by Victoria Shanta Retelny, RDN

Tea is the most popular beverage in the world, after water — and one of the oldest medicinal brews.

For the past 5,000 years, tea was believed to purify the body and preserve the mind. A large body of scientific evidence, including over 3,000 published studies, shows a link between tea and improved health, with a focus on protection against various types of cancer, such as digestive, skin, lung, prostate, breast and ovarian cancers. All true teas–white, green, oolong and black–come from the buds of the same plant, Camellia sinensis.

Tea for cancer defense.

Tea contains a large number of bioactive compounds called flavonoids, which can potentially fend off cancer.

“Tea flavonoids, such as catechins, theaflavins, thearubigins and quercetin, are antioxidants that may protect against some types of cancer,” explains Neva Cochrane, MS, RDN, LD, a Dallas-based registered dietitian nutritionist. In particular, the catechin compound epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) has been identified as one of the most effective chemopreventive agents in green tea. Though all teas may be beneficial, most of the research has focused on the anti-cancer effects of green tea.

Tea’s compounds work in many ways to prevent cancer, including reducing free radical and DNA damage, inhibiting uncontrolled cell growth, and boosting the immune system. While not all clinical trials on tea and cancer have shown conclusive benefits, a 2013 review in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition concluded that regular consumption of green tea shows promise for protection against prostate, oral, and colon cancers. Allow your tea to cool down a bit before drinking it, as studies have linked consumption of boiling hot tea to damaged esophageal cells, which may lead to throat cancer.

How much tea drinking is enough?

The Harvard School of Public Health recommends drinking at least three cups of green tea a day (steeped for three to five minutes to gain maximum catechin levels) for best results. “It is important to remember that tea, like any particular food or ingredient, is not a magic bullet,” advises Cochrane. For optimal cancer defense, tea should be consumed within a balanced diet, which includes lean meats, chicken, fish, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes and nuts.

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