Herbal, Black or Green? How to Know Which Tea Offers the Best Health Perks for You
After water, tea is the most frequently consumed, cheapest beverage worldwide and one that delivers a host of health benefits. Various studies have linked tea intake with potential cancer-preventative effects, improved heart and metabolic health, and more. While all different types of tea offer general health benefits, certain teas are more effective than others at targeting specific health conditions and ailments. Read on to see what your favorite teas can treat.
One of the more widely studied teas, green tea is full of antioxidants and noted for its polyphenol and flavonoid concentration. These compounds help fight free radicals and combat cell damage, both contributors to certain diseases and health conditions.
Polyphenols are compounds found in natural plant food sources and have antioxidant properties—green tea reportedly contains the highest concentration of the compound. Consumption of green tea and its correlation to polyphenols shows that those who consume the beverage have a stronger defense against ultraviolet radiation and aggression by pathogens compared to those that don’t drink green tea. These polyphenols also appear to have a prebiotic effect as research on green tea found that the polyphenols help balance gut flora by increasing good bacteria and reducing the number of bad bacteria.
Similarly, flavonoids are a group of plant metabolites with potential antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. Green tea is the best food source of a flavonoid group called catechins, which are more powerful than vitamins C and E in halting oxidative damage to cells. Studies have found that these oxidative properties prove an association between consuming green tea and a reduced risk for several cancers.
The polyphenol compounds found in green tea are also present in black tea, but with different types of flavonoids present due to the degree of oxidation during processing where black tea is fermented the longest. While black tea possesses some of the same health attributes of green tea, there are some distinctions.
Black tea contains the most caffeine content of all types of tea, anywhere from 14-70 mg per 8-ounce cup. Also found in the drink is the stimulating substance theophylline, which can speed up heart rate. As such, black tea is commonly used to increase energy. Conversely, while black tea can increase alertness, it also has an effect to decrease stress hormone levels in the body. Studies show that those who drank black tea four times a day for six weeks were found to have lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol in their blood after a stressful event than those who didn’t.
One unique benefit of black tea is that it provides more fluoride per serving than other teas—consuming fluoride can help harden your teeth and prevent cavities. Another interesting finding shows that black tea may help prevent lungs from injury caused by exposure to cigarette smoke.
White tea, uncured and unfermented, is the least processed of all teas. Among the rarer of tea types, white tea may have the strongest potential of all teas to fight cancer. White tea contains greater proportions of antioxidant-rich polyphenols than green tea in addition to also inhibiting mutations more effectively. A study on colon cancer found that white tea consumption inhibited the proliferation of cancer cells and helped protect against further damage.
Research has shown that white tea also outperforms other teas in healthy aging effects—out of a panel of 23 plant extracts, white tea showed the highest inhibiting activity. White tea prevented the activities of enzymes that break down elastin and collagen, which can lead to wrinkles.
Partly fermented, oolong is a traditional Chinese tea. It is lauded for its potential to decrease body fat content and reduce body weight through improving lipid metabolism. Oolong tea has also been linked to reduced ovarian cancer risk—a two-year case-control study with 1,000 participants showed that ovarian cancer risk declined with increasing frequency and duration of overall tea consumption. Lastly, while more studies are necessary, oolong tea has been cited to potentially lower bad cholesterol and hypertension.
Herbal teas are made from herbs, fruits, seeds and roods steeped in hot water and often include varieties of ginger, ginkgo biloba, ginseng, hibiscus, jasmine, rosehip, mint, rooibos and echinacea. While herbal teas generally have lower concentrations of antioxidants than green, white, black, and oolong teas, findings show that certain herbal teas can help with specific issues.
- Hibiscus: Those looking for a more holistic approach to cutting blood pressure should consider hibiscus tea—drinking three cups of herbal tea containing hibiscus each day resulted in a seven-point drop in systolic blood pressure.
- Chamomile: Bioactive phytochemicals found in chamomile have been touted to have therapeutic effects such as reducing anxiety. In many cultures, chamomile tea is particularly used to treat stomach ailments such as diarrhea and indigestion.
- Ginger: Ginger is most widely known as a natural way to soothe stomach discomfort and studies suggest that it can help relieve motion sickness, morning sickness and nausea induced by chemotherapy or surgery.
- Verbena: Verbena tea, sometimes referred to as verbain, is made from the leaves of the purple verbena flower. While further studies are needed to investigate its health benefits, certain chemicals in verbena tea are known to reduce inflammation and treat depression, painful periods, and colic.
- Elderflower: The blossom from the elder tree is lauded as a natural cure for colds that acts as a decongestant and helps clean nasal passages. Studies have shown that use of elderflower shortened the duration of the flu by three days and reduced flu symptoms.
Those with specific issues may consider increased consumption of any of the teas mentioned above to potentially help with particular ailments. The great news is that whichever tea you prefer, it will offer a tasty slew of health benefits with each cup.
So how do different teas get such differing flavors despite being from the same tea leaf? How many teas get their unique flavor profiles and medicinal properties is a rather complicated and interesting process. Here’s a fabulous infographic that explains the tea-making process from the time the leaf is plucked to the pour into your cup.
Brittany DeLong is a health enthusiast and freelance writer and editor based in Sterling, Virginia. For the past eight years she has focused her writing on health, fitness, and lifestyle topics for various publications including The Health Journal, Posh Seven Magazine, and Washington Family Magazine. Brittany earned a master’s degree in electronic publishing from The George Washington University and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from George Mason University. She is an avid hiker and most recently hiked to the summit of Huayna Picchu in Peru.