Category Archives: health and medical claims

Can tea cut fat and lower cholesterol? A little clarity, please

With rivers of butter and clouds of whipped cream everywhere during the holiday season, think tea.

Tea, as you already know has zero calories – if you don’t add milk and sugar, of course. model with teacupIt is also filled with anti-oxidants that can, if you believe the breathless claims, turn you into a healthy superperson. Health claims about tea, as any sane person knows, push the believability envelope.  And when the research is solid, who can get behind the buzz on green vs. black or meaning of  polyphenols. It’s enough  make you want to run for a good cuppa laced with something stronger. So in the interests of clarity, here is a little info on what you might want to know:

First, tea can’t make you lose weight if you overeat. Period.  Also, while the literature is stuffed with mice losing weight on green tea, the data on humans is a little less fetching. So let’s skip the scientific in vivo and go to people.

EGCG leafEGCG or eppigallocatechin catechin gallate is a powerful antioxidant and  is what gives tea and in particular green tea – its health punch in fighting weight gain, controlling diabetes, lowering cholesterol, and diminishing risk factors for cardiovascular disease. There is more EGCG in green than in black and or oolong, which are oxidized and as a result have more thearubins and theaflavins. This is what gives black and oolong tea its color and deeper flavor.

Green Tea:  A review in Chinese Medicine of 105 English language scientific studies and articles   pointed out the benefits of green tea. One of the conclusions: “Long-term consumption of tea catechins could be beneficial against high-fat diet-induced obesity and type II diabetes and could reduce the risk of coronary disease.”

green tea and metabolismAnother study, a mega-analysis by Netherlands researchers noted that consistently drinking green tea could result in burning off 100 calories over a 24 hour period.  In this study, the results – i.e.l weight loss – were more pronouced for Asian than Caucasians.

hOolong Tea: According to Chinese lore, oolong can, among its other health properties, control weight gain. Popular knowledge is that it  increases metabolism and gets rid of fat faster. In a 2009 study,  102 obese or overweight men and women were given 9 grams a day of oolong tea. After six weeks, 70% lost more than a kilo. Equally important, subcutaneous (fat under the skin – usually belly fat)  decreased on an average of 12%.

In another study, renown physiologist William Rumpler at the US Department of Agriculture focused on how oolong affects weight control. In his study, twelve men were given either full-strength tea, colored water with the same caffeine as full-strength tea, half strength tea or colored water. Researchers found that the volunteers who drank oolong burned an additional 67 calories a day.  Interestingly, fat oxidation was 12% higher with the tea drinkers, the same as was found in the previous study. 

black tea healthBlack tea: Since black tea supposedly has more caffeine than green – which is up for debate – many think it’s the caffeine that is responsible for weight loss for black tea drinkers. But studies have shown that drinking black tea can lower blood pressure and reduce bad cholesterol while not affecting HDL, the “good” cholesterol.

Pu-erh: Ah, the fermented/aged/little understood drama tea. While some herald its unique taste, others say it’s a little too earthy. pu-erhSome pu-erh has sold for epic amounts: legends abound about its unique qualities.Some liken its dark full taste to a great pinot noir and herald its health qualities. According to WebMD, pu-erh has small amounts of the chemical lovastatin, prescribed for lowering cholesterol.  Among aficionados of dim-sum, pu-erh is known to be the perfect fat-busting drink of choice.

decadent snowmanSo whether your taste turns to green,oolong,black or pu-erh, drinking tea during the holiday season will help keep that winter coating of pounds off.








Stress busters: tryptophan (turkey?) and l-theanine (tea)!

tired turkeyBy now, you’ve probably forgotten about the  post -thanksgiving  stupor characterized (if you can recall)  by glassy eyes, protruding tummy, and overwhelming urge to (yawn!) take a nice nap.

You may have heard over the years that turkey’s soporific effect is caused by tryptophan, an essential amino acid. Since the body can’t make tryptophan, it must be provided by diet. Tryptophan is used to produce niacin and seratonin, a brain chemical that enhances mood and well-being. Sadly, the amount of  trytophan in turkey is slightly less than found in chicken.    The turkey/tryptophan connection probably has more to do with the amount of carbs than  that the turkey effect.typtophan cartoon

But did you know that l-thenine, an amino acid found in tea – but not coffee – really does have the chillax factor without any guilt-inducing carbs? This is why you can drink tea and not have the hype you feel with coffee. While  L-theanine is  known to reduce stress by relaxing the mind without causing drowsiness,  animal studies also indicate that l-theanine reduces high blood pressure and increases the effectiveness of some cancer drugs.


Back to chillax factors: A recent overview by  Nutrition Review put it like this:  “The studies reviewed suggest that caffeinated tea, when ingested at regular intervals, may maintain alertness, focused attention, and accuracy and may modulate the more acute effects of higher doses of caffeine.” In another  article that reviewed research on the effects of l-theanine and caffeine in tea on attention and mood, the vaulted American Journal of Clinical Nutrition noted that studies ” showed the validity of laboratory findings by supporting the idea that tea consumption has acute benefits on both mood and performance in real-life situations.”


Smile! Tea is good for your gums and teeth too

pearly whiteWho knew that tea keeps teeth and gums healthy?  With all the tea buzz about cardio and anti-cancer, nobody talks about the role tea plays in keeping your pearly whites strong and gums pink. But think again: Tea leaves have fluoride and anti-inflammatory anti-oxidants. Makes sense this would play  role in tooth and overall health. Here are two studies that definitely give you something to chew on. (Sorry, folks, couldn’t resist.)

Black tea and plaque:

black tea and tooth healthRinsing your mouth with black tea ten (!) times a day for a minute results in less plaque than  a plain water rinse, according to recent research at University of Illinois at Chicago.


Green tea + healthy gums = healthy body too:

Tooth _PCh.fh9Do your gums bleed? Dentist told you there are pockets in your gums?  Do your teeth feel loose? Might be the dread gum or periodontal disease leading to painful and expensive surgery.gum disease But green tea might be the answer. Here’s why: In a Japanese study published in the Journal Of Periodontology, 940 men were examined for three gum disease markers: bleeding gums upon probing, pockets in the gums and weak teeth becoming detached from supporting  bones. Researchers found that for every one cup of green tea the men drank, there was a decrease in all three indicators. Simply stated, tea reduced gum disease.

Here’s what makes this really  interesting. The three symptoms of gum disease: bleeding, pockets, and weakened bone attachment to teeth, may be an inflammatory reaction to periodontal bacteria in the mouth. According to a report by  the American Academy of Periodontology  “By interfering with the body’s inflammatory response to periodontal bacteria, green tea may actually help promote periodontal health, and ward off further disease. Periodontal disease is a chronic inflammatory disease that affects the gums and bone supporting the teeth, and has been associated with the progression of other diseases such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes.heart and teeth

“Periodontists believe that maintaining healthy gums is absolutely critical to maintaining a healthy body,” says Dr. David Cochran, DDS, PhD, President of the AAP and Chair of the Department of Periodontics at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. “That is why it is so important to find simple ways to boost periodontal health, such as regularly drinking green tea—something already known to possess certain health-related benefits.”


Greed, Gold, and Tea at the Garden Festival

golden leaves fallen from dead tree

golden leaves fallen from dead tree

If you ever lusted for the Midas touch as your stocks plummet,  gaze at these golden oak leaves on the barren pathway (left) that have fall from the branches of the dead gilded oak tree (below). Inspired by Ovid’s cautionary tale in “Metamorphosis,”  “LE TOUCHER D’OR” garden of greed is part of the 2014 International Garden Festival at chateau Chaumont sur-Loire that sadly closes next month. So much to learn about deadly sins! (This year’s theme; last weeks’s post was an homage to vanity.) IMG_1723 The  jeune fille in the clear poncho is pointing out  the dead gold tree in the rain – luckily Midas’ touch is no more or she would have become a statue too.

Remember King Midas? According to myth, Dionysus, the god of wine, discovered his cherished mentor, the satyr Silensus, missing. In one version, townsfolk found a drunk and mumbling Silensus and brought him to the king. In another, Silensus passed out in the King’s rose garden.  In both versions, Midas recognized the old drunk and treated him kindly. When Dionysus heard that Silenus was alive and well, he hurried to fetch his beloved old satyr and asked Midas what he could do for him.

“Turn everything I touch to gold,” Midas reputedly said. When Dionysus cautioned him to think about his request, Midas, the lover of everything gold, scoffed at his caution. So Midas touched a plant: it turned to gold.golden hand turns eggs gold He touched food: gold. He touched a rose: gold. He touched water: gold. Soon, Midas was starving to death in wealth. Then, his beautiful daughter came running to greet her father. Too late to stop her, she became a gold statue.

Panicked and starving, the king prayed and begged Dionysus to reverse his Midas touch.

Bartolomeo Manfredi, "King Midas Bathing at the source of the Pactolus. 17th century

Bartolomeo Manfredi, “King Midas Bathing at the source of the Pactolus.” 17th century

Dionysus relented and told him to bathe in the Pactolus river. Afterward,everything he touched would revert back to its original form. (The river Pactolus in Turkey, is renown for its gold deposits and golden sands.)

What to drink while contemplating the dead gilded tree of greed and avarice?  Mariage Freres, the famed French tea chain, is offering  Perles D’Or for a mere 180Euros. Here is their description:

mariage frereMARIAGE FRÈRES has sculpted these pearls from a costly green tea and then gently covered them, one by one, in fine gold, transforming them into shimmering gems and luminous drops-they do not just gleam, they glow.

 Steeped in a glass teacup, the pearls delicately infuse the liquor. The tea dances with gold, a mandarin brew with golden highlights, while the palate is treated to dazzling notes of young growth and jasmine.

Glass, however seems a rather plebeian vessel to drink such nectar.

The chicken cup. (European Pressphoto Agency)

The chicken cup. (European Pressphoto Agency)

Why not try for your version of the cup chosen by 51 year old China billionaire and art collector Liu Yiqian. This past April, Mr. Liu successfully bid $36 million (that’s US dollars, folks), on a rare 500 year old Qing dynasty “chicken” tea cup at Sotheby’s. There are only 17 in existence, only 4 in private hands.

Mr. Liu drinks from his rare $36 million cup. (Sotheby's)

Mr. Liu drinks from his rare $36 million cup. (Sotheby’s)

Instead of whisking it away to his mega million dollar Long Museum in Shanghai, Mr. Liu decided to use the rare 3.1 inch cup first. As told by the  Wall Street Journal: “A Sotheby’s staffer poured me some tea. I saw the [chicken cup] and excitedly poured some of that tea into the cup and drank a little. Emperor Qianlong has used it, now I’ve used it. I just wanted to see how it felt.”

Then there’s the 2013 Dubai caper, as reported by the Khaleej Times (see photo right): Seems that certain Dubai coffee shops were offering  $62 dollar cups of bogus, inferior tea infused with “22K gold.”  Gold+Tea in Dubai“These cafes do not mix gold with tea, but claim it in order to attract customers, and if they really do so, they cannot afford to mix except a small percentage, which is not something remarkable, which will not help rejuvenate human body,” Khalid Mohammed Sherif Al Awadhi, director of the food control department at Dubai Municipality, was quoted in Arabian

But lest you think that gold is only for greed, consider the curious tale of green tea, gold, and prostate cancer.

In 2012, researchers at the University of Missouri School of Medicine combined ECGC  or epigallocatechin gallate (the famed antioxidant ECGC found in tea) with radioactive nanoparticles of gold to target tumors in the prostrate gland. When the combo was injected, tumors shrunk 80% over a course of treatment, according to an article published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Medicine. The usual treatment is chemotherapy, where healthy – as well as cancerous – area are destroyed as the chemo cocktail passes through the body. The EGCG/gold cocktail was much more effective: Not only did it target cancer cells, resulting in 80% of tumors shrinking, but only one or two injections were needed, as contrasted to numerous chemo treatments.

Killing cancer with golden tea? What would Dionysus have said?




(Zero Caffeine – Tannins) + (Antioxidants + Phytoestrogens) = Honeybush


Unless you grew up in South Africa, chances are you never heard of Honeybush, a botanical cousin of its more famous relative, Rooibus, but with a smooth finish and a surprising wealth of health benefits that a Canadian-based company sees as a valuable tool in the fight against obesity.

Loose leaf Honeybush and iced tea come in rose petal, mint, ginger, and classic.

Honeybush, from the genus Cyclopia, belongs to the  fynbos (small bush in Africaans) bione. For generations, Honeybush was a mainstay of folk medicine to aid digestion, alleviate colic in babies, relieve menstrual cramps and menopausal symptoms, and soothe skin rashes and other ailments. Some households kept a simmering pot of the naturally sweet herb to scent the house and drank the infusion. (Because of its caffeine-free properties, it never got bitter.)   Unlike the tea plant camillia sinensis, Honeybush is a “leguminosae” similar to soy bean, alfalfa spouts, and red clover. As a member of the legume family, it contains the isoflavones found in soy beans that act as phytoestrogens or plant-based estrogen.  (While some have proposed phytoestrogens as a safer alternative to hormone replacement therapy, the results of studies are conflicting.)

 In terms of taste, “one of the main differences between rooibus and honeybush, is that Honeybush is low in tannins,” says South African Alister Frayne, a fit and friendly physician who is the co-founder of Wild Mountain Tea: The Wellness Tea. (Tannin, a natural astringent, is what gives you the pucker in unripe fruit and is in red wine. Tannins can also inhibit iron absorption.)  “It’s much easier on the palate.”

David Mills (left) and Alister Frayne (right) are cousins and founders of Wild Mountain Tea: The Wellness Tea: Honeybush, based in British Columbia. It made its  US debut at World Tea Expo in Las Vegas this past June.

What excites Dr. Frayne about the herb is its potential to combat one of the growing medical scourges of our time: obesity and its offspring, diabetes. As a primary care physician now based in British Columbia Dr. Frayne, is on the front lines of the current health crises: young children with excessive dental caries, hyperactive adolescents, and patients of all ages suffering from obesity and diabetes. “The current statistics indicate that 1 in 4 Americans now have pre-diabetes,” write Dr. Frayne.  “This is clearly a worldwide socio-economic and health crisis – in fact, many experts are now referring to it as the “Diabesity Epidemic”. (Pre-diabetes, by the way is not a benign condition, and in some studies is actually associated with higher cardiovascular mortality rates than diabetes proper.)”

Three isoflavone chemical compounds found in  Honeybush: hesperidin, mangiferin and isomangiferin may counteract the effects: According to Dr. Frayne,  “recent animal studies have shown that these chemicals appear to exert significant effects on mammalian blood sugar and cholesterol levels.” Mangiferin, which comes not surprisingly from mangos, and is also in Honeybush, contains a wealth of preventive and therapeudic uses. Some these anti-diabetic, anti-inflammatory, and anti-cancer properties of mangiferin were outlined in a 2013 review by Polish scientists at the Department Pharmaceutical Biology and Botany at the Medical University of Warsaw.

Recently, the “anti-diabetic potential” of Honeybush tea on laboratory-induced obese, insulin- resistant rats was the subject of a study by South African and Danish scientists. Rats were administered a  strong infusion of honeybush, medication, or a placebo.  The researchers found that honeybush tea was as effective as medication in reducing glucose levels.  In another study, South African researchers  found that when the herb was made into a tea, the polyphenols in the leaves reduced fat formation in the lab. In other words, it could help fight fat.

Finally, Honeybush  contains pinotol, a natural sweetener that has none of the potentially dangerous effects of aspartane. “I have been steering my patients away from “food like substances” (ie industrial food) including beverage concoctions, and towards real food and real drinks for some time,” writes Dr. Frayne. “Among available Ready To Drink beverages for my many diabetic, pre-diabetic and obese patients, Honeybush is the best option, in my opinion, to augment their return to more natural eating. I now have a few Diabetic patients who are taking it regularly and I am monitoring them with great interest “

So how did Dr. Frayne turn his passion into a business that encompasses three countries and two continents? The honor here belongs to cousin David Mills, a marathon runner, Oxford graduate, commodities trader, and entrepreneur.  After Mills discovered the plant on a marathon run through throughout the beautiful South African mountains, he  subsequently bought a 2400 acre farm that became the Heights Tea Estate, and the beginning of the Honeybush saga.

The Heights Tea Estate was established in 2005 after co-founder David Mills went on a marathon run and saw the potential and beauty of the endeavor.

Today, the farm is one of the biggest commercial cultivators of Honeybush. It is also a socially responsible endeavor. Both Frayne and Mills pride themselves on hiring locally, giving benefits to all shareholders, and paying twice the minimum wage. The company is also involved in  wilderness conservation.

While Frayne is based in Canada and Mills in South Africa,  the iced tea version is brewed, tasted, and bottled at the Tao of Tea in Portland, Oregon.  The packaging of the tea is so fetching that it was honored by the North American Tea Championship at the World Tea Expo in Las Vegas this past June.

But it is the health properties – and the taste – that remains the cornerstone. Nor has the scientific community been asleep to the tea’s potential: “You should be aware that there is enormous interest among the scientific community in South Africa,” wrote Dr. Frayne. “In fact, my (co-founder), David, is in regular contact with Professor Quintin Johnson, a Harvard educated Biochemist, and founder of the Herbal Sciences Institute. Professor Johnson is involved in many of the Medical Research Council and Agricultural Research Council efforts into unlocking the secrets of ancient African herbs. Honeybush is at the top of this list.”

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