Tea is one of the most popular drinks in the world. Soon, it might be even more popular – because it just might save your life.
An apple a day keeps the doctor away – or so the old adage goes. Can the same be said about tea? A sufficient number of studies confirm that a strong inverse correlation exists between consumption of tea and risk of developing a plethora of cancers; tea is also seemingly effective against other maladies [1-4]. Clinical studies are still underway.
Tea comes from the plant Camellia sinensis. Nowadays, a myriad of tea options is available – green, black, and oolong. And though tea is now seemingly everywhere, its origin still remain uncertain, a remnant of ancient folklore claimed by both India and China .
Tracing the origins of tea
It is often believed in Chinese folklore that Emperor Shen Nong’s servants would serve him hot water. In one instance, tea leaves appeared in the pot of hot water. Presumably from a nearby tree, the leaves greatly pleased the emperor’s taste buds.
A separate story relays the experiences of Siddhartha, Buddhism’s founder, who supposedly tossed his own eyelids onto the earth, witnessing the birth of a tea bush. Though both stories may be apocryphal, Buddhists and the Chinese still value them .
Many centuries later, in 479, Turkish merchants began tea negotiations with China. Then, in 593, tea landed in Japan, into the welcoming arms of Buddhist monks. In 1618, green tea finally made the rounds in Europe, imported by the Dutch after their visits to Japan. And in the early part of the 20th century, Sumatra, Indonesia, and even Kenya become exposed to the drink . Presently, millions of people, from all walks of life, consume tea on a daily basis, making it nearly ubiquitous. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, nearly 5 million tons of tea were produced globally in 2013 .
Tea first, water second
Turkish people are so utterly obsessed with tea that it would be unjust not to declare it their national drink. One can find a teapot in nearly every household. It holds a special place in the minds and hearts of all, and has become deeply ingrained into Turkish culture. Turks profoundly cherish tea, in a similar manner to how Americans love their coffee and Italians their espresso.
Turkish people brew tea first thing in the morning and tea consumption continues throughout the day. While green and black are frequent options, the latter is generally more popular.
The preparation of “Turkish” tea is rather simple. A few spoons of ground tea are placed into a teapot following a cleansing and moistening process. The teapot remains situated upon a tea kettle, where water is boiled. At an appropriate time, water is transferred from the kettle to the teapot, brewing tea. In general, the hot tea is served in small teacups to prolong the mouth-watering pleasure.
This drink represents more than just a pinch of tea leaves swirling in hot water. It is a symbol of friendship, love, and unity. Regardless of the occasion, a cup of tea creates a welcoming atmosphere and can brew lifelong friendships.
While tea may be a cultural staple for those who drink it, they may not realize that the many antioxidants the drink contains may have serious benefits for their health.
On the molecular level, what makes tea special?
Antioxidants are an umbrella term for different chemicals that keep our body’s free radicals in check. Free radicals, with an unpaired electron in their outermost atomic shell, are harmful to living organisms as they wreak havoc on the body as they attempt to seize nearby electrons. This in turn can take a heavy toll on a body, causing damage at the molecular level and possibly leading to potentially fatal diseases. Therefore, the human body utilizes antioxidants as a first line of defense against the detrimental effects of free radicals.
Polyphenols are a type of antioxidant found abundantly in many of the foods and drinks we routinely consume, including tea, fruits, and veggies. Polyphenolic compounds found naturally in tea leaves have been shown to be effective in alleviating health-related concerns . However, uncertainties abound as to whether or not tea compounds truly are capable of impeding cancerous cell growth or preventing other illnesses [9, 10].
Promising results against cancer
Our understanding of polyphenols and antioxidants is raw, with each new study bringing us one step closer to fully comprehending the inner-happenings of the human body. Researchers are still interested in solving the puzzling effect of tea compounds on the overall well-being of living organisms. Studies are relatively recent, but a substantial amount of scientific research has suggested that tea compounds have beneficial effects towards human or animal health [9-12].
In a case study conducted on 130 newly diagnosed prostate cancer patients in Hangzhou, China, 124 patients who frequently consumed green tea for extended periods of time were less likely to develop prostate cancer than those who did not. Interestingly enough, the other six cancer patients also drank tea, just in the form of black .
Likewise, Bettuzzi et al. observed that men administered 200 mg dosages of green tea catechins had a 10x lowered prostate cancer incidence rate as compared to a placebo group. Of the treatment group, only one individual was noted to have developed cancer at the yearly biopsy check, while in the placebo group, nine individuals developed cancer at varying times . Ultimately, their observations suggest that green tea may be a beacon of hope for desperate cancer patients.
Despite such promising results, it has been noted that green tea may not be nearly as effective as advertised in treating cancer. According to Choan et al., when 19 hormone-refractory, advanced-stage prostate cancer patients (for whom hormone therapy is deemed to be ineffective) were administered green tea in capsulated form, their conditions seemed to gradually decline [13, 14]. This was the case for all patients, less one whose body responded somewhat positively to the treatment. This study confirmed that green tea had little to no effect on the progression of cancer in the body .
A beacon of light
According to Stockfleth et al., when 503 wart victims were exposed to Polyphenon E 15% Ointment, a medication containing tea catechins, significant reductions in ongoing warts were noticed in nearly half of the treated individuals, with under 6 percent of those treated showing signs of wart recurrence [11, 15]. The efficacy of the treatment was more noticeable in women, with 60 percent reporting full clearance of warts .
Furthermore, independent studies on smoking men and non-smoking women reported a decreased risk of developing lung cancer following consumption of green tea [2, 3]. Both studies provide valuable insight into the fascinating workings of tea compounds; regardless of lifestyle choices, similar effects were observed.
Black and green tea have also improved the lives of rats suffering from debilitating high blood pressure, enabling them to achieve sound cardiovascular health . Another study done on rats has passively urged the scientific community to start an inquiry into the health effects of green tea on humans after obtaining promising data regarding the regulation of lipid metabolism in blood plasma .
Lastly, drinking tea has been shown to be helpful in decreasing risks associated with developing diabetes, yet a cause-effect relationship between consumption and risk cannot be safely assumed .
Tea is still fun to drink!
Studies on this topic conclude that a definitive causal relationship between tea consumption and the efficacy of its health benefits has not been confirmed [1, 3, 4]. To be able to successfully elucidate the effects that drinking tea has on inhibiting cancerous growth, research studies in general need to provide the necessary specificity regarding consumption behaviors, lifestyle choices, individual physical characteristics, and so forth. This is in large part due to the intricate design and complexity of human physiology. Moreover, we should appreciate the chemistry that takes place in our bodies at the microscopic level and continue to assume healthy dietary practices at the macroscopic level. Once we develop a better understanding of the relationship between tea consumption and health, only then can we prescribe safe medical practices regarding an appropriate tea regimen for the general population.
For now, it should be okay for habitual tea drinkers to continue indulging themselves. Moreover, tea has the intrinsic power to instill energy in social settings and to establish a conscious appreciation for the life around us.
Deeply embedded in Turkish culture and revered by many around the globe, it comes as no surprises then that a renowned Turkish bard and poetic mastermind by the name of Aşık Veysel once said, “I do not have much to offer you. But for entertainment and pleasure, either have some tea and lend an ear to my melodies or travel somewhere your heart desires.”
Researchers are still trying to understand the impact tea has on one’s overall health and the relationships between tea and cancer, cardiovascular diseases, and other medical concerns.
Tea is a popular drink worldwide and its influence in social, cultural, and medical aspects of life continue to thrive. It is second to water consumption in most countries and its exciting history continues to bridge new friendships and memories for years to come.
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- Mendilaharsu, M., E. De Stefani, H. Deneo-Pellegrini, J. C. Carzoglio, and A. Ronco. "Consumption of Tea and Coffee and the Risk of Lung Cancer in Cigarette-Smoking Men: A Case-Control Study in Uruguay." Lung Cancer 19, no. 2 (Feb 1998): 101-7.
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- Bettuzzi, S., M. Brausi, F. Rizzi, G. Castagnetti, G. Peracchia, and A. Corti. "Chemoprevention of Human Prostate Cancer by Oral Administration of Green Tea Catechins in Volunteers with High-Grade Prostate Intraepithelial Neoplasia: A Preliminary Report from a One-Year Proof-of-Principle Study." Cancer Res 66, no. 2 (Jan 15 2006): 1234-40.
- Negishi, H., J. W. Xu, K. Ikeda, M. Njelekela, Y. Nara, and Y. Yamori. "Black and Green Tea Polyphenols Attenuate Blood Pressure Increases in Stroke-Prone Spontaneously Hypertensive Rats." J Nutr 134, no. 1 (Jan 2004): 38-42.
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