The Healing Power of Tea

Iced or hot, the beverage is creating quite a stir as a health powerhouse that may lower your cholesterol, build your bones -- maybe even help prevent cancer. Is it time to switch from coffee?
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Beneficial Brews

Picture this: a dismal winter day, a comfy chair, a snuggly sweater, and a steaming mug of tea. Sounds relaxing, sure. But tea is more than just a de-stressing drink -- it's got potent power to protect against some of the deadliest diseases.

Although tea doesn't quite rank with fresh fruits and vegetables as a health food, scientists are finding that drinking tea may keep your heart healthy, protect you from cancer, boost your body's ability to fight off germs, strengthen your bones, prevent cavities, and sharpen your concentration.

We're talking about the real thing -- tea made from Camellia sinensis, a Southeast Asian evergreen shrub. The leaves used to make black, green, and oolong teas all come from this same small tree, as does pale and pricey white tea, prized in China for its delicate taste and fragrance. (Herbal teas come from other plants.)

"White, black, oolong, and green teas have different aromas and flavors, but they're all healthy," says Jeffrey Blumberg, PhD, director of the Antioxidants Research Laboratory at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, in Boston. Dr. Blumberg was a tea drinker even before he knew it was good for him. Now he downs an average of two cups a day -- and thinks the rest of us should, too.

Tea's healthy benefits come from antioxidants called flavonoids; these destroy highly toxic free radicals in the body, which can trigger disease. These potent natural compounds are in every sip of home-brewed hot and iced tea, and many bottled teas. Check labels to be sure all you're getting is tea -- not sweeteners, artificial flavorings, food coloring, or other additives that could lessen these antioxidants' protective effects.

Which type should you drink? Opinions differ. Green tea is less processed and retains compounds that may have more power to fight cancer than those in black tea, says best-selling author and integrative-medicine pioneer Andrew Weil, MD. Dr. Blumberg believes the jury is still out on whether green or black is healthier. "Green has been studied more in the East and black in the West because they're the kinds most widely consumed in those parts of the world," he says. Whichever type you choose, adding tea to your daily menu has a host of potential benefits.

Continued on page 2:  Why You Should Drink Tea


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