Tea began as a medicine and grew into a beverage
~ Kakuzo Okakura, Book of Tea
We can imagine that, before the advent of civilization, with all its familiar trappings of pyrotechnology and pottery, tea leaves (which are quite bitter) would not have been nibbled on for recreation. Likely they would have been used only occasionally in small amounts, for the purposes of harnessing their intensely concentrated medicinal properties. Only later, as Okakura ruminated, would tea be consumed regularly in the form of a drinkable infusion.
The beauty of tea's transition from a medicine to a beverage is that drinking tea in small amounts daily, may prevent the need for using 'heroic' megadoses of green tea at any time later in life after a serious disease sets in. Food (and beverage) is medicine, assuredly, but it is best used preventively – in small, hopefully enjoyable, doses -- before a problem digs in its roots.
So, what are the health benefits of tea, particularly green tea? We think of it as an antioxidant, and indeed, of the 69 beneficial 'pharmacological actions' we have identified tea possessing on our natural medicine database project thus far, reduction of oxidative stress is top on the list.[i] But what of the other 68 actions mentioned?
Did you know that green tea is capable of reducing the formation of the fat cells known as adipocytes (anti-adipogenic), which is one reason why it has been studied for its possible ameliorative role in weight gain and obesity.[ii] Green tea has also been found to modulate AMP-activated protein kinase which reduces fatty acid and cholesterol synthesis, as well as gluconeogensis (the production of sugar from protein in the liver).[iii]
Or, did you know that green tea has been studied for its ability to slow the aging process? Daily consumption of green tea catechin delays memory regression and brain dysfunction in aged mice.[iv] [v] Green tea has also been found to prevent photoaging of the skin,[vi] and potentially have a rejuvenating effect.[vii]
Green tea has also been found to induce programmed cell death (apoptosis) in a variety of cancer cell lines, including colorectal, breast, endometrial, skin, brain, gastrointestinal, prostate, and leukemic.[viii]
We are only at potential beneficial action #4 of 69. Shall we go on? The problem is not a lack of research supporting the health benefits of green tea, rather, that there are too many to list. Back in 1971, the US National Library of Medicine's bibliographic citation database Medline lists one study published in a peer-reviewed journal on the topic. This year alone, 440 articles were published so far on green tea's pharmacological properties. In total, Medline contains 4,826 referenced citations on green tea research. We have spent a considerable amount of time organizing a key fraction of this research, in connection with green tea's beneficial role in over 240 health conditions. You can view the research on our page dedicated to this remarkable plant here: Evidence-Based Health Benefits of Green Tea.
It should be noted that black tea is simply baked or oxidized green tea. And yet it still retains significant medicinal activity, including potent antioxidant activity.[ix] While there is less research available on MEDLINE on black tea's health benefits, we have indexed close to 50 health conditions that may benefit from its consumption and which can be viewed here: Evidence-Based Health Benefits of Black Tea.
If a simple action like drinking tea can protect us against possibly hundreds of potential health problems, as well as give us a much needed respite from our daily activities in the act of preparing, drinking, or sharing tea, then perhaps we should aspire to drink a cup sometime soon again.