Heath Benefits of Tea – Camellia sinensis Materia Medica
Growing up in Arizona you learn quickly to enjoy cooling drinks that are refreshing, invigorating and make you feel good. I always did love a nice huge cup of iced tea – sugar free of course. Tea has always had the ability of easing indigestion and tummy trouble, and acting almost as a mental clarifyer when my brain is fried from heat. I love tea, and have learned to love green tea as well, both iced and hot. Although I have largely given up drinking coffee, my cup or two of iced or hot tea a day help keep me moving in the right direction and although they do contain caffeine, it has much less than I was having with my two huge cups of coffee a day habit.
Tea has been drunk in China and other parts of Asia for over 5000 years and is one of the 50 fundamental herbs in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)2. It is also used frequently in the traditional medicine of India called Ayurdeva. Tea is an “herb” with many reported health benefits, but recently green tea extract has brought its self on to the market with its high caffeine content and other additives that have caused the government to question the safety of the herb. As always, the bastardization of a traditional herb by corporations cause a lot of stress and heart ache (both literally and figuratively) to those of us who use the whole herb as it is traditionally intended. Although misuse of natural remedies are not uncommon, it breaks my heart to see a beautiful traditional drink and plant medicine vilified because of its exploitation by corporations and people. Using medicines to escape reality or to inappropriately use these plants in a way that makes them addictive like chocolate, tobacco, poppy, coffee and tea is unfortunately a big problem of our time.
In China you will find hundreds of variations of tea which can crudely be broken down into three larger groups: green tea, black tea and oolong (red) tea. Green tea is made from steamed and dried leaves, black tea is made from completely fermented tea leaves that are then dried and oolong tea is partially fermented and dried.
Green tea is the highest in antioxidants and is the most well studied for health benefits, although black and oolong have similar benefits, but generally aren’t as potent.
The most common complaints about the daily use of tea is the caffeine, which can cause chronic stress, adrenal fatigue, jitteryness, high blood pressure, headaches and addiction. Although the caffeine content of a brew varies based on the way the leaf was processed and length of brewing green tea is lower in caffeine than both black tea and coffee making it a relatively safer option, and a great way to wean off of the higher caffeine content of coffee. An 8oz cup of green tea averages 20-45 mg of caffeine, black tea averages 50 mg and coffee 95 mg per 8 oz.
Botanical Name : Camellia sinensis
Energetics: Cool, dry, astringent, sweet, bitter – green tea is cooling, black tea is warming
Actions: Analgesic, Anti-diarrheal, Anti-emetic, Anti inflammatory, anti-carcinogenic, anti-viral, appetite suppressant, astringent, cardio-stimulant, diuretic, hepatoprotective, neproprotective, stimulant
Constituents: amino acid l-theanine, caffeine, catechin polyphenols, epigallocatechin gallate (egcg), oxalates, fluoride, tannin
Green tea contains a large amount of antioxidants called polyphenols (specifically epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), catechins, theaflavins, tannins, and flavonoids) which are thought to cause both the anti-inflammatory, annalgesic, and anti-cancer health benefits. Antioxidants are molecules that inhibit oxidation of other molecules reducing free radical cell damage and leaving the body generally healthier.
Tanins are what give the tea a bitter taste and astringent quality. Bitter and astringent herbs are key in digestive complaints like leaky gut where the cells in the intestines aren’t as tightly bound as they should be and allows particles that aren’t fully digested into the interstitial space in the abdomen, leading to an overactive immune response. Green tea, along with other bitter astringent herbs, can help tone and tighten these gaps leading to healthier digestion (although a gut healing diet is always the first defense to such a thing). This same astringent quality helps ease diarrhea and vomiting.
The bitter flavor helps encourage liver secretions and enzymatic productions helping to better digest food, clear phlegm, and encourage proper elimination. Read more about the benefits of bitter flavor in your health here and make your own herbal bitters with the recipe in our Dandelion issue of Natural Herbal Living Magazine. It works so well with the liver in fact, that WebMD encourages caution when taken with many medications because it may help the liver process the drugs faster than intended!
Several studies have been done on the anticancer effects of green tea. A study on bladder cancer showed that woman who regularly drank black or green tea were less likely to suffer from bladder cancer. Another study showed that men with bladder cancer who drank green tea daily increased their life expectancy on average by five years. Clinical studies in animals have shown green tea to inhibit the growth of breast cancer cells, in one study of 472 women with various stages of breast cancer, researchers found that women who drank the most green tea had the least spread of cancer – this was especially true in pre-menopausal women in the early stages of breast cancer. Women in the late stages of the cancer showed little to no improvement from drinking green tea. EGCG is the antioxident that is most credited as an anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer to prevent the growth and development of skin cancer and tumors. 4,5,6,7,8,9,10, 11
Green tea is a common remedy in TCM for headaches. This is likely due to its caffeine content but could also have something to do with its anti-inflammatory benefits. I find tea does reduce my headaches, especially when I am detoxing off of a food or drink I shouldn’t be indulging in, like coffee.
I find when I have an asthmatic attack or trouble breathing from bronchitis, a nice strong cup of tea every 30 minutes until symptoms subside helps me breathe easier, deeper, and generally opens up my airways. Coffee works best for this but when coffee isn’t available strong tea is quite useful. I believe it is a combination of the steam and the caffeine opening airways. No studies (as far as I know) have been done to this effect.
Clinical studies show that green tea extract may help encourage weight loss, especially when combined with caffeine. Although this would definitely get your heart racing and probably increase your metabolism, I believe the doses needed for this to be effective would be detrimental to the health of just about anyone suffering from stress, fatigue, restlessness, insomnia, a weak heart, and could be quite damaging to health. I would not personally use or recommend green tea extract to be used in this way because overall health is much more important than temporary weight loss. I speak from personal experience when I say that burning the adrenals out is much easier than bringing them back to proper working order.
Now, a lot of these studies have been done on animals, or on humans taking high doses (5-10 cups a day) of green tea. Remember, if you take a high dose of an herb for a long period of time you are likely to see side effects, no matter how wonderful that herb is for you. I always caution moderation and do so here. 1-3 cups of tea a day are great for health purposes, but if you are sensitive to caffeine or addicted to it, this might not be the right herb for you. Tea is a crop that is grown with a lot of pesticides, this is why it is so important to buy organic tea (I have a whole article about that on the blog here. ) I usually purchase my teas through Mountain Rose Herbs or at my local Asian food grocery store.
Cautions and Side Effects
In normal doses Camellia sinensis is generally considered safe, but we see heart issues (tachycardia, high blood pressure, and cardiac failure) in people who take extremely high doses or extracts of herbs containing high levels of caffeine – I do not recommend this. If you are pregnant discuss the health benefits and risks with your doctor to come to a decision you both feel comfortable with. Do not take when you are on other stimulants (herbal or pharmaceutical) without the advice of a botanically knowledgeable practitioner.
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2 A Materia Medica for Chinese Medicine: Plants, Minerals, and Animal Products
By Carl-Hermann Hempen, Toni Fischer (MD.)
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