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The Health Benefits of Tea

A cup of tea eases frazzled nerves, helps your heart, and may even help fight cancer.
By
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

It's a rite of summer, setting out the sun tea jar. With all the health benefits of black tea, sun tea is even more welcome than ever. There's compelling evidence that tea reduces the risk of heart disease, and possibly even helps prevent cancer and Alzheimer's disease.

Indeed, tea is considered a superfood -- whether it's black, green, white, or oolong tea. All those tea types come from the same tea plant, Camellia sinensis. The leaves are simply processed differently. Green tea leaves are not fermented; they are withered and steamed. Black tea and oolong tea leaves undergo crushing and fermenting processes.

All teas from the Camellia plant are rich in polyphenols, antioxidants that detoxify cell-damaging free radicals in the body. Tea has about eight to 10 times the polyphenols found in fruits and vegetables, according to long-time tea researcher John Weisburger, PhD, senior researcher at the Institute for Cancer Prevention in Valhalla, N.Y.

Studies of humans, animals, and petri-dish experiments show that tea is high beneficial to our health. Research suggests that regular tea drinkers -- people who drink two cups or more a day -- have less heart disease and stroke, lower total and LDL cholesterol, and recover from heart attacks faster. There's also evidence that tea may help fight ovarian and breast cancers.

Tea also helps soothe stress and keep us relaxed. One British study found that people who drank black tea were able to de-stress faster than those who drank a fake tea substitute. The tea drinkers had lower levels of cortisol, a stress hormone.

The Secret Ingredient in Tea

Catechins, a type of disease-fighting flavonoid and antioxidant, are the keys to tea's health benefits. Here's a tip: The longer you steep the tea, the more flavonoids you'll get in your brew.

To get the best tea benefit, some studies suggest drinking three cups each day to cut heart disease risk. Since iced tea is diluted, it's a lighter source of flavonoids -- but it still counts!

Choose to drink tea whenever you can, especially as a substitute for soft drinks. In the long run, drinking tea helps tote up the antioxidants you get in a day's time.

Making Sun Tea

Get a clear glass gallon-sized jar: The glass lets the sun in, and doesn't give tea any strange odors or tastes that come from plastic.

Use black tea: 16 teabags to make one gallon (16 cups) of sun tea.

Find a sunny spot on your patio for your sun tea jar. Let it soak up the sun's rays for about three hours. Remove tea bags. Pour over ice for a great summer treat!

Reviewed on April 25, 2007

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