How Tea Helps Your Immunity

picture of tea cup

For centuries, many cultures have enjoyed tea for its flavor and health benefits. Everyday, hundreds of millions of people drink tea around nearly all parts of the globe. While drinking it, they are also helping to protect their health. Researchers continue to discover how tea benefits the body and immune system to fight viruses, bacteria, and fungal infections.

Tea and Interferon Production

According to a laboratory study in the National Academy of Sciences, a component in black tea can help prime the immune system to attack bacteria, viruses, and fungi. This component, known as L-theanine, is broken down by the liver to create a molecule helping boost the immune system’s response. This element, known as the gamma delta T cell, is the body’s first line of defense against various infections and even tumors. T cells prompt the secretion of interferon–an essential chemical defending the body against infection.

In the study, after initial blood was drawn, a group of volunteers drank five cups of tea a day while others drank coffee. After four weeks, blood samples were drawn from all the volunteers then exposed to the bacteria E-coli. For tea drinkers, interferon levels were five times higher than the initial blood test. The coffee drinkers did not show any change in these levels.

Researchers are trying to find ways to isolate and refine L-theanine from tea to use as a medicine to help increase the infection response in the body.

The Benefits of Polyphenols in Tea

Another key substance in tea, especially green tea, are chemicals known as polyphenols. These are antioxidants helping to neutralize chemicals the cells produce know as oxidants. Oxidative damage to cells can be a contributing factor for illnesses including cancer. EGCG is one of the most significant polyphenols in tea. One cup of brewed green tea can contain up to 200mg of EGCG. Research has shown consumption of EGCG in tea can help prevent various types of cancer, heart disease, protect against viral and bacterial infections, and reduce inflammation.

Tea benefits may not be the magic bullet for all health issues. Drinking it along with living a healthy lifestyle including exercising, eating plenty fruits and vegetables, quitting smoking, and limiting stress can protect your body from infection and disease. Be aware: those sugar-sweetened tea beverages don’t offer the same benefits as plain tea. In fact, they may offset the benefits of drinking tea. Luckily, with so many varieties, you can probably find a brew to enjoy without having to load it with sugar.