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Is drinking tea good for you?

Nutritionist Sophie Lester (RNutr) shares all on the nations favourite drink.

We Brits love our tea – we drink a staggering 100 million cups every day [1]. It is the most consumed drink in the world (after water), and in many parts of the world, people worship tea for its health-giving properties. 

Want to know a little more about these health effects? Grab yourself a cuppa and read on.

1.    Hydration

55-60% of our bodies contain water [5] but we gradually lose water naturally throughout the day. Symptoms of dehydration include headaches, tiredness, and dry, chapped lips. Only 1% loss of hydration is enough to make you feel drowsy and unable to concentrate [5]. So, it is vital to keep our hydration levels topped up regularly.

Fortunately, experts include tea as a hydration source to help meet your daily requirements of 6-8 glasses of fluid a day [6]. What’s more, one well-controlled study found that tea is just as good as hydrating you, compared to water [2]. So all the more reason to carry on enjoying your daily cuppa.

2.    Mind

Tea naturally contains two important chemicals that affect our brains.

The first natural chemical is caffeine. Caffeine is a stimulant which means it can make us feel more focussed and energised. The second natural chemical is called L-theanine; this compound causes us to feel more relaxed. The combination of the two chemicals means that tea has the unique property of being stimulating at the same time as relaxing! [7]

Regularly drinking tea may have benefits over the long-term. One recent study from Newcastle University found that people that consume tea regularly (more than 5 cups a tea a day) had better focus and reaction times. The researchers also found that these people had better psychomotor skills – the relationship between thinking and moving. The researchers explained that this effect could be related to the rituals of making a pot of tea, or the social benefits we gain from sharing a tea break with friends [3]. The perfect excuse to give your boss next time they catch you on an extended tea break!

3.    Antioxidants

Tea also contains special compounds called antioxidants. These are sometimes also called polyphenols, flavonoids or epicatechins – these are all antioxidants (scientists love fancy names!). 

Many population-based studies show a link between drinking green tea and a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer [8] – which some experts attribute to the beneficial effects of these compounds in our bodies.

It isn’t completely clear whether these effects are due to the tea or if people who drink tea have healthier lifestyles overall. But, if enjoyed as part of a healthy lifestyle, you can gain any benefits at the same time as enjoying a nice warming cuppa.

4.    Nutrition

Unlike the rest of the world who drink tea neat - 98% of tea drank in the UK is drank with milk. Experts believe we first started to add milk to counteract the bitterness of tea in our mouths.

It turns out that adding milk to tea wasn’t a bad idea at all. Milk, and fortified milk alternatives, have huge nutritional benefits. They contain essential nutrients such as iodine (important for a healthy thyroid and metabolism), calcium (important for healthy muscles and bones) and protein (necessary for maintaining our cells and muscles) [5].

5.    Oral health

Tannins in tea (especially green tea) are antibacterial and help remove residue in our mouths that can contribute to tooth decay [9]. It can also have anti-inflammatory effects in the mouth by suppressing free radicals produced by bacteria [10]. Regularly drinking green tea may even protect against bad breath (also known as halitosis) [9].

If you want to gain these benefits from tea, you should drink it without sugar. Sugar can support bacterial growth and therefore cause tooth decay, so a sugary tea will undo any benefits. Finding it hard to wean yourself off sweet tea? Try a sweetener instead; the sweetener xylitol has extra dental benefits because it prevents dental caries! [11]

Summary

Besides being a comforting and hydrating drink, regularly drinking tea can significantly benefit our health. These benefits are not limited to the drink itself, but merely sharing a cuppa with your friends and family is beneficial for your brain health and sense of wellbeing. Time to get the kettle on.


References

[1] https://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/articles/zm2txyc
[2] Ruxton, C.H. and Hart, V.A., 2011. Black tea is not significantly different from water in the maintenance of normal hydration in human subjects: results from a randomised controlled trial. British journal of nutrition, 106(4), pp.588-595.
[3] https://www.ncl.ac.uk/press/articles/latest/2020/12/cupofteabrightensthedayandthemind/
[4] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33042566/
[5] https://www.nutrition.org.uk/healthyliving/hydration/adults-teens.html
[6] https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/water-drinks-nutrition/
[7] Kimura, K., Ozeki, M., Juneja, L.R. and Ohira, H., 2007. L-Theanine reduces psychological and physiological stress responses. Biological psychology, 74(1), pp.39-45.
[8] https://doi.org/10.1093/jn/133.10.3285S
[9] 10.4103/0972-124X.99256
[10] Tripathi, P., Blaggana, V., Upadhyay, P., Jindal, M., Gupta, S. and Nishat, S., 2019. Antioxidant therapy (lycopene and green tea extract) in periodontal disease: A promising paradigm. Journal of Indian Society of Periodontology, 23(1), p.25.
[11] https://xylitol.org/sugar-alternatives-for-tea/