Tea is a widely consumed beverage enjoyed for thousands of years by Asian, European, American, and other cultures across the world. Different cultures drink tea for different reasons, including for rituals, celebrations, health benefits, or just pure enjoyment.
There's a variety of teas to sip at any time of the day, depending on what flavor or blend you prefer. Some of the most widely favored teas are green tea, black tea, Matcha, turmeric tea, Chai, ginseng, and chamomile. Tea has some important benefits and, according to researchers, daily consumption may have positive effects on mental health.
Caring for your mental health can also enhance cognition and help alleviate mood disorders, depression, and anxiety. That makes it a good option for people looking for a natural mood boost, though it shouldn’t be used as an alternative to prescribed medication.
What Is Tea?
In the original sense of the word, tea refers to camellia sinensis or the tea plant. Tea brewing using the leaves and buds of the plant is said to have originated in China. According to Chinese legend, Lord Shen Nong, the legendary Chinese founder of agriculture and medicine, first discovered the healing benefits of tea after consuming the plant to cure poisoning.
Popular tea varieties from camellia sinensis include green tea, white tea, yellow tea, black tea, oolong tea, and dark tea (Pu’er). Green tea is most popular worldwide and is also the most studied tea type. While there is no scientific evidence tea can cure poisoning, it seems to have natural therapeutic effects on mental health.
6 Scientifically Proven Mental Health Benefits of Tea
Wondering what's all the buzz about tea in Western culture today? Well, tea contains multiple active compounds that are essential for health. Major health components include the polyphenols catechins and theaflavins, as well as the unique amino acid called L-theanine.
The most important of the catechins are epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) and epigallocatechin (EGC). Both have a strong antioxidant profile. The highest levels of EGCG and EGC are found in green tea.
The primary role of antioxidants is to reduce oxidative stress in the body caused by free radicals. An abundance of free radicals can lead to chronic inflammation and a long list of chronic illnesses, including Alzheimer's disease.
Here are some ways drinking brewed tea can improve mental health.
1. Boost energy and performance
People historically drank tea to boost energy and concentration. A review of studies published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (AJCN), found consistent evidence that drinking tea improved concentration, mood, performance, and creativity. Theanine and caffeine were responsible for these effects. Caffeine is an active ingredient that functions as a stimulant that increases alertness. Caffeine boosts energy and alertness by blocking the effects of adenosine, a chemical found in the brain.
2. Enhance mood
The powerful chemical ingredients in your cup of tea can lift your mood. Studies found that the ingredients help lower the levels of cortisol, a stress hormone in the body. In addition, emerging evidence suggests that drinking about half a cup (about 100 milliliters) of green tea a day seems to lower the risk of developing depression due to its relaxing effects. This is according to a study that also found that habitually drinking green tea reduces the risk by 21%.
3. Improve brain function
Green tea seems to have positive effects on brain health and cognitive functions such as memory and attention. The caffeine, and the amino acid L-theanine it contains, work synergistically to improve brain function. A 2019 study found that brain regions in the brain were better organized in regular tea drinkers compared to non-tea drinkers. Regularly drinking tea may be beneficial to senior adults due to its protective effects against age-related cognitive decline. There is also evidence green tea can reduce the risk of cognitive decline by 50% in aging adults.
4. Slow brain aging
Along with improving brain function in the short-term, green tea may also protect your brain as you age. Several studies confirmed that the catechins in green tea show various protective effects on neurons. This finding can be promising, as green tea's natural therapeutic effects on brain cells may slow down the deterioration of nerve cells in areas of the brain responsible for cognition and memory. Neurodegeneration is irreversible and is a known underlying cause of Alzheimer’s disease.
5. Reduce the risk of dementia
Dementia is a condition associated with cognitive decline in seniors, particularly those past the age of 60. Symptoms are commonly seen in people with Alzheimer's disease (AD) and include memory loss and trouble with language, thinking, and problem-solving. There is no cure for the disease and symptoms are managed with medication. Even more, Alzheimer's and dementia are linked to anxiety and depression. However, regularly drinking green tea is one way to try and reduce the risk of dementia. A recent review of several studies supports the claim of green tea's protective effects against mild cognitive impairment in people with dementia and Alzheimer's.
6. Can serve as an alternative to alcohol drinking
If you're someone who's on the road to recovery from alcohol abuse, tea can serve as a replacement for alcohol. Tea has a calming effect on mood and involves a ritualistic process of preparation similar to preparing alcohol for consumption. Tea is also an alternative to traditional caffeinated beverages, such as coffee, particularly for those who are sensitive to the high levels of caffeine found in coffee. High caffeine intake is associated with physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms including jitters, lethargy, agitation, irritability, anxiety, and mood changes. These symptoms may occur even in people who can tolerate the stimulant.
Caring for Your Mental Health with Tea
Daily or regular tea drinking is recommended to get the desired benefits. While green tea has higher concentrations of caffeine and antioxidants, you may enjoy similar benefits from other teas containing these phytochemicals. Just remember if you're new to drinking tea, it can take some time getting used to the grassy, earthly, woody flavors and undertones.
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