studies have shown that black tea may protect the lungs from damage caused by exposure to cigarette smoke. It may also reduce the risk of stroke.

White Tea

This tea is uncured and unfermented. It is the least processed and has the highest levels of antioxidants. White tea contains the same types of antioxidants as green tea but in greater quantity. One study showed that white tea has the most potent anticancer properties compared to more processed teas and has been found to work as well as prescription drugs, but without the side effects. White tea has many other benefits as well, such as, reduces blood sugar and helps prevent and alleviate the symptoms of diabetes, reduces stress and increases energy, protects the skin against free radicals, protects against heart disease and stroke, and strengthens bones. It may or may not aid in weight loss. Studies suggest the tea may increase metabolism and encourage the body to burn more fat, but a balanced diet and regular exercise are more likely to produce results. It still can’t hurt by adding white tea to your weight loss plan. Another benefit of white tea that is of great interest to the dental profession is that white tea contains small amounts of fluoride and other nutrients that will help keep the teeth strong and healthy. It also kills the bacteria that causes plaque, decay and bad breath.

Pu-erh Tea

This tea is made from fermented and aged leaves. Considered a black tea, its leaves are pressed into cakes. One of the benefits is its ability to lower cholesterol. One study found a profound reduction in LDL, or “bad” cholesterol and an increase in HDL “good” cholesterol. Pu-erh has also shown great benefit for people suffering from metabolic syndrome, a group of risk factors for cardiovascular disease which include high blood pressure, low HDL cholesterol, high fasting blood sugar, high triglycerides and abdominal obesity. Research shows that pu-erh has similar amounts of antioxidant activity as green, black and oolong teas.

Green Tea

Made with steamed tea leaves, green tea has a high concentration of ECGC and has been widely studied. The ECGC is the main reason this tea has such powerful medicinal properties. Due to caffeine being the key active ingredient, drinking green tea helps improve brain funtioning such as improved mood, vigilance, reaction time and memory. Green tea doesn’t have as much caffeine as coffee but enought to produce a response without causing “jittery” effects associated with too much caffeine. Even more than just caffeine, green tea has an amino acid that working in combination with the caffeine, are particularly potent at improving brain function. People report having a more stable energy and being more productive drinking green tea compared to coffee. Other benefits include, increases fat burning and improves physical performance, lowers the risk of various types of cancer, and protects the brain in old age lowering the risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease. Studies have also shown that green tea kills bacteria in the mouth to improve dental health and lowers the risk of infection, lowers the risk of Type II Diabetes, reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease and may aid in weight loss by boosting the metabolic rate in the short term.

Oolong Tea

One of the most popular types of tea in China, oolong has most of the same benefits as green tea and the others such as boosts metabolism, lowers cholesterol, increase in mental alertness and more. But oolong has also been shown to aid in digestion because it alkalizes the digestive tract reducing inflammation in those with acid reflux and ulcer problems. Oolong also promotes healthy hair due to high levels of antioxidants. These antioxidants prevent hair loss when you make a rinse out of the tea leaves. This results in thicker, shinier hair that is soft and lusterous.

Herbal Tea

Made from herbs, fruits, seeds or roots steeped in hot water, herbal teas have lower concentrations of antioxidants than green tea, white tea, black tea and oolongs. Varieties include ginger, ginkgo biloba, ginseng, hibiscus, jasmine, rosehip, mint, rooibos (red tea), chamomile and echinacea. There is limited research on the health benefits of herbal teas but there the claims that they help shed pounds, stave off colds and bring on restful sleep are largely unsupported.

Instant Tea

These may contain very little amounts of the actual tea and plenty of sugars or artificial sweetners. It’s best to check the ingredients on the label before consuming if you are looking for health benefits.

We know that tea can be good for your health, but can tea be bad for your health?

Most teas are benign but the FDA has issued warnings about so-called dieter’s teas that contain senna, aloe, buckhorn and other plant-derived laxatives. They also warn consumers to be wary of herb-containing supplements that claim to kill pain and fight cancer. None of the claims are backed by science and some herbs have led to bowel problems, liver and kidney damage and even death. The FDA also cautions against taking supplements that include: Comfrey, Ephedra, Willow Bark, Germander, Lobelia and Chaparral.

*Note: Adding milk to tea can reduce the antioxidant value. This is not a good idea even though some may prefer to do this.

*Note: It’s important to consume tea in moderation because it contains a certain amount of caffeine. Consuming too much caffeine can result in side effects including headache, anxiety, IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), irregular heartbeat and inflammation. If you are pregnant, breast feeding or have a serious medical condition that is affected by caffeine consumption, talk to your doctor first.

In Conclusion, one should incorporate healthy beverages in your diet on a regular basis to benefit from these health-promoting properties. It’s not just about the foods we eat, but it’s also about what we drink as well, that contributes to our health and wellbeing.