Tea may boost your immune system and help fight various forms of cancer thanks to its antioxidants and other beneficial compounds.
Certain brews, such as green tea, may provide more potential health benefits than others.
Tea may help your immune system, but it's important to remember that it is not regulated by the FDA or any other entity.
"Tea may boost your immune system, and may help fight various forms of cancer due to antioxidants and plant chemicals," says Dana Hunnes, PhD, senior dietitian at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center and professor at the Fielding School of Public Health.
In fact, tea has played a large role in herbal healing among Asian cultures for centuries. And when it was first introduced to Western cultures in the 1600s, tea was advertised as a medicine. Although research on its health benefits remains inconclusive, drinking tea is generally associated with better health.
Certain brews may provide more potential health benefits than others. It all comes down to the ingredients and different plant compounds in your tea. Here are some teas that may help strengthen a weakened immune system.
It's important to note that the beneficial ingredients in tea can be taken through other means like extracts and other foods. Moreover, Hunnes says that tea may not always be the best way to get these beneficial compounds.
"The amount in a single tea bag versus taking extract or a concentrated dose is very different," Hunnes says. "It is really challenging to say for sure that drinking these items as tea would be beneficial."
That said, here are some of the key ingredients in teas that are associated with immune-boosting benefits:
Turmeric: Researchers have found that curcumin - the orange-yellow component of turmeric - activates important parts of the immune system, such as T cells and B cells. Curcumin is a phytochemical: a plant compound that helps with inflammation. Some research suggests that curcumin may have beneficial effects on arthritis, allergies, asthma, heart disease, Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, and cancer. However, it may have adverse reactions with certain blood thinners, stomach acid reducers, and diabetes medications.
Licorice root: Licorice contains flavonoids, a type of plant compound rife with antioxidants and found to have anti-inflammatory, antidiabetic, and anticancer properties. There is evidence that it may fight bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Hunnes notes there are many "licorice" products sold that do not actually contain licorice, so it is important to read the ingredients. Some possible adverse effects, when consumed in large amounts, are increased blood pressure, decreased potassium levels, and complications for pregnant women.
Ginger: A close relative of curcumin, ginger contains chemical compounds like gingerol that help fight inflammation and cancer. It is often used as a dietary supplement for nausea and various types of arthritis. Ginger may cause problems for people with gallstone disease or people taking blood-thinners. It's unclear whether it's safe during pregnancy, so always check with your doctor.
Peppermint: Peppermint tea may help fight viruses and bacteria and boost the immune system. It can also serve as a stomach-soother for nausea, indigestion, or other gastrointestinal discomforts. Menthol and methyl salicylate, the main ingredients in peppermint, are known to calm anxiety, reduce pain, and prohibit the growth of bacteria. Drinking tea from peppermint leaves is generally viewed as safe, but the long-term effects of large consumption are unknown.
Black: Researchers found that people who drank black tea regularly over the course of six months showed increased immune activity. Black tea contains flavonoids, naturally occurring compounds found in plants that may protect against numerous conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Black tea has a higher caffeine content than many other teas, which could cause increased heart rate, tremors, and anxiety in large amounts.
Green: Green tea is perhaps best known as an herbal healer. Like black tea, it contains flavonoids that can help fight several deadly illnesses. It also contains catechin, a powerful antioxidant that helps protect cells from damage.
Chamomile: There is evidence that chamomile tea has antibacterial properties and helps with sleep, bone strength, menstrual pain, and anxiety. It contains a type of flavonoid, apigenin, which has been shown in cellular studies to fight cancer, but more research is needed in humans to learn is these results translate to the general population.
Hibiscus: Hibiscus contains the powerful antioxidant anthocyanin and vitamin C, which plays an important role in immune function. There is evidence that it can help lower blood pressure and fat in the liver. People who are pregnant or taking the malaria medication chloroquine - and certain blood pressure and diabetes medications - should avoid hibiscus.
Echinacea: Though it has been touted for shortening the common cold, echinacea has not been found to significantly boost the immune system. "It may have a very slight effect in preventing or shortening colds, but not enough to call it immune-enhancing," Hunnes says. It contains polysaccharides, which are complex carbohydrates that may increase immune activity, though the evidence is sparse. The most common negative side effects are nausea and stomach pain.
When to see a doctor about your immune system
The immune system protects the body from harmful substances such as viruses, bacteria, and any other potentially harmful invaders.
"If you're getting sick all the time, are frequently feverish, or are chronically fatigued, you should see a doctor right away," Hunnes says.
Digestive system issues
Diarrhea, gas, or constipation
It doesn't pay to wait it out, Hunnes says. "If you are concerned, you should call your doctor and make an appointment sooner rather than later."
There is evidence that compounds in many types of tea can help fend off illnesses including the common cold, flu, heart disease, and cancer. However, there is little information on the amount of tea needed to have a notable effect on your health.
"Tea may help your immune system, but it's important to remember that it is not regulated by the FDA or any other entity," Hunnes says. "If you're on certain medications, drinking tea may be a bad idea due to potential interactions."
If you are experiencing symptoms of a weakened immune system such as chronic fatigue, frequent illness, and digestive issues, you should schedule an appointment with a healthcare professional to rule out other potential underlying causes.
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