Tea has many benefits: it adds to hydration, and is refreshing, but not until recently has black tea been supplanted as a health aid by green tea. Green tea has become more popular, particularly since it has been linked to weight loss, but there is so much more to it than that. It is full of compounds called polyphenols known for their potent antioxidant activity and study after study has shown that those who regularly drink it tend to have lower risks of several chronic degenerative diseases such as cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis.
Dr. Chwan-Li (Leslie) Shen, an associate professor and a researcher at the Laura W. Bush Institute for Women’s Health at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, carried out a study that suggests that the mechanism behind this correlation may have to do with lowering chronic levels of inflammation. Originally from Taiwan, Dr. Shen has now spent over 2 decades studying how and why some Eastern habits, such as drinking green tea, might be beneficial for Westerners as well. Dr. Shen and her team have been studying the effects of green tea consumption on protection against breakdown of the bone’s microarchitecture, which can lead to osteoporosis.
In Shen’s most recent research, she focused on postmenopausal women and investigated the potential for green tea to work synergistically with Tai Chi – a traditional Chinese form of moderately intense aerobic fitness activity grounded in mind-body philosophy – in enhancing bone strength. Carried out as a double-blind, placebo-controlled, intervention trial, this experiment involved 171 postmenopausal women who had weak bones but not full-fledged osteoporosis. The study lasted for 6 months, during which time blood and urine samples were collected and muscle strength assessed.
The results show that consumption of 4-6 cups of steeped green tea daily and participation in Tai Chi independently enhanced markers of bone health by 3 and 6 months, respectively. A similar effect was found for muscle strength at the 6-month time point. Participants taking Tai Chi classes also reported significant beneficial effects on quality of life in terms of improving their emotional and mental health.
Perhaps most remarkable, however, was the substantial effect that both tea and Tai Chi had on biological markers of oxidative stress. Because oxidative stress is a main precursor to inflammation, this finding suggests that green tea and Tai Chi may help reduce the underlying cause of not only osteoporosis, but other inflammatory diseases as well.
So the best combination? A nice cup of green tea before you attend a Tai Chi class, or put on an instructional DVD, followed by another nice cup of green tea!