The Ultimate Health Benefits of Tea and Caffeine

By: Michael Lam, MD, MPH


A steaming hot cup of any beverage is a great way to kick-start your day, be it tea, coffee, or some herbal concoction. Tea and caffeine are the world’s most extensively used psychoactive substances. Several studies have linked caffeine to a number of health benefits including increased weight loss, heightened concentration levels, improved cardiovascular health, and reduced risk of cancer and type 2 diabetes.

What Makes Tea and Caffeine Superior?

Drinking tea can give you an amazing energy boost. But how does it actually work? Tea contains four major stimulatory substances—theobromine, theophylline, theanine, and caffeine, the well-known stimulant. Caffeine can keep you active by stimulating your central nervous system, increasing motivation, and reducing stress. Caffeine is also known to have immense health benefits but when taken in large quantities can do more harm than good. It’s important to note that coffee contains more caffeine than tea.

Although tea and coffee both contain caffeine which produces a stimulant-like effect on the brain, interestingly, the nature of this effect is different. The unique blend of stimulatory substances in tea, such as theobromine and caffeine, produce synergistic effects that gently stimulate the brain. Whereas, the huge amount of caffeine in coffee has excessive stimulatory effects that can sometimes be harder for your body to handle. Tea is rich source of the powerful antioxidant and healthy flavonoid, polyphenol, which helps boost the immune system, lower cholesterol levels, and support good health. This makes tea and caffeine beneficial if you have a healthy body that can tolerate these stimulants with ease.

Can Tea be Helpful During Stress?

Since tea has a gentle stimulating effect on the brain, drinking it can help beat stress and boost your energy levels in a healthy way. Your body responds to stress via the NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) stress response system, a delicate network of various organs and six circuits—including the bioenergetics circuit—that work in close coordination. During stressful situations, the NEM signals to your adrenals to secrete more of the anti-stress hormone cortisol. However, if stress persists over an extended period of time, your adrenals can become overburdened and will no longer be able to produce adequate amounts of cortisol to meet these high demands. This reduces your body’s natural stress-fighting abilities and can lead to adrenal fatigue.

Nowadays, experiencing stress-related fatigue is considered normal. However, if you frequently experience extreme fatigue along with other symptoms, such as low energy levels, brain fog, insomnia, difficulty waking up, low concentration levels, stubborn weight gain, constipation, anxiety, and cravings for salty or fatty foods, chances are high you may be dealing with Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS).

Drinking tea, especially green tea, could be beneficial during the initial stages of adrenal fatigue as it can help boost your immune system and provide you with more energy to deal with any stress you may encounter. However, if you’re suffering from the later stages of AFS, your body might be much weaker, so staying away from tea and caffeine is recommended—you could be overly sensitive to it. Caffeine stimulates the body and can therefore exert more stress on your adrenals and worsen your AFS symptoms.

Minimizing stressors is a crucial part of the adrenal fatigue recovery process as this will allow your adrenals to heal. Tea and caffeine can leave your adrenals continuously stimulated leading to increased levels of fatigue. Even though the overall stimulatory effect of green tea is only about half that of coffee, it could still cause issues. For some, decaffeinated coffee or green tea could be problematic because eventually, even minor stimulation from caffeine or other stimulants could be too hard on your body and could lead to adrenal crashes. If you are suffering from the advanced stages of adrenal fatigue, you are particularly vulnerable. In such cases, herbal teas like valerian or chamomile tea—in moderation and under the guidance of an adrenal fatigue expert—are a better alternative to soothe and help to heal your overworked adrenals.

The health-boosting compounds found in tea and caffeine can help prevent a fatty liver, support a healthy pancreas and thyroid, and ensure optimal functioning of your bioenergetics circuit—comprised of the liver, pancreas, and thyroid. Any imbalances in this circuit can cause problems such as organ resistance, weight gain, sugar cravings, insulin resistance, and dizziness. Tea contains theobromine which can enhance blood flow, thereby helping your organs, including the liver, pancreas, and thyroid, to function more smoothly.

The unique blend of four stimulants found in tea offers a number of health benefits.

Theophylline and Theobromine Promote Heart Health

Both of these organic compounds can be beneficial to your heart. Theophylline relaxes your airway muscles allowing you to breathe more effectively and stimulates the force and rate of your heartbeat. Theobromine enhances blood flow throughout the body and stimulates the heart, thereby reducing blood pressure and decreasing your risk of heart attack.

L-theanine Improves Brain Function

Mostly found in the tea plant, Camellia sinensis, L-theanine is a psychoactive amino acid that has an interesting effect on the brain. It enhances the production of alpha waves which has been linked to increased alertness and provides gentler stimulation in comparison to coffee.

Further, L-theanine can also affect the neurotransmitters of your brain including dopamine and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). Studies have shown that the combination of L-theanine and caffeine found in tea can improve concentration and brain function. This could be beneficial if you suffer from AFS and as a consequence, have difficulty concentrating.

Caffeine Boosts Alertness

Different teas contain varying amounts of caffeine. Teas with a moderate caffeine content produce a gentle stimulating effect on your brain which helps boost alertness and attention levels. Caffeine has also been linked to a reduced risk of several health problems including Alzheimer’s disease, cataract, fatty liver disease, obesity, chronic inflammation, and heart attack.

Incredible Health Benefits of Tea and Caffeine

Tea and caffeine can provide an amazing range of health benefits. However, it’s important not to confuse tea with herbal tea as they are entirely different. Herbal teas tend to be a concoction of dried flowers, fruits, herbs, or spices, whereas true teas are brewed from the unique leaves of the Camellia sinensis tea plant. An assortment of teas is available, and each has its own set of amazing health benefits.

The type of tea you end up with depends on the length of time and how the tea leaves are processed. Lengthier processing times will result in a lower beneficial polyphenol content. Therefore, the type of tea you drink can truly make a difference.

The following is a list of true teas and their associated health benefits.

White Tea

Made from fresh young leaves of newly grown buds of the tea plant, white tea is also referred to as virgin tea. Since it is by far the least processed tea, it is a powerhouse of anti-cancerous properties. White tea is characterized by its light color and mild flavor, is less intense than other teas, has a minimal amount of caffeine, and is easy to drink.

Green tea

Prepared from steamed tea leaves, green tea is a reservoir of polyphenols and antioxidants that offer immense health benefits. Green tea can reduce the risks of cancer, neurological disorders, fatty liver disease, and heart attack. Moreover, drinking green tea promotes weight loss by boosting your metabolism, fights inflammation, and supports oral health.

Black Tea

Compared to other teas, black tea has the highest caffeine content but still less than coffee. Black tea is prepared from fermented tea leaves and often forms the base of other flavored teas such as chai tea. Studies have shown that drinking black tea can reduce the effects of smoking-related damage to the lungs. Black tea is rich in a group of antioxidants that help maintain a healthy heart and gut, reduce high blood pressure and risk of stroke, lower blood sugar levels, reduce the risk of cancer, and improve brain function.

Oolong Tea

Prepared from partially oxidized tea leaves, oolong tea is lesser-known than its counterparts but has some interesting health benefits. This traditional Chinese tea is a unique blend of the qualities of both green tea and black tea, with its own characteristic color and taste. Studies have linked oolong tea to reduced cholesterol levels and drinking oolong tea can also help control blood sugar levels, improve heart health, promote weight loss, improve brain function, protect you from cancer, provide relief from eczema, and supports stronger teeth and bones.

Conclusion

Tea and caffeine have immense health benefits. Caffeine is a potent stimulant that is known to have health benefits when taken in moderation. Coffee is high in caffeine but can cause excessive stimulation of the brain. On the other hand, tea contains a more moderate amount of caffeine, which makes it a suitable alternative if you are sensitive to the caffeine. Further, the unique blend of four stimulants found in tea—theobromine, theophylline, theanine, and caffeine—provide synergistic effects. This makes tea a much gentler stimulant in comparison to coffee. Moderate consumption of tea along with a healthy lifestyle may be the key to optimal health. However, if you are highly sensitive to caffeine, you should consider staying away from both tea and caffeine.

 
© Copyright 2012 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.


Dr. Lam’s Key Question

Tea and caffeine are known to provide numerous health benefits. Unlike coffee, tea has less caffeine and gently stimulates the brain. However, if you’re highly sensitive to caffeine or you are in the advanced stages of AFS, consider staying away from caffeinated tea. Herbal teas can be an excellent alternative but only under the specialized guidance of an experienced healthcare practitioner.