From Legend to Science: the Health Benefits of TeaThroughout the world, tea and coffee rival each other as mankind’s most popular brewed beverages. For thousands of years, however, tea has had one great advantage over coffee: it is believed to have a wide range of medicinal properties. In his book, Tea in China, John C. Evans states that if tea had not possessed a medical reputation, the beverage we know today might never have existed. (Evans 19) Research in fact proves that tea owes its reputation as much to its health benefits as to its taste, and this has been true, since tea made its first appearance in ancient China more than two thousand years ago.
No one is sure where and when tea was first brewed; stories about tea’s origins are more myth than reality. One story tells that a legendary Chinese leader and medical expert, Sheng Nong, discovered tea as a medicinal herb in 2737 B.C. One day while he was boiling water under a tea tree, some tea leaves fell into Sheng’s pot of boiling water. After drinking some tea, he discovered its miraculous powers and immediately placed tea on his list of medicinal herbs.
John Blofeld, in Chinese Art of Tea, writes that it can be confidently stated that tea was known in the three kingdoms epoch (AD 222-277). More importantly, however, tea was originally drunk for its medicinal properties. (Blofeld 4) Evans links the early popularity of tea to Taoist religious practices during the Qin Dynasty (201 V 207 B.C.). Taoists in particular became obsessed by long life and an Elixir of Life became a Taoist ideal. For Taoists the Elixir of Life was believed to be tea. (Evans 20)Almost every writer who records the history of tea notes that it was originally consumed for its therapeutic effects. Zhang Binglun says that much was written in ancient Chinese books about tea, and in particular, about its health benefits:Drinking genuine tea aids in quenching thirst and in digestion, checks phlegm, wards off sleepiness, stimulates renal activity, improves eyesight and mental prowess, dispels boredom and dissolves greasy food. One cannot do without tea for a single day. (Binglun 334)Zhang Binglun refers to modern studies that that lend scientific support to ancient claims of teas medicinal properties: Experiments made on guinea pigs reveals two-thirds less fatty acid in the faeces of animals that have been given 10ml. of tea after each meal than in the controls. (Binglun 335) He concludes, it is not without scientific basis that tea drinking has since ancient times been considered health inducing and a remedy for disease. (Binglun 335)Eventually the tea trade began, and the reputation of tea as medicine spread beyond Chinas borders. In his book, Tea, Jamie Shalleck states that tea reached Germany and then France from Dutch sources. (Shalleck 45) At first, reports Shalleck, French medical authorities were on guard; some Seventeenth Century doctors approved teas medical benefits, while others ridiculed it as both cure and mental stimulant. (Shalleck 47)Eventually French medical authorities argued that tea did have medicinal properties, but to realize its benefits, tea must be properly administered. (Shalleck 49) In 1759, tea became listed in Nicholas Lemerys Dictionnaire Universel des Drogues Simples, which states: It rejuvenates and recreates the spirits, it disperses the vapors, it prevents drowsiness, it fortifies the brain and the heart, it hastens digestion, it stimulates urination, it purifies the blood, it is appropriate for gravel and gout. (Shalleck 51)As early as 1615, English traders with the East India Company were aware of the existence of tea. Surprisingly, the English and Scottish were suspicious of tea and saw it as an improper diet, expensive, wasteful of time, and calculated to render the population weak and effeminate. (Shalleck 68)In recent years, the legendary medicinal properties of tea have been given serious scientific support. In Psychology Today (May V June, 1999) an article on tea discusses an explosion of research” which indicates that,tea, particularly green tea, provides numerous health benefits. Studies show that drinking four cups of green tea a day can reduce the risk of developing stomach and lung cancer as well as heart disease. (Chatterjee 26)The Journal of Alternative Therapies reports the results of a recent Dutch study showing that the flavonoids found in tea could dramatically reduce the risk of stroke. Flavonoids are vitamin-like compounds that occur naturally in tea and in fruits and vegetables. They make blood cells called platelets less prone to clotting, and they also act as antioxidants, countering the artery-damaging potential of highly reactive free-radical chemicals. (Mollins 10) One of the great values of the Dutch study is that it is the first one to show that the flavonoids found in tea can protect from stroke as well as heart attack.
In a very detailed analysis of tea’s chemical properties, M.J. Mulky points out the same thing as the Dutch researchers did. Tea contains chemical agents such as polyphenols which can cleanse the body of free radicals:Cancer, arthritis, skin wrinkling, and the aging process have been ascribed to free radicals. The polyphenols in tea can offer a logical chemical explanation for protecting against oxygen toxicity and the hazards of diseases induced by free radicals. (Mulky and Sharma 89)Sharma concludes his chapter on the health benefits of tea by saying,In the last few years, scientists have been unraveling tea’s disease preventing and therapeutic benefitsK. The American Chemical Society meeting hold in New York City in August, 1991, had eight papers devoted to tea. (Mulky and Sharma 94)Now, as Sharma points out, scientists are talking about the “dose range” of green and black tea, and are treating tea like any other medicine. What is important, says Sharma, is that scientists adopt standards, or physicochemical specifications for both green and black tea. This is necessary in an age where people demand real scientific research supporting the inexact claims made about tea’s health benefits. Sharma argues that such science already exists, as in the studies already cited and in a recent Japanese ministry of Health Report indicating the greater longevity of Japanese who consumed green tea compared to those who did not.
Canadas own Macleans magazine (October 27, 1997) has carried an article on the medicinal effects of tea:U.S. researchers report that green tea contains significant amounts of catechins, a chemical that inhibits cancer growth. (Erickson 60)In addition, says the Maclean’s article, both black and green tea contain fluoride and tannin, substances that help protect against tooth decay. (Erickson 60) For people who have campaigned against the artificial fluoridation of water, tea provides a perfectly natural alternative.
Thus, the ancient belief in teas medicinal properties is based on more than legend. Modern science is showing that tea does have specific health benefits, such as the reduction of free radicals, and the reduced risk of stroke, heart attack and various cancers. There is also good evidence that tea limits fat intake by the body if tea is drunk with meals and can even protect against tooth decay. Among the many herbal remedies being offered for sale today, tea has one of the best claims to scientific validity. In years to come scientific research may prove that tea has even more health benefits–or at least more specific benefits–than those that are already documented. Citation ListBinglun, Zhang. Tea: Ancient Chinas Technology and Science. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1983 (Korner Q127 C5 A74 1983)Blofeld, John. The Chinese Art of Tea. Boston: Shambhala Publications, 1985 (Korner GT2907 C6 B58 1985)Chatterjee, Camille. Drink to Your Health: Psychology Today. Vol32 No3 1999 p. 26 (Korner Journals BF1 P89 T63 Set2)Ericson, Lewis. Black Tea or Green Tea: Macleans. Vol110 No43 1997 p. 60 (Korner Journals AP 5 M2)Evans, C. John. Tea in China. New York: Greenwood Press, 1992. (Korner GT 2907 C6 E93 1992)Melton, Marissa. Power of Tea: Component Identified That Inhibits Cancer: U.S. News & World Report. Vol125 No24 1998 p. 58 (Korner Journal JK1 U65)Mollins, Ann. New Study Confirms Tea Cuts Risk of Strok: Journal of alternative Therapies. Vol70 No9 1998 p. 162 (http://web3.searchbank.com/itw/session/ 437/213/32071268w3/5!xrn_24_0_L9627613) Mulky, M.J. and Sharma, V.S. Culture, Processing and Marketing: Tea. New Delhi: Oxford & Ibh Publishing Co. 1993 (Korner SB271 T42 1993)Shalleck, Jamie. Tea. New York: The Viking Press, 1972 (Korner, TX 415 S5 1972)BibliographyBinglun, Zhang. Tea: Ancient Chinas Technology and Science. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1983 (Korner Q127 C5 A74 1983)Blofeld, John. The Chinese Art of Tea. Boston: Shambhala Publications, 1985 (Korner GT2907 C6 B58 1985)Chatterjee, Camille. Drink to Your Health: Psychology Today. Vol32 No3 1999 p. 26 (Korner Journals BF1 P89 T63 Set2)Ericson, Lewis. Black Tea or Green Tea: Macleans. Vol110 No43 1997 p. 60 (Korner Journals AP 5 M2)Evans, C. John. Tea in China. New York: Greenwood Press, 1992. (Korner GT 2907 C6 E93 1992)Kipp, Jennifer. Healing Properties of Tea Tree Oil: Natural Life. Vol52 No52 1985 (http://web3.searchbank.com/itw/session/437/213/32071268w3/14!cnb_21_40)Melton, Marissa. Power of Tea: Component Identified That Inhibits Cancer: U.S. News & World Report. Vol125 No24 1998 p. 58 (Korner Journal JK1 U65)Mollins, Ann. New Study Confirms Tea Cuts Risk of Strok: Journal of alternative Therapies. Vol70 No9 1998 p. 162 (http://web3.searchbank.com/itw/session/ 437/213/32071268w3/5!xrn_24_0_L9627613)Mulky, M.J. and Sharma, V.S. Culture, Processing and Marketing: Tea. New Delhi: Oxford & Ibh Publishing Co. 1993 (Korner SB271 T42 1993)Rosen, Amy. First Aid in a Bottle: Australian Tea Tree Oil Has Nearly 1,001 Uses: Chatelaine. Vol70 No9 1998 (http://web3.searchbank.com/itw/session /437/213/32071268w3/15!cnb_1_20)Shalleck, Jamie. Tea. New York: The Viking Press, 1972 (Korner, TX 415 S5 1972)From Legend to Science: the Health Benefits of TeaThesis: Although tea is one of the world’s most popular beverages, it has long been valued as much for its medicinal properties as for its tasteI.Tea’s ancient historyA.Legends of tea’s origins1.Tea leaves from the sky2.The first pot of tea3.Sheng Nong’s list of medicinal herbsB.Tea as a medicine1.Tea in the Three Kingdoms (AD 222-277)2.Taoists and tea3.The Elixir of LifeC.Tea’s medicinal benefits1.Early medical opinions 2. Recent medical science.The tea tradeA.Tea in France1.Early French scepticism2.Acceptance of tea as medicine3.Lemery’s dictionnaireB.Tea in England and Scotland1.Distrust of tea’s medicinal properties2.Tea an improper diet.Modern studies of teaA.Health benefits of tea1.Reduced risk of stomach2.Reduced risk of lung cancerB.Flavonoids as antioxidants1.Reduced risk of stroke and heart attack2.Polyphenols as free radical scavengersIV.Tea studies around the world A.American Chemical Society meeting1.Eight papers devoted to tea2.Tea discussed like any other medicineB.The need for exact science1.Claims about tea often too general 2.Standards and specification required