A Twist on “Tea”

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It’s not exactly news that that tea has a number of health benefits. The “real” tea, from the Camellia sinensis plant, comes in four varieties: green, white, oolong, and black. These teas contain substances called flavonoids, which are thought to fight against harmful free radicals, providing protection against heart disease, cancer, Type 2 diabetes, and Alzheimer and Parkinson diseases.

Recently, other types of “tea” have become trendy. Actually, two of them are not technically tea, in that they aren’t made from the Camellia sinensis plant, but they’re consumed like tea and offer supposed health benefits. Let’s take a closer look, as chances are, you’ve at least heard about them and may even be drinking one of them right now!

Kombucha tea
Kombucha tea is actually made from black or green tea. Also known as the “elixir of life,” Kombucha is made by fermenting tea with a pancake-like culture of yeasts and bacteria, called the “Kombucha mushroom.” The types of yeasts and bacteria used to make this beverage can vary. Kombucha has been around for centuries, so it’s nothing new, but it’s become quite popular in the US due to its supposed health benefits. These include:

• Improving digestion
• Relieving insomnia
• Helping with weight loss
• Stopping hair loss
• Improving liver function
• Detoxifying
• Treating cancer
• Treating AIDS

Kombucha is made by steeping the “mushroom” culture in tea and sugar, and letting the beverage ferment for about a week. During this time, the culture floats in the tea and forms new “mushrooms” that can be given to others to make their own Kombucha. You can also purchase bottles of Kombucha tea, as well as capsules and liquid extract (which is placed under the tongue).

Is it safe?
There’s a concern about the safety of this beverage, especially if a person is making his own home brew. Kombucha may contain contaminants such as molds and fungi that can lead to serious illness, and possibly even death. In fact, several deaths have been linked to Kombucha. This tea also contains alcohol as a result of fermentation. The FDA has urged consumers to be cautious about drinking Kombucha, and if you’re interested in trying this, ideally, it’s best to purchase Kombucha that has been commercially prepared and pasteurized.

Anyone with HIV, cancer, or other immune problems, as well as pregnant women and the elderly, should probably not drink Kombucha, or should at least drink it only on occasion. Otherwise, drinking 4 ounces per day of a commercially prepared brew is likely safe.

Does it work?
There are no human studies to support any of the health claims made by Kombucha enthusiasts. Because it contains active cultures that may be beneficial, it’s possible that Kombucha could offer some health benefits, but it’s best to use this drink with caution until we learn more.

Yerba mate
Yerba mate, also called mate, is a popular South American beverage made by steeping ground leaves and stems of the yerba mate plant. The beverage is a stimulant in that it contains caffeine; it also contains antioxidants, polyphenols, amino acids, vitamins, and minerals. It’s used to treat a number of conditions, such as:

• Fatigue
• Low blood pressure
• Heart failure
• Headache
• Joint pain
• Urinary tract infections
• Kidney stones
• Depression
• Obesity

Is it safe?
Yerba mate is generally considered to be safe when used by healthy people and for short periods of time. Because it contains caffeine, drinking too much of this “tea” may lead to insomnia, rapid heartbeat or palpitations, stomach upset, and restlessness. Long-term use of yerba mate has been linked with an increase risk of certain types of cancer, including mouth, esophageal, kidney, bladder, and lung cancer. Smoking and drinking alcohol with yerba mate may increase cancer risk even more.

Does it work?
There really isn’t evidence that supports yerba mate’s health claims. In fact, there’s evidence that yerba mate contains high levels of cancer-causing substances. This is more of a concern when the beverage is prepared in the traditional South American manner, and when consumed over a period of time. However, an occasional cup of yerba mate is unlikely to lead to health issues.

Also known as Miracle Tree, Tree of Life, and God’s Gift to Man, moringa is another “hot topic” on Internet searches these days. Moringa oleifera is a plant native to the Himalayas in northern India, but is cultivated in various parts of the world, including Cambodia, the Philippines, and the Caribbean.

Thanks to Dr. Oz, moringa gained a surged in popularity after it was listed as a way to help boost energy. Dr. Oz recommends taking 400 milligrams as a supplement every day, or drinking it as tea. Moringa leaves contain protein, vitamin C, beta carotene, iron, calcium, potassium, and antioxidants. All parts of the Moringa oleifera plant are used for food or medicine; the leaves are used in Ayurvedic medicine to control blood glucose and blood pressure.

Is it safe?
There isn’t much information about the safety of moringa leaves, but they’re likely safe. However, it’s important to avoid moringa roots and extracts as they contain a substance that could lead to paralysis and death. Also, pregnant women should avoid consuming moringa.

Does it work?
Both animal and human studies suggest that moringa leaves may help lower blood glucose levels. In one study, of 46 people with Type 2 diabetes, 8 grams of moringa leaf powder given daily helped lower both fasting and postmeal blood glucose levels compared to a control group. Moringa leaf has also been shown to lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels. However, there are only a handful of studies (using a small amount of subjects) that have been done with moringa leaf, so it’s best to check with your health-care provider before using this or any type of dietary supplement.

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