Some teas contain beneficial plant compounds that can play a role in strengthening your immunity. While more research is needed, here are some teas that health experts say are worth steeping.
Most of us have reached for a cup of hot tea in the hopes of relieving a sore throat or staving off a cold.
The concept of tea as a medicine is nothing new. Paulina Lee, RD, a registered dietitian in Houston who uses Western medical practices and alternative and integrative therapies to help clients address the root causes of their health concerns.
Despite the widespread use of tea for immunity, there is very little solid scientific evidence to prove that tea offers this type of benefit. Read on to find out what we’ve found out about how tea may – or may not – keep your immune system going.
How can tea support the health of the immune system?
The bulk of the health and immune benefits of tea are related to a group of antioxidants known as polyphenols. “A great deal of epidemiological data has shown that a diet rich in polyphenols protects against chronic health conditions such as cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes,” says Megan Meyer, PhD, Durham, North Carolina — senior director of scientific communications for the International Food Information Council. . Her previous research examined the effects of dietary antioxidants on the immune system’s response to influenza.
Dr. Mayer points to a review published in September 2017 in the Nutrition Bulletin, which found that tea is particularly rich in polyphenols known as flavonols. These phytochemicals have been shown to help lower blood pressure and cholesterol.
As far as the immune system is concerned, antioxidants (like the flavonols in tea) can help protect your body from free radicals from pollution, cigarette smoke, and UV rays, according to Harvard Health. Free radicals can have harmful effects on the body, including weakening the immune system, a previous review found.
There are many types of tea that may support your immune health. Popular choices such as green, black, white, and black come from the same evergreen plant, Camellia sinensis, according to Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “What makes them special is how prepared they are,” says Meyer. Differences in processing, geographic location, and plant varieties explain the tea’s unique flavors and nutritional compositions, and may mean that some teas offer more immune benefits than others.
Herbal teas may also support your immune health. “Most herbal teas are known to have health-promoting properties,” Lee says.
Herbal teas are not made from the camellia plant but from dried herbs, spices, roots, seeds, fruits, or leaves of other plants, according to Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Depending on the nutritional composition of a particular plant, some herbal teas may be better for your immune health than others.
More research is needed on tea and immune health
While research on tea and immune health appears promising, the studies to date either do not use humans, or the population is relatively small. Several studies also use tea in capsule or tablet form, which usually contain a much larger dose of plant compounds than you might find in a tea bag. Given these limitations, it is difficult to know if and how a cup of tea will benefit the immune health of the average person. More large studies in humans using fermented tea are needed.
However, health experts generally agree that brewed tea without a sweetener is a healthy beverage choice. “Personally, I think tea is a great way to add functional foods and herbs to your diet on a daily basis,” Lee says. So drink! And if immune health is your biggest concern, you may want to start with this list of the best teas for a healthy immune system, in order from strongest evidence to weakest.
1- Light and bitter green tea:
Light and bitter green tea is a rich source of antioxidants. “Catechines are polyphenols that have an overall positive benefit to wellness and are an outstanding antioxidant,” Lee says. Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) is one of the most well-known types of catechins in green tea. It also provides benefits for your immune system.
For example, a previous study found that treating mice with EGCG increased the number of regulatory T cells in the spleen and lymph nodes. Regulatory T cells modulate the immune response, helping your system keep it in balance and preventing it from attacking healthy cells.
Research suggests that EGCG may also affect immune function in humans. In a study published in April 2021 in Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications, researchers treated T cells taken from 20 healthy adult males with EGCG that they isolated from green tea dissolved in water. They discovered that EGCG prevented T cells from creating pro-inflammatory
Adolescents known as cytokines, suggesting that the plant compounds in green tea may help regulate the immune system.
While these findings provide clues about the relationship between green tea and immunity, more research in humans, people with compromised immune systems, and a larger population is needed to confirm this.
2- Turmeric tea:
It turns out that turmeric, the yellow-orange spice that gives curry its bold color, may also be a boon to the immune system when taken with tea. “Research shows that turmeric can reduce inflammation and that it contains high levels of antioxidants, both of which support overall immune function,” Lee says.
The primary active compound in turmeric is curcumin. According to a review published in October 2017 in Foods, curcumin effectively suppresses various types of free radicals, controls enzymes that neutralize free radicals, and helps prevent the formation of free radicals. Given the role free radical damage can play in many diseases, the antioxidants in turmeric may make this spice a beneficial addition to your immune health diet.
The researchers also found that curcumin may play an important role in the immune response. For example, a previous study in cultured rat spleen cells revealed that curcumin can regulate T cells and B cells, two lymphocytes that recognize and respond to foreign substances within your body. In the above study, curcumin helped regulate the immune response to prevent immune cells from attacking healthy tissue. The researchers concluded that curcumin may be a promising treatment for keeping the immune system in check.
Despite this, there is no research in humans and on turmeric tea specifically, which means that scientists do not yet know if you will see these benefits by sipping it in tea form.
3- Black tea:
Thanks to minimal processing, white tea is among the lightest and most flavorful on the market. White tea, like its green cousin, delivers high levels of catechins, according to a previous review. In fact, previous research suggests that white tea has similar antioxidant benefits to green tea, although green tea’s antioxidant potential is still greater, notes Lee.
There is no solid human research on white tea and immunity, which is why this variety is lower on this list. However, the minimal evidence we have so far suggests that it may be worth taking a closer look at the literature in the future. For example, a previous test-tube study found that white tea extract helped protect rats’ nerve cells from damage when exposed to hydrogen peroxide, a free radical. Another test-tube study found that white tea extract helped calm inflammation in human skin cells caused by free radicals.
As an added benefit, white tea may offer antimicrobial benefits. For example, researchers tested the antimicrobial effects of white tea leaves by inducing them on oral Streptococcus mutans and Streptococcus sobrinus, two types of microorganisms that contribute to tooth decay. After a 72-hour incubation period, researchers found that white tea extracts showed significant antibacterial effects against Streptococcus mutans bacteria, suggesting that white tea extract may help protect against tooth decay. The results were published in August 2019 in Materials Today: Proceedings.
While test tube studies like this one can yield interesting results, they don’t provide the full picture. More studies on humans who drink fermented tea are needed to understand how white tea affects the immune system. An herb or dietary supplement that passes through our digestive systems must be absorbed into the blood
He explains to me, do the processing in the liver, and it will still be effective when diluted in the body. So, take test tube studies with a grain of salt.
5- Ginger tea:
A close relative of turmeric, ginger may also offer immune health benefits when taken in a cup of tea.
Ginger is the main active compound responsible for ginger’s spicy and peppery flavor and medicinal properties. According to a previous review, gingerol not only offers antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, but it may treat infections as well.
In addition to gingerol, ginger contains other antiviral compounds that are effective in fighting the common cold, a previous research paper suggests. The compounds are associated with relieving the pain, fever, and coughing fits associated with the common cold.
However, few studies have looked at the effects of ginger on the immune system and the effects of ginger tea in particular. More research is needed to conclude whether ginger tea can play a role in immune health.