Western tea drinkers have traditionally preferred black tea, but that began to change as news of the benefits of green tea began to get widespread coverage. Claims for the benefits of green tea have been substantiated through scientific study, so tea lovers have lots of evidence to justify their tea-drinking habit.
All of this is old hat to tea drinkers in Asian countries where the benefits of green tea have been known for thousands of years. Traditional Chinese medicine holds that green tea has a positive effect on the 5 vital organs – the heart, the liver, the kidney, the spleen and the lungs. Indeed, the first use of tea in China was as a medicine.
Science has backed up the folklore with solid evidence of the benefits of green tea. Green tea contains high levels of an antioxidant called epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). Green tea also has other antioxidants but EGCG has particular benefits for lowering cholesterol levels and inhibiting the growth of cancer cells.
This explains why the benefits of green tea include the reduction of heart disease – common in America but more rarely seen in Asian countries. Scientific studies have pointed to the effect of EGCG in lowering LDL cholesterol levels and inhibiting the formation of blood clots that can cause strokes and heart attacks.
What is Different about Green Tea?
Since green tea comes from the same plant as black tea and oolong tea, why is green tea healthier for us than the others? The traditional view has been that green tea undergoes less processing, thereby retaining more of the benefits that are found in tea leaves.
Green tea is referred to as an un-oxidized (or “un-fermented”) tea, meaning that the leaves are steamed or fried quickly after picking so that the natural oxidation process is halted. Black tea is fully oxidized, whereas oolong tea is partially oxidized.
Oxidation is the chemical process that all vegetable matter undergoes after harvesting. It is what causes the leaves to turn brown. By halting the oxidation of green tea leaves they retain more of the health-promoting antioxidants like EGCG.
This was the accepted viewpoint held up until a few years ago. Recent research, however, has pointed out that the relative levels of certain types of antioxidants vary with the amount of processing the tea leaves undergo. The levels of certain antioxidants are higher in green tea and lower in black tea, but other types of antioxidants (with equal health benefits) are found in higher concentrations in black tea and oolong tea than in green tea.
This finding doesn’t contradict the considerable body of evidence about the benefits of green tea, but it also shows that tea drinkers who prefer black tea or oolong tea can enjoy the same benefits that were thought to be unique to green tea. These benefits include:
• Improved mental functioning
• Stopping certain neurodegenerative illnesses such as Alzheimers
• Preventing/ treating cancer
• Treating Arthritis
• Treating MS
• Preventing the degradation of cell membranes by neutralizing the spread of free radicals (which occurs during the process of oxidation)
• Increases fat oxidation (helps the body use fat as an energy source) and raises metabolism.
• Lowering LDL cholesterol
• Preventing lowered T-Cells due to HIV - In lab tests, EGCG, found in green tea, was found to prevent HIV from attacking T-Cells. However, it is not known if this has any effect on humans yet.
So go ahead – enjoy your cup of tea (green, black or oolong) for its great taste and bask in the knowledge that it will help you live a longer and healthier life.