Is Tea Healthier Than Water?

tea, water, black tea, green tea, matcha, fluoride, beverages, fluidsAccording to researchers, drinking three or more cups of tea a day is as good for you as drinking water. It may even come with extra health benefits.

Contrary to the common belief that tea dehydrates, tea not only rehydrates as well as water does, but it can also protect against heart disease and some cancers.

Experts believe that flavonoids are the key ingredient in tea that promote health. These polyphenol antioxidants are found in many foods and plants, including tea leaves, and have been shown to help prevent cell damage.

Dr. Mercola's Comments:

I still believe that pure water should be your primary drink, making up the majority of your daily fluid intake, but adding tea is a sensible choice when you want an additional beverage. It’s hard to ignore the numerous health benefits that high-quality tea has to offer. 

The review above -- for which the researchers searched through databases for relevant epidemiological and clinical studies published between 1990 and 2004 -- found that there was sufficient evidence to show a reduced risk of heart disease if you consume three or more cups of black tea per day, and for improved antioxidant status at intakes of one to six cups a day.  

Overall, black tea was found to have a positive effect on health. However, one “health benefit” I strongly disagree with, is the claim that the increased intake of fluoride from tea would have a positive impact on your health. 

Fluoride is a toxic substance that can have profoundly negative effects on your body. This review, as well as other studies, has made it quite clear that tea can be a source of fluoride. And, contrary to the assertion in this article above, studies have shown, and experts have come forth to testify, that the risk of consuming fluoride far outweighs any possible benefit.

So, when I make the recommendation to drink tea, it’s with the caveat that the tea be of high quality and free of fluoride. 

The Many Health Benefits of Tea

Aside from the fluoride issue, a growing body of research suggests that the polyphenols (naturally occurring antioxidants) in tea can: 

The type of tea that appears to have the most positive health benefits is green tea.   

In the latest issue of the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, a new randomized controlled trial discovered that green tea-extract powder supplementation had a positive impact on glucose abnormalities. Daily supplementary intake of green tea-extract lowered the hemoglobin A1c level in individuals with borderline diabetes.  

Other studies have found that green tea can promote proper brain function. One such example, a 2005 study published in The Journal of Neuroscience, found that epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG) -- a catechin polyphenol, and the main active component of tea polyphenol’s biological activity -- decreases production of the protein beta-amyloid, which is related to Alzheimer's. Beta-amyloid can accumulate abnormally in your brain and lead to nerve damage and memory loss as you age.

Because green tea is the least processed kind of tea, it contains the most EGCG of all tea varieties. So other than water, I believe high-quality green tea is one of the most beneficial beverages you can consume. However, I prefer matcha green tea because it contains the entire ground tea leaf, and can contain over 100 times the EGCG provided from regular brewed green tea. 

Other health benefits of EGCG include the prevention of:

  • High blood lipid
  • Arteriosclerosis
  • Cerebral thrombus
  • Prostate cancer 
  • Heart attack and stroke

Several studies have also found that EGCG can improve exercise performance, increase fat oxidation and prevent obesity, as it’s known to have a regulatory effect on fat metabolism. It can even help you to digest better!

How is Matcha Green Tea Different From Other Green Teas?

Many green teas have been oxidized, and this process may take away many of its valuable properties. The easiest sign to look for when evaluating a green tea’s quality is its color: if your green tea is brown rather than green, it’s likely been oxidized.

The matcha tea is a vibrant bright green, and is far less processed and of much higher quality than most other green teas, so you also avoid the risk of ingesting high levels of fluoride, lead, and aluminum, which can be found in inferior teas of all kinds, including green teas.

If you’re not familiar with tea you may have never heard of matcha tea. Rather than being steeped and strained like typical tea, matcha tea is made of tea leaves ground into a powder, and you add the powder right into the water.

Since you are consuming the whole leaf, matcha tea is said to be one of the healthiest green teas out there.

What About the Caffeine?

Some people avoid drinking tea because of the caffeine it contains. Indeed, caffeine has been linked to many health problems, like increased blood pressure and levels of stress hormones. Still, caffeine is far less dangerous than fruit juice or soda and in small quantities should not be a problem, especially if it comes from tea.

A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in July 2008 found that caffeine from tea (as opposed to caffeine from coffee) contains a natural protein called theanine, which actually counters the normal side effects of caffeine such as raised blood pressure, headaches and tiredness.

The exception here is women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.  

Caffeine is a stimulant drug that easily passes through the placenta to the developing fetus and is also transferred through breast milk, and can have devastating effects on the baby. So pregnant and breastfeeding women should never drink caffeinated beverages.

If you’re looking for the one with the least caffeine, green tea, again, comes out as a clear winner. Green tea contains about half the caffeine as coffee. Black tea typically contains slightly more caffeine than green tea.

How Many Cups of Tea is Safe and Beneficial to Drink Each Day?

According to the study above, a maximum intake of eight cups per day would minimize any potential health risks relating to excess caffeine consumption.  

There is also a misconception that it takes pot upon pot of green tea to add up to any significant benefits. In reality, much of the research on green tea has been based on about three cups daily.   

A cup of green tea will give you anywhere from 20-35 mg of EGCG, so three in a day will supply you with 60-105 mg. There are some studies that have used much higher doses than this -- upwards of 1,500 mg a day -- but as of now there’s no clear-cut evidence of exactly how much is best.

My advice?  

If you enjoy green tea, add a few cups to your day. And as always, listen to your body. If green tea doesn’t appeal to you, or you still notice negative effects from what little caffeine is present, then it’s probably not the best thing for you.