The traditional beverage with a ton of health benefits

By Jeremy Fuchs
Published October 1, 2020

Key Takeaways

As drinks go, it’s hard to find one that’s better for you than tea. Studies covering just about every type of this ancient beverage have confirmed that it contains a powerhouse array of benefits, including antioxidant, anticarcinogenic, neuroprotective, anti-hypertensive, and cholesterol-lowering properties. There have even been meta-analyses to suggest that the polyphenolic properties in tea can help prevent diseases such as cancer, stroke, diabetes, and obesity, and a study suggesting that tea helps prevent the buildup of amyloid-beta proteins in the brain—a common indicator of Alzheimer disease.

There are countless types of tea and all provide numerous health benefits, but one tea consistently stands alone with benefits that beat the rest. Before we crown this tea as the reigning health champion, let’s look at the potential upsides of the most popular teas and how they may help you achieve your health goals.

Black tea

Black tea, which has a high caffeine concentration relative to other teas (about 50 mg per cup vs 25 mg per cup in green tea), as well as a stronger taste, is perhaps best known for its ability to stimulate weight loss. A review in the journal Molecules reported that the polyphenols in black tea drive this effect—they inhibit lipid and saccharide absorption (thus reducing calorie intake), promote lipid metabolism (enhancing lipolysis), and reduce oxidative stress (blocking the pathological processes of obesity). According to the research, the polyphenols in black tea are more effective than those in green tea.

A study published in Food & Function found that regular consumption of black tea and its beneficial polyphenols makes a serious difference for those looking to reign in their weight. Compared to a control group, those who drank black tea over 3 months stopped weight gain and reduced waist circumference by nearly 2 cm. However, there was no evidence that this effect carried beyond the 3-month study period.

Other heart-healthy benefits of black tea include potential reductions in blood pressure and cholesterol. A study in The Journal of Nutrition found that five daily servings of black tea reduced total cholesterol by 6.5% and LDL cholesterol by 11.1%

Black tea brings benefits to the brain, too. A study in Annals of Epidemiology followed 74,961 Swedes from 1997 until 2008. Researchers found that drinking four or more cups of black tea daily was inversely associated with stroke risk.

Are you looking to control weight, reduce blood pressure and cholesterol, and lower your risk of stroke? Black tea may be your best bet.


Oolong is another popular variety of tea that’s made from the same plant as green tea, but is processed differently. Like green tea, it’s overflowing with health benefits, primarily because of the availability of EGCG.

Authors of an article in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition noted that oolong tea can help reduce weight and control diabetes, and that it has the potential to reduce the risk of heart and vascular disease. On top of that, it possesses antibacterial properties—more good news for those with pesky halitosis.

A study in Nutrients bolstered the link between weight loss and oolong, finding that it can help decrease weight gain and fat gain, as well as reduce total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels, while increasing HDL cholesterol. Researchers additionally discovered that oolong tea consumption helped reduce the risk of fatty liver disease, but results should be approached with caution because the study was conducted in mice.

Oolong tea has also shown promise for decreasing the risk of cancer. A study in Anticancer Research found that drinking oolong helps reduce breast cancer cell growth and has potential as a chemo-preventive agent against breast cancer development. Additionally, a study in Food Nutrition Research found that a particular type of oolong tea, Phoenix Dan Cong, has plenty of natural antioxidants and has potential as an anticancer agent.

Oolong tea is another great choice for those looking to enjoy the benefits of ECGCs and reduce their risk of several serious diseases.

White, Pu-erh, herbal, and other teas

There are scores of other tea varieties, and while the science suggests most bring promising health benefits, much of the data have been collected from animals or in vitro. The relatively few studies involving humans suggest similar benefits to the teas above.

White tea, according to a study in the Journal of Food Science, inhibits the proliferation of cancer cells and may hold potential for guiding the development of anti-cancer therapeutics. Additionally, a study in Food Chemistry found that white tea has antioxidant and free-radical eliminating abilities similar to green tea. The tea’s relative lack of popularity means it hasn’t been studied as thoroughly as its more widely consumed peers, but the research thus far gives reason to be excited about its benefits.

That’s also the case with Pu-erh tea, a fermented tea from the Yunnan Province in China. There’s been little human research, but one study in Nutrition Research found that preobese or obese Japanese men who drank three servings of 333 mg of Pu-erh tea before three daily meals had significant positive effects on waist circumference, body mass index, and visceral fat values.

Research published in Nature Communications found some cholesterol-reducing properties in Pu-erh tea, due to the presence of theabrownin, a pigment that alters gut microbiota and suppresses microbes associated with bile-salt hydrolase activity. There’s also some evidence that the tea could be neuroprotective because it has compounds that inhibit the expression of mGluR5, a receptor that has effects on mood and anxiety and could also help reduce the production of excess glutamate, which causes massive neuronal death and brain damage.

Herbal teas are also incredibly popular. They’ve been linked to some health benefits, but haven’t been thoroughly studied and are often mixed with herbs, spices, fruits and other flavorings, which confound results and makes comparisons difficult across studies. More evidence is needed to determine whether herbal tea brings the benefits its proponents claim.

Chamomile tea is popular as a soothing and relaxing drink, and for good reason. In a study in the Journal of Advanced Nursing, 80 postnatal women in Taiwan who had trouble sleeping were given chamomile tea for 2 weeks. The experimental group saw lower scores of sleep inefficiency and depression symptoms.

Another popular herbal tea is Rooibos, known for its distinctive red hue. There’s some evidence that drinking Rooibos tea can significantly inhibit angiotensin-converting enzymes, a process that can help reduce blood pressure. However, researchers found that despite enzyme inhibition, no blood pressure reduction was realized in those who drank it.

Other popular teas, like echinacea, hibiscus, and rosehip, have potential health benefits, but large-scale studies are lacking. In general, outside of the main three teas—green, black, and oolong—scientific evidence, based on large-scale human trials, is insufficient.

Green tea

Of the many tea varieties, green tea is consistently promoted as one of the healthiest, and for good reason. According to a review in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, green tea consumption can contribute to risk reductions in cardiovascular disease and can help people manage blood pressure and weight. It also possesses antibacterial properties and may have neuroprotective abilities, which is an especially advantageous benefit as the world continues to age. (According to estimates from the US Census Bureau, the 65-and-older population grew by 34% between 2010 and 2020.)

Many of these health benefits come from the compound epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), which is abundant in green tea, although its content varies by the brand you choose. EGCG interacts with proteins in the body and helps regulate DNA methylation and mitochondrial function to help spread its antioxidant abilities. This process can help reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.

It can also protect against a slew of neurodegenerative diseases. A study in Molecules found that EGCG can help prevent the accumulation of fibrous proteins, which are linked to dementia onset, and could help add to the pool of data needed to develop new drugs that protect against the condition. A Nutrients study corroborated those results, suggesting that green tea could protect against cognitive impairment and reduce the risk of Alzheimer disease and related dementias.

If that weren’t enough, a study in Diabetes & Metabolic Syndrome: Clinical Research & Reviews found that green tea can also improve systemic metabolism, help people reduce their overall food intake, and decrease fat mass.

You may be getting tired of all these benefits, but we have to share just one more: A study in the Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology found that green tea can even help reduce bad breath, perhaps because of its antibacterial properties.

For the health-conscious, drinking green tea is a no-brainer that appears to work wonders for the brain, the heart, the waistline, and the overall risk of disease.

The best tea?

The tea market has more than quadrupled in the last few decades and it’s no wonder why: Tea is tasty and has tons of health benefits.

To determine the best tea for you, know your health goals and pick the tea that has the most peer-reviewed evidence behind those specific needs. Looking to lose weight? Stick to black tea. Looking to protect your brain? Green is the tea for you. Want to reduce risk of several diseases? Give oolong a shot.

Despite the strengths of each of these teas, one brings the most wide-ranging benefits. Think of nearly any illness that’s a leading cause of death in the United States—heart disease, Alzheimer disease, diabetes, cancer, and more—the evidence suggests green tea can help you ward them off.

If you’re looking for the tea with health benefits that beat the rest, pour a cup of green tea and enjoy—you’re on your way to better health.

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