Can Tea Help With Inflammation?

Medically Reviewed by Kathleen M. Zelman, RD, LD, MPH on July 12, 2023
4 min read

People all over the world drink tea. Drinking tea is said to have many benefits for your health. But, does it help with inflammation? 

Inflammation is your immune system’s response to an irritant, injury, or infection. Inflammation can be acute (sudden and/or severe) or chronic (long-term).

Acute inflammation. This is when your body releases white blood cells to protect the area of injury or infection. This results in pain, swelling, warmth, and redness around joints and tissues.

The inflammation starts quickly and becomes severe in a short time. Symptoms may last for a few days but generally go away soon. 

Chronic inflammation. In chronic inflammation, your inflammation doesn’t go away, and your immune system continues to send out white blood cells. Your white blood cells may attack healthy organs and tissues.

Factors that may increase your risk of chronic inflammation include:

  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • A diet high in refined sugar, saturated fats, or trans fats
  • Being of an older age
  • Stress and sleep problems
  • Low levels of sex hormones 

The term “anti-inflammatory” means having the ability to reduce inflammation; anti-inflammatory molecules can be natural or artificial.

There are many different types of tea — black, oolong, white, green, etc. — but they are all made from the leaves of the tea plant Camellia sinensis. They’re just processed differently. Black and oolong teas are fermented, while white and green teas aren’t.

Herbal teas are not made from the tea plant, but instead from the flowers, leaves, and roots of different plants. Some popular herbal teas include chamomile and peppermint.

Tea has over 2,000 components. These include minerals, elements, vitamins, and amino acids. Research on the anti-inflammatory properties of tea has focused on plant-based compounds called polyphenols.

Anti-inflammatory abilities. Research has shown that some polyphenols may have anti-inflammatory properties that may potentially help prevent some chronic diseases.

Most of the studies on the anti-inflammatory abilities of tea have been lab or animal studies. But a few clinical trials have shown that tea may have some anti-inflammatory benefits in people. 

One study found that participants who drank black tea for 6 weeks had lower levels of C-reactive protein (a sign of inflammation) than those in the placebo group.

Green tea may also have an effect on inflammation. In a study of 56 obese people with high blood pressure, researchers found that those who were given green tea extract daily had significantly lower levels of C-reactive proteins.

Drinking green tea may also help decrease inflammatory factors associated with chronic inflammatory disorders like rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease.

Brain health. Research has found that regular tea drinkers have lower risks of dementia and mild cognitive impairment. Mild cognitive impairment is the stage between normal cognitive decline due to aging and the more serious decline of dementia.

Bone health. Tea may help encourage bone formation and is linked to a lower risk of fractures from osteoporosis.

Heart health. Studies have shown that drinking tea is associated with a lower risk of heart disease and stroke.

Tea is generally thought to be safe, even in large amounts. But there have been reports of stomach cramps and kidney stones because of excessive tea drinking.

There may be more risks when consuming tea extracts. Green tea extract products may cause liver damage (hepatotoxicity). Green tea extract may also reduce the effectiveness of some medications like simvastatin and nadolol.

Some herbal teas may trigger allergies. They often contain different types of spices, flowers, herbs, and fruits. If you have allergies, read the ingredients list before you try a new herbal tea. 

How to brew tea. Use fresh tea as the oils that give tea its flavor break down over time. When brewing black, dark oolong, and herbal teas, use boiling water. Use cooler water (at 170 to 180 degrees Fahrenheit) for green, white, and lighter oolong. 

Steep black and dark oolong teas for 3 to 5 minutes, while green, white, and light oolong teas only need 2 to 3 minutes of steeping. There’s less risk of over-steeping herbal teas.

Drink sweetened tea in moderation. Tea itself has very few calories. But adding sugar or other sweetener increases the number of calories in your drink. One teaspoon of sugar has about 20 calories.

Adding sugar to your tea may offset any health benefits that tea may provide.

Detox teas. Be careful with detox teas. Some of them may have ingredients with laxative properties.