Does tea have any health benefits?

It's National Tea Day on Saturday, but does our favourite drink have any health benefits?
Photo: G

It's National Tea Day on Saturday, but does our favourite drink have any health benefits? Photo: Getty Images - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

It’s National Tea Day on Saturday, a time set aside to celebrate this nation’s love of enduring love of tea. We may get through 165 million cups of tea a day but is it any good for us?

George Orwell, literary giant and sometime resident of Southwold in the 1930s, knew a thing or two about tea.

In 1946, he even wrote an essay about it. A Nice Cup of Tea lists the author’s 11 rules for making the perfect cup of tea, every one of which he says is golden.

But sadly Orwell isn’t the greatest advertisement for any kind of argument about tea’s health benefits. He died prematurely from tuberculosis at the age of just 46, though as he’d previously contracted a tropical disease while working as an imperial policeman in Burma, been injured fighting in the Spanish Civil War and was a committed smoker, perhaps we shouldn’t place too much emphasis on that.

After all, there is evidence that tea can actually be good for you, despite what you may have heard.

I have to declare an interest here as I love a cup of tea. In fact, I can barely function in the mornings before I’ve stumbled to the kitchen and had my first brew of the day. That may, of course, not be a good thing, although I like to think the positives probably outweigh the negatives. Tea does contain caffeine, although apparently only in small amounts, which makes it a healthier alternative to coffee. It is also said to be dehydrating (the caffeine in it is said to stimulate urination), although a 2011 study commissioned by the industry-backed Tea Advisory Panel found drinking four to six mugs of tea a day was as good for keeping yourself hydrated as a litre of water, challenging the dehydration theory.

Whatever the truth, many health experts maintain water is the best way to hydrate the body and skin and say it’s also better for gut health than tea. And while another study found that drinking more than four cups of tea a day could increase women’s risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis, there is plenty of other research that suggests drinking tea does have health benefits, including:

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n Drinking three to four cups of tea a day can reduce the chances of developing type 2 diabetes by up to a quarter.

n It contains antioxidants and magnesium compounds that help keep weight down.

n Drinking just one cup of tea a day could help cut the risk of ovarian cancer.

n Four cups of tea daily, or 1-2 cups for children, may contain enough natural fluoride to help protect teeth from decay.

Although black tea is what we drink most of, green tea is considered to have the most health benefits. Studies have suggested it helps prevent heart disease and cancer, can treat acne, protect eye health and even act as a mouthwash.

There’s even a study that suggests our national reaction to any kind of adversity - to put the kettle on and have a cup of tea - may actually be pretty sensible after all.

Psychologists at City University London have found that even having a single cup of tea can significantly reduce anxiety levels after a stressful incident. They conducted an experiment, where volunteers were placed in a stressful scenario, which showed a 25% increase in anxiety for those who did not receive tea immediately afterwards. Conversely, those who were given tea showed a 4% reduction in stress.

It wasn’t just the soothing qualities of the tea itself that had an effect but also the act of putting on the kettle, which seemed to tap into a collective consciousness and symbolism.

George Orwell’s tea-making tips

1. Use Indian or Sri Lankan tea, not Chinese. “One does not feel wiser, braver or more optimistic after drinking (Chinese tea).”

2. Use a china or earthenware teapot. “Silver or Britannia-ware teapots produce inferior tea and enamel pots are worse.”

3. Warm the pot, preferably by placing on the hob rather than swilling it out with hot water.

4. Tea should be strong. “One strong cup of tea is better than 20 weak ones.”

5. Tea should be put straight into the pot with no devices to imprison it. “If the tea is not loose it never infuses properly.”

6. Take the teapot to the kettle, not the other way about - the water should be boiling at the moment of impact.

7. After making the tea, stir it or give the pot a shake, then allow the leaves to settle.

8. Drink out of a cylindrical-type cup.

9. Pour the cream off the milk before using it. “Milk that is too creamy gives tea a sickly taste.”

10. Pour tea into the cup before milk, otherwise you could add too much.

11. Drink without sugar, which destroys the flavour of the tea.