This past week, the latest evidence around the health benefits of tea was presented at the Sixth International Scientific Symposium on Tea and Human Health by the world's leading nutritional scientists. The new findings strongly support that drinking tea regularly promotes optimal wellness in numerous ways.
"True teas – which include green, black, white, oolong, and dark tea – can contribute significantly to the promotion of public health. Evidence presented at the symposium revealed very compelling evidence around the benefits of tea on cardiometabolic disease, cognitive performance, cancer, and immune function," explained symposium chair Jeffery Blumberg, Ph.D., and professor at Tufts University.
Keep reading to find out exactly where tea came from, what it is, and why drinking just two cups of tea every day could be the most straightforward and influential lifestyle choice you can make to improve your health as you age.
The history of tea
Did you know that tea was discovered by accident over 5,000 years ago? Legend has it that the custom of drinking tea first happened around 2737 BC when wind-swept tea leaves accidentally made their way into a pot of boiling water prepared for the Chinese Emperor, Shen Nung.
The Emperor was delighted with the aroma and coloring of the resulting brew, so he decided to drink some. It is then said the Emperor described a warm sensation and pleasant feeling after drinking the accidental brew.
Emperor Shen Nung went on to name this accidental brew "ch'a," which is a Chinese character that translates to investigate or to check, and by the time the Han Dynasty was ruling in 200 B.C, Tea was given a unique written character that resembled wooden branches, grass, and a man standing between the two. This written character, pronounced "ch'a," was thought to symbolize the way tea brought balance with nature in China.
Tea in the modern world
Fast forward to the present day, and thousands of Americans are making tea a part of their daily rituals, and they are replacing their coffee and soft drinks with it. As of 2022, tea is the second most popular beverage to drink after water — over 156M Americans drink tea on any given day – and scientists are finding that the early perception of tea's healthfulness holds substantial merit in today's world.
What is tea?
All teas come from the Camellia Sinensis plant, a sub-tropical, evergreen plant native to Asia but now grown throughout the world. Generally speaking, Camellia Sinensis plants do best at high altitudes, with loose, deep soil in subtropical climates. Therefore, anything else which may be called "tea," such as chamomile or another herbal tea such as rooibos, are not, in fact, "teas" from the Camellia Sinensis plant and are instead known as "Tisanes."
How the fresh leaves of the tea plant are, how the leaves are processed, and their level oxygen exposure determine resulting types of tea. If you want to know more about what matcha tea is, click here.
The chemistry in every cup of tea
Teas are very rich in flavonoids, naturally occurring compounds found in tea with potent antioxidant properties. The flavonoids found in tea provide bioactive compounds that help neutralize free radicals and toxins in the body. If left unchecked, they contribute to chronic disease and wreak havoc overtime on the body.
Recent studies have also associated two distinctly healthful compounds in tea: L-theanine and caffeine. Teas are naturally high in l-theanine, a unique amino acid that has been researched to directly impact areas of the brain that affect attention and problem-solving. The combination of caffeine and l-theanine content in tea has also been studied to increase energy for work, better self-reported world performance, and more creative problem-solving.
5 Ways Tea Can Benefit Your Health, According to The Latest Scientific Findings
A stronger immune system
Drinking tea can help bolster your immune system and increase your body's resistance to illnesses, according to Dayong Wu, MD, Ph.D., a researcher at Tufts University.
"In the event you do become sick, tea can help your body respond to illness more efficiently by ridding itself of the infection and alleviating the severity when it happens."
When it comes to drinking tea for a more robust immune system, you likely want to opt for a green tea variety, such as Matcha powder. In a comprehensive review of all the published data on tea and immune health, green tea rose to the top as the best tea to help the body fight against various pathogens. Among all the tea varieties, green tea, which is very high in catechins, is the type most reported to effectively improve autoimmune disorders through enhanced tissue repair and anti-inflammatory properties in test settings.
Better cognitive performance under stress
When it comes to focusing and overall cognitive function, drinking tea every day can have profound benefits. New findings revealed at this year's symposium found that there is strong evidence that tea is particularly beneficial to cognitive function when individuals are under stress and feeling anxious, which makes tea the optimal beverage of choice right now – during a time when a lot of people are experiencing elevated stress levels and work burnout worldwide.
Evidence from several randomized controlled trials found that tea consumption can hugely impact someone's ability to switch between tasks and level of alertness while working. Specifically, the unique combination of L-theanine with caffeine found in tea has a significant beneficial impact on attention task performance. This is because the caffeine in tea is processed differently by the body than when you drink a cup of coffee.
Prevention of cognitive decline with age
Tea can also play a key role in keeping our minds sharp as we age. This is especially true as there is currently no effective drug treatment known for dementia – so prevention is essential. Researchers suggest that up to 50% of dementia cases could be prevented through simple changes in lifestyle factors.
In a review of tea and cognitive decline presented at the 2022 symposium this April, a professor from Edith Cowan University explained the growing evidence around drinking 1 to 2 cups of tea daily. "Starting with as little as 1 cup daily and up to 5 to 6 daily are associated with reduced risks for vascular dementia and Alzheimer's disease." The professor also noted that these recent findings suggest that drinking tea every day could be one of the strongest preventative measures you can take against vascular dementia – which is one of the most common forms of dementia.
Cancer preventing properties
In this year's symposium, experts also examined the data on tea and cancer prevention, finding that higher intakes of regular tea consumption may, in fact, reduce the risk for some forms of cancer. So what gives tea its strong cancer-fighting properties? Scientists believe it is the tea's flavonoids, which exhibit antioxidant, anti-angiogenesis, and anti-inflammatory mechanisms in the body.
Experts agree that more research needs to be done around tea and cancer to determine the ideal "dosage" or amount of tea to have, though they agree that higher intakes of tea may reduce the risk of some forms of cancer. The suggestive evidence from the latest research points to tea effectively reducing the risk of breast, endometrial, liver, oral, and biliary tract cancer.
Improved cardiovascular health
Did you know that heart disease and diabetes are some of the top causes of death worldwide? Luckily, tea consumption has been associated with better heart health. According to the latest population studies, drinking tea daily may lower your chances of dying from cardiovascular disease.
In one extensive review on cardiovascular health and tea, researchers found that just one cup of tea daily was associated with a 1.5% decreased risk of all-cause mortality, a 4% lower risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) mortality, 2% lower risk of heart attacks, and a 4% lower risk of stroke.
So what is the ideal amount of tea if you are drinking for heart health? Based on various studies, experts agree that 2 cups of unsweetened tea per day may have massive potential to support against cardiometabolic risk in adults. Green tea — specifically matcha— has been studied to be the most effective tea for protecting heart health and lowering cholesterol.
The bottom line is – Ask your doctor about drinking two cups of tea daily.
When the time is taken, as it has been in this year's international tea symposium, to evaluate all the different biomarkers and mechanisms that tea is impacting, it is clear to see that tea is indeed a bountiful beverage that can be easily added to any diet to create a healthier, longer life.
According to experts, tea's healthful benefits come from having as little as one cup a day. If you want to maximize tea's potentially beneficial effects, two to four cups of tea per day is the optimal amount to drink daily.
If you are considering drinking tea daily or adding any other healthful daily routine to your regimen, we recommend having a talk with a trusted healthcare provider first.