Health: Boosting benefits of the humble cuppa

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Popping the kettle on is always a welcome remedy, says Abi Jackson.

We don’t need scientific studies to confirm we’re a nation of tea-lovers – according to the UK Tea Council, we Brits get through 165 million cups a day.

What science can confirm, though, is that tea is officially good for us, in countless ways, from helping prevent stroke, type 2 diabetes and reducing stress.

“The British started drinking tea in the 17th century, when it was introduced by the Dutch and Portuguese,” says Jane Pettigrew, a tea historian who’s written a number of books on the topic, including A Social History Of Tea.

“When tea was first drunk in the UK it was hailed as a cure-all, with such benefits as curing headaches, memory loss, stomach problems, skin disorders, scurvy.

“Back then, those stories were based on legends and experiences arriving with travellers and tea merchants from China. But gradually over time, research has shown that a lot of these stories are actually true.”

Dr Tim Bond, from the UK Tea Council’s Tea Advisory Panel (TAP), will vouch for this.

“One of the most interesting things about tea is flavonoids. They’re antioxidants and help support our body cells, and are recognised as being important in terms of long-term health. Black tea [as traditional tea is known – it doesn’t mean tea without milk] is actually the number one source of flavonoid antioxidants in the UK diet, and there have been some really good studies recently on the associated health benefits, including reducing the risks of certain types of cancer.”

These studies, he explains, analyse data gathered through other research, looking at incidence rates of particular illnesses and people’s lifestyles and diets, and rooting out significant correlations.

Recent examples found regular tea drinkers were less likely to develop oral cancer, for instance.

“There’s also evidence that tea helps control blood pressure fluctuation, and growing evidence for a link with reduced cognitive decline,” adds Bond.

Research published in the American Society of Nutrition earlier this year reported that high tea intake (seven or more cups a day) was associated with a 63 per cent reduction of cognitive impairment, medium intake (four to six cups) with a 55 per cent reduction and low intake (one to three cups), 44 per cent, while a number of recent studies have found strong suggestions that tea can help lower the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Adding milk doesn’t ‘undo’ these beneficial effects, Bond points out. Cups of tea even count towards your recommended daily water intake.

Green and herbal teas are often portrayed as being ‘more healthy’ but, scientifically speaking, Bond says that’s not the case.

In fact, the qualities associated with all varieties of tea are vast.

“Tea consumption’s growing because people recognise the health benefits,” concludes Pettigrew.

“But it’s also popular because of its ability to calm us, cheer us, make us feel safe, comforted, relaxed, soothed.”

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