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Fight Illness With a Hot Cup of Tea

By Gina Ritter

The spread of SARS, West Nile and other diseases has us all on alert, but a study just released provides great hope for protection against these and other ailments. A new study found that drinking green, black or oolong tea -- but not herbal tea -- boosts the body's defenses by 500 percent against bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites. After drinking tea for four weeks, tea drinkers secreted five times more interferon, the body's key infection fighter, than when they were not drinking tea. Coffee drinkers showed no increase in immunity. With new diseases emerging, our best defense is our very own immune system. Tea gives us the ability to increase our immune defenses five-fold, providing a tremendous advantage over infection and disease. -- SARS Wars, Brenda Koth, MS, RD; Submitted by Linda Sikut,

Do green tea and black tea really help your body fight serious disease? After hearing that tea is effective in cancer prevention, writing a report on SARS and having the small article above submitted the next day, I set off to investigate.

Charity Wire holds this report from the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) from 1999: "Black and green teas can help to inhibit cancer [at every stage, from pre-cancer to] initiation, promotion, progression and metastasis." While I didn’t find much more on the relation of tea and SARS prevention (there were several mentions but none as comprehensive as the article above) I was able to find more information on the tea link to cancer prevention.

How does tea work to fight cancer?
Tea has long been recognized in cancer prevention by working with the cells to block unstable molecules that cause genetic damage. Now there seems to be more to the process. Tea has more cancer-fighting elements than originally proposed. Instead of just fighting cancer before it starts, scientists believe it helps prevent cancer from moving to more serious stages. The AICR article states that substances called flavonoids [in tea] “inhibit substances called cell-growth factors, which transform normal cells into cancerous ones.”

Scientists noted years ago that when they gave cancerous rats tea, there was a reduction in the progression of the disease. From there, they needed to test the cancer-fighting tea on humans. But what is the appropriate amount of tea in a human’s diet? There was a marked difference in how much tea used directly on cells in a lab versus how much tea a test animal needed to have the same effect.

What kind of tea should I drink? How do I make it?
While the choices for health benefits are clear -- black and green tea -- there is some question as to which one is better. Dr. Roderick Dashwood of Oregon State University says there are many factors to consider. "Both green and black teas show anti-cancer activity," he said, "but they have slightly different components and are processed and prepared using different methods.” Green teas contain more of one type of flavonoid, while black teas contain two additional varieties.

Rats responded more effectively to green tea when prepared the same way as black tea, but humans prepare tea with different methods and have a completely different physiology than rats. There are also questions about boiling water, the use of sugar, milk and honey and other factors that could interrupt the effectiveness of the flavonoids.

While research has not pinpointed which tea is best, the AICR touts that green tea contains three times the amount of one flavonoid as black tea. (See an article about green tea from the AIRC here.)

How much do I need?

So just how much tea must we drink to reap health benefits? The AICR notes that Japan has a lower incidence of cancer than Americans. The Japanese typically drink up to four cups of tea each day. Some argue that only one cup is needed. A report on recommends three to six eight-ounce cups per day.

There seems to be no doubt that tea helps to prevent cancer. Though the reports are conflicting on how much we should drink, it seems that any green or black tea traditionally brewed and without added honey, sugar or other substances is better than none at all. Additionally, no one thing can prevent cancer, but eating a balanced diet while also drinking tea would increase cancer prevention.

A 1997 AICR report entitled “Food, Nutrition and the Prevention of Cancer: A Global Perspective” examined more than 4,500 international studies on the link between diet and cancer. The report's panel recommended a predominantly plant-based diet, regular exercise, maintaining a healthy body weight and avoiding tobacco for everyday cancer prevention strategies. They estimated that following these guidelines could lower worldwide cancer rates by as much as 70 percent.

There is one important caveat, however: “Very high amounts of green tea components (usually associated with over-dosage of green tea supplements) have been shown to interact with drugs that affect blood clotting, such as aspirin.” (AIRC

What about my kids?
Jean Carper from recommends restricting the amount of tea given to kids because tea removes iron from the body. "That may help combat chronic disease but can cause anemia in young people," she reports.

Tea also contains caffeine, a drug that brings its own set of health problems. One alternative is taking green tea capsules, but I was unable to find any reports on whether they are as effective in fighting cancer as steeped tea.

Other articles on the benefits of tea

Information gathered from:

Gina Ritter owns and publishes Natural Family Online under the umbrella of Blame Mama Media. She also partners with another natural family practitioner to bring you the Balter Catalogue Company in 2005.


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