International Tea Day: The popular beverage is more than just a comfort drink

By Sayujya S, Desk Reporter
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For centuries, tea has been used for far more than quenching thirst. Around the world people drink it to relax, reinvigorate and soothe, and if anything it’s something we need now more than ever.

With tea consumption growing around the world, the United Nations has designated May 21 as “International Tea Day.”

Even in long coffee-dominated countries, tea drinking is growing in popularity, with some of them consuming 0.4 kilograms (14 ounces) of tea leaves per person a year compared with 0.36 kilograms (12.7 ounces) in 2007 according to the United Nations (UN), as people switch away from soda, milk and fruit drinks.

The effect of a piping hot cup of tea

Scientists are beginning to look into just how tea might affect mood and cognition. They’re specifically investigating whether it’s relaxing and alerting effects are a direct biological outcome of the compounds in tea or whether they come from the process of having it like preparing your brew, choosing your favorite cup and sitting down for a brief break from the world. Or both.

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Drinking green tea has been found to improve brain function in healthy people, said Stefan Borgwardt, chair and director of the department of psychiatry and psychotherapy at the University of Lübeck, Germany.

In a 2014 study, he gave green tea extracts equivalent to one or two cups of green tea to 12 healthy volunteers and imaged their brains to analyze changes in connectivity inside certain brain regions. “We noticed an increased connectivity in regions of the brain associated with working memory,” he said.

And a 2017 review of more than 100 studies he co authored found that green tea can impact the brain in three ways. It can influence psychopathological symptoms such as reducing anxiety, cognition by benefiting memory and attention, and brain function, specifically memory.

Depression, dementia and Down syndrome

There are also suggestions that tea could improve the symptoms of depression, dementia and Down syndrome. A 2018 study conducted in South Korea found that frequent green tea drinkers were 21 percent less likely to develop depression over their lifetime than those who were non-drinkers.

However, Mr. Borgwardt cautioned that the effects aren’t large, and current evidence is mainly provided by small-scale studies.

Benefits for physical health

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Tea also has some benefits for our physical health as it’s linked to a longer life, could reduce some risk factors for cardiovascular disease such as heart attack and stroke, and may also have a fat-busting effect.

Moreover, with the exception of green tea supplements, which have been linked to liver damage, and scalding hot tea, which has been linked to esophageal cancer, there’s no real downside to a cup of tea, experts say.

Meanwhile, for most of us it’s a comforting thing. Because if there’s anything wrong, it’s a cup of tea that’s needed, right?

Related: Want to boost your memory power? Drink a cup of green tea