Saturday, January 06, 2007

Health Benefits of Tea

THINK of tea drinkers and invariably the British come to mind. The fact is that tea arrived in the U.K. at about the same time as it did in Europe. But it was the British who took to it with a passion; changing the original Chinese brew by adding sugar and milk.

Over time, the upper classes saw tea taking as a sign of civilised behaviour, and as a fashionable social event. There were others in those damp cold climes who were comforted by the hot cuppa.

For tea aficionados, the 19th Century British Prime Minister William Gladstone said of the brew, "If you are cold, tea will warm you; if you are too heated, it will cool you; if you are depressed, it will cheer you; if you are excited it will calm you." Endorsements like that popularised the beverage in the U.K. Demand went skywards. Traders, planters and everyone dealing with tea were smiling all the way to the bank. In addition to booming tea sales, the dairy and sugar industry also grew.

New drink

Around the time tea became a hot item in Great Britain, in the U.S., Richard Blechynden, a tea plantation owner, accidentally discovered iced tea. The story goes that Blechynden was serving hot tea on a particularly blistering summer day at the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis. The customers were looking for something tall and cool. Blechynden poured the beverage over ice and added a sprig of mint and a lime wedge. And, a delicious new drink was born.

Current statistics reveal that the average Brit puts back some 3.5 cups a day, compared to, for example, the average American who consumes less than half a cup. As figures go, however, the English are not really the world' s No. 1 tea drinkers. That honour goes to the Irish. Generally associated with whiskey and Guinness, the Irish actually put back more than four cups a day!

But let's go back to where it all started, to China where the average is one cup a day. In early China, it is said that tea was consumed for its health benefits. Some 4,000 years ago, tea's medicinal and healing properties were well known. No traditional Chinese meal setting is complete without a pot of tea. Whether it is breakfast, lunch or dinner, the ubiquitous pot is always around. Served in small cups, the light to amber brew is imbibed in small sips throughout the meal, between mouthfuls of food, to enhance the taste of food, and for reasons of health.

In the teeming marketplace of Wanchai, Hong Kong — where timeless Cantonese traditions fight for a place in the sun with Western influences such as Coke, Gatorade and so on — a popular tea-shop owner said, "No other food or drink can offer more benefits than tea". To drive home the point, he pointed to a framed picture behind him, "Better to be deprived of food for three days than tea for one".

Scientific research around the world is now corroborating what the Chinese chai-wallah said. A recent study at Harvard Medical School, published in the Journal of American Heart Association, May 07, 2002, was found that tea drinkers not only reduce their chances of developing heart disease but that they may be actually prolonging their lives after a heart attack. Regular tea drinkers had "significantly elevated survival rates as compared with those who didn't".

Health benefits

This is probably the first large scale scientific study to suggest that drinking tea can actually protect the heart after damage has already occurred. Researchers suspect that the antioxidant-rich flavonoids, water-soluble natural chemicals that abound in green and black teas, may provide the link between tea consumption and survival.

In earlier studies, there was evidence to show that these chemicals can prevent the "oxidation of low-density lipoprotein, and that they can enhance the blood vessels' ability to relax in patients with cardiac disease". Research also indicates that tea lowers total cholesterol levels, as well as improving the ratio of good (HDL) cholesterol to bad (LDL) cholesterol.

The beverage of choice in many parts of the world, long touted as having healing properties is now being backed by credible scientific evidence be it heart attack or cancer or rheumatoid arthritis or high cholesterol. A cup of tea at least twice a day may make a big difference to health.

British poet William Cowper described tea as "the cup that cheers but does not inebriate". That was in the 18th century. Today as we explore and find out its secrets and benefits, perhaps it's time to take a second look at the humble brew.

Source: The Hindu

No comments: