Could tea be the answer to stress?
Tea is a popular drink worldwide, but its healing abilities often go unrecognised. How many of us actually stop to think about where our tea has come from or its benefits to our health? People often joke that tea has the ability to heal all ailments, but what's the truth behind that?
Tea originated in China, but didn't become popular in the UK until the 17th century. Once used medicinally for a range of illnesses and ailments, today tea is more commonly enjoyed as a refreshing beverage. Now, a study by University College London (UCL) has revealed that individuals who drink more tea (black tea in particular) recover more quickly from everyday stress and anxiety. Black tea in particular can affect the body's hormone levels.
But it's not just black tea that can be beneficial when it comes to reducing stress and anxiety. There are plenty of herbal teas out there that are renowned for their stress-relieving qualities. Green tea contains theanine, which can been linked to relaxation. Chamomile tea has long been used to relieve mild anxiety, promote relaxation and help treat insomnia. Even tea made with hops can be used to relieve stress - no, having a beer won't have the same effect! By adding regular cups of tea to your diet, you could help to lower your stress levels, but a herbal, caffeine-free option may be best for your health. A study carried out in Japan and published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition revealed that out of 42,093 people, 2774 were suffering from stress. This figure significantly reduced amongst green tea drinkers.
The cost of stress
Stress costs us around $20bn in Europe and $200bn in the USA and until now, no large-scale study of the links between tea and psychological stress have been carried out. Whilst tea may not actually reduce your stress levels, it does help to regulate the levels of stress hormones our bodies produce, reducing the risk of chronic illnesses such as coronary heart disease.
The study by UCL focused on a group of 75 young, healthy men, who all gave up their normal caffeinated drinks for 6 weeks. The men were divided into two groups - one group drank a fruit-flavoured black tea with caffeine and active tea ingredients, whilst the other group drank an identical tasting mixture, with caffeine but without any active tea ingredients. The stress levels of the two groups were then monitored whilst they took part in challenging tasks. These tasks resulted in raised stress levels and elevated blood pressure for both groups. However, 50 minutes after the completion of the tasks, the levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) had reduced more amongst the black tea drinkers than those drinking the fake tea. Blood platelet activation was also lower amongst those who drank black tea. Platelet activation is involved in the formation of a blood clot, increasing the risk of a heart attack.
Caffeinated or non-caffeinated?
Caffeine affects everyone differently, and if you find it makes you jittery or anxious, switching to decaf or herbal tea is a good move. If you're buying decaf, look for tea which has been decaffeinated naturally, without the use of any chemicals. If you're brewing black tea with caffeine, making a weaker brew can reduce caffeine levels substantially, whilst giving you the stress-reducing benefits of black tea.
Lack of evidence
The researchers were unsure exactly which ingredients in the black tea led to the reduction in stress hormones and further studies are underway on the health benefits of flavonoids, polyphenols, catechins and amino acids found in black tea. Whilst scientific evidence for the relaxing properties of tea may be thin on the ground, this ground-breaking new study may be the start of further research which could back up the claims that tea is beneficial in reducing feelings of stress.