The Tao of Tea
Tempest in a Teapot
Reality Check continued...
Tea advocates say most of the health effects derive from
"polyphenols," which are the antioxidants in tea. Weisburger explains
that it is the oxidized form of cholesterol, for instance, that damages the
surfaces of veins and arteries, leading to heart disease. "It turns out
that polyphenols in tea prevent oxidation," Weisburger tells WebMD.
Weisburger was keynote speaker at this year's International
Scientific Symposium on Tea and Human Health, sponsored by the U.S. Tea Council
in Washington. A similar symposium will be held again next year, he tells
The American Cancer Society has weighed in with a cautious
statement on tea as a cancer preventive. Some animal studies have been shown to
reduce risk, "but beneficial effects in people are not proven,"
according to a 1996 ACS statement on the subject.
"It's only in the last 10 year that Western science has
tried to look at antioxidant activities of tea," says Dave Ringer, PhD,
scientific program director at the ACS. "It's a young science. Generally,
it is felt that tea can inhibit the initiation of cancer and delay its
progression in animal studies. But we don't really have large well-controlled
epidemiological studies to look at this yet [in humans], because you need to
correct for the effects of other dietary components."
Dean Ornish, MD, says he believes some prominent medical
journals, like The New England Journal of Medicine, have a bias against
studies showing positive benefits of alternative treatments. Meanwhile, the
"performance bar" for studies showing the positive effects of a pill or
biomedical procedure is liable to be much lower, Ornish suggests.
Between a drug -- whose side effects may be known or unknown --
and a cup of tea, which is the more radical intervention, asks Ornish, director
of the nonprofit Preventive Medicine Research Institute, in Sausalito, Calif.,
and clinical professor of medicine at the University of California School of
Ultimately, the best reason to drink tea -- whatever its real
benefits -- may be that it tastes good and there's virtually nothing wrong with
it, he says.
"My attitude is if there is a potential benefit, even if
not yet fully proven, and the downside is minimal if at all, why not do
it?" says Ornish.
So drink up, by all means. Alvaro Viljoen, of South Africa,
downs six to seven cups of Rooibos a day.
It's nice to have before you go to bed, as well," he says.
"It's very relaxing, with a bit of lemon."