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US News and World Report
Take two tea bags and call me...
By Helen Fields
Washington, D.C., architect Rula Jawdat, 44, used to drink both tea and coffee. But the caffeine got to be too much for her, so she dropped the bean. "Tea is more meditative," she says. And she knows it's supposed to be good for you. "I'm totally into that stuff."
Indeed, the popular press paints tea as a miracle worker--allegedly capable of curing or warding off cancer, heart attacks, high cholesterol, tooth decay, bad breath, osteoporosis, and, a study suggested recently, even Alzheimer's disease. Maybe that's why there are more than 1,200 U.S. tea shops, compared with almost none 15 years ago. In the same period, tea sales have more than doubled to $5 billion.
Wouldn't it be nice if tea lived up to the medical hype? Nutrition research has taken off in the past few decades, and scientists are eager to find out whether tea can cure your ills. The answer: well . . . maybe.
Black, oolong, green, and white tea all come from the tea plant and contain catechins, a kind of antioxidant. Antioxidant molecules, whether made in our cells or eaten in foods, skitter around, mopping up free radicals, which, left to their own devices, do things like cause DNA damage, which can lead to cancer. Tea leaves destined to become black and, to a lesser extent, oolong are rolled up and left to sit before drying so their enzymes work on the leaves' chemicals, creating the distinctive flavor. Green tea and white tea (made from the plant's white-haired leaf buds) don't sit out before drying. Trendy red tea, which comes from South Africa's rooibos shrub, is also high in antioxidants.
"If you're a rat, I'm telling you, you should be drinking lots of tea," says Jeffrey Blumberg, a nutrition scientist at Tufts University. Tea is great at curing and preventing cancer in rats; human research is less conclusive. Some studies show the more green tea people drink, the lower their chances of getting stomach cancer. "But just as you're getting excited, another study shows basically no effect whatsoever," says Roderick Dashwood, who has decreased rats' colon cancer risk by serving them white tea at Oregon State University's Linus Pauling Institute.
Tea seems better at protecting humans from diseases of the heart and blood vessels. In a study published last year, Taiwanese people who drank more tea were likely to have lower blood pressure. People who drink tea after a heart attack are less likely to have a second heart attack, and tea makes blood vessels work better.
Plant life. That's not to say that a little tea can counteract lousy genes and a couch-potato lifestyle. "I'm sorry to say, there are no magic foods," Blumberg says. But research supports a diet rich in fruits, veggies, whole grains, and other plants. "Remember, tea is a plant food. You infuse the leaves with hot water and drink what you've extracted."
Like any herb, tea could have unwanted effects. Some research suggests tea with a meal can block iron absorption; anemics might avoid tea within an hour or two of eating red meat or taking iron pills.
But in general, a cup of antioxidants isn't a bad way to start the day. Stirring the tea as it steeps gets more antioxidants from the leaves, as does steeping for three to five minutes. Milk, sugar, lemon, or honey shouldn't have any effect. Though green and white teas have more catechins than black tea, many researchers think our bodies can break black tea's larger molecules into useful antioxidants. Which would be good, because the grassy taste of green and white tea isn't for everyone.
"If the stuff doesn't taste good, you aren't going to drink it," says Joe Simrany, president of the Tea Association, who suggests picking any tea you like and sticking to it. Even the most exquisite green tea, correctly made with water just below the boiling point, can taste like brewed lawn clippings to the untrained palate. UCLA epidemiologist Zuo-Feng Zhang tried to persuade a friend with bladder cancer to take up green tea. "I gave him very good green tea. He said, 'I would prefer to die.'"...........................
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