The “fad” of today’s tea drinks boasting health benefits is not even remotely new. According to ancient Chinese legend, the first cup of tea was produced in 2737 B.C., when the leaves of a black tea shrub haphazardly fell into the boiling water of Emperor Shen Nung, the father of Chinese medicine. Ever since, Asian monks and herbalists have used teas to treat various ailments. The Chinese wrote of the curative properties of tea in the eighth century, and when the British and Dutch took this newly discovered beverage back to Europe in the 17th century, they celebrated tea's healthful effects.
More recent discoveries of tea's health benefits, in addition to the renewed appreciation of its ancient heritage, has pushed tea sales to nearly every corner store and numerous specialty tea shops everywhere in the US. Tea's active ingredients are caffeine in combination with the tannin that gives it its pungency and much of its aroma and flavor.
The New York Academy of Medicine held a symposium on "Pharmacological and Physiological Effects of Tea" in 1955 and found that, for reasons they could not explain, tea, unlike coffee, does not cause nervousness, insomnia, or stomach irritation when drunk in quantity. The scientists' tests showed a cup of tea gives both an immediate and a delayed lift without secondary depressing effects later on.
The word “tea” refers to any brew made from herbs, spices, seeds, bark, stems, flowers or leaves. The most common teas you will find are Black, Green, White, Oolong, and Red. They all start as Camellia tea leaves and differences arise in the steaming, withering, fermentation, frying and drying out processes. Herbal teas, called tisanes, technically are not teas at all, but infusions of various herbs, flowers and spices instead of Camellia leaves.
Scientific studies have found numerous health benefits of tea consumption for the following conditions: atherosclerosis, high cholesterol, cancers (bladder, breast, colon, rectum, esophagus, lungs, pancreas, prostate, skin and stomach), inflammatory bowel disease, diabetes, liver disease, obesity, and cognitive impairment. The main reason for these healthful effects is the high antioxidant content in teas. Antioxidants help rid the body of free radicals, preventing damage to cells that cause cancer and other diseases.
More specifically, white tea has 15 times the antioxidant properties of green tea and is beneficial in cancer prevention, detoxification, and complexion. It has been shown to be more protective than green tea at killing bacteria that cause strep infections, pneumonia and dental cavities. Green tea is beneficial in cancer prevention, lowering cholesterol, regulating blood sugar levels, digestion, metabolism and cavity prevention (as long as you don’t add sugar). Red tea improves digestion, complexion, allergies and is high in vitamins and minerals. Oolong tea is relaxing and good for skin and teeth, metabolism, digestion and weight loss. Black tea is a gentle stimulant that helps lower cholesterol, prevent tooth decay, and is good for the heart. Herbal infusions are high in vitamins and antioxidants and caffeine free—great for kids! Iced tea works as well as hot tea in bestowing health benefits. But, you should know the FDA does not support these qualified health claims.
Tea is an easy, inexpensive and healthy addition to your diet. No wonder why we can’t get enough of it!
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