In many cultures, a cup of tea is seen as a cure-all. If you are stressed, have a nice cup of chamomile tea. If you are struggling with stomach pains, have a cup of peppermint tea. Suffering from nausea? There’s a tea for that too! Many people who are addicted to coffee will try to come off it by switching to tea since tea is still warming and satisfying, but contains slightly less—or in some cases no—caffeine.
Old wives tales and family remedies are nice to hear about, but is there any truth to them? In the case of tea, yes. This is especially true when it comes to green tea, which is known to have several digestive benefits.
Chemical Properties of Green Tea
Green tea contains a number of active ingredients, including caffeine, catechins, and theobromine.1 Caffeine is a stimulant, and while it is best known for its effect on mental alertness, it is thought that it also helps stimulate the movement of waste through the intestines.
Coffee is known for its laxative effects more than tea is, and it is thought that this is because there are other active ingredients in coffee which add to the laxative effect.2
There are many different types of catechins, and each one plays a different role. It is accepted that they have an important role to play in the prevention of a number of chronic diseases.3 Theobromine, meanwhile, is a stimulant that is found in tea, coffee, and cocoa. It is thought to have fewer side effects than caffeine but provides similar benefits, including promoting alertness and digestive health. Theobromine is also an antioxidiant.4,5
Different Kinds of Tea and Their Impact on Digestive Health
One of the ways that green tea promotes digestive health is because the catechins found in green tea can help increase the activity of a digestive enzyme called pepsin.6 This means that your digestive system works more effectively and is better at extracting nutrients from the foods that you consume.
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While most green teas will contain some of those catechins, some, such as Gyokuro contain more than others. Peppermint tea also contains ECGC, which is a polyphenol that has many health benefits. There are also other components to certain teas which can positively affect digestive health:
Puerh is particularly beneficial for those who enjoy fatty foods that are hard to digest. Not only can it help with the breakdown of those foods, but it is also thought to help with reducing blood lipids, cholesterol, and the build-up of visceral fat.7 While being overweight or obese at all is a health risk, visceral fat is particularly bad, because that kind of fat builds up around the organs, putting extra stress on them.
People who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) may find that drinking peppermint tea helps to reduce some of the pain associated with a flare up.8 It is thought that peppermint triggers TRPM8, an anti-pain pathway in the intestines and can consequently help dull the pain that some people experience.
If you’re wondering why peppermint tea is on a list that focuses primarily on green tea, that is because the two are often mixed together. Peppermint extract is often added to green tea, and infusions are also popular.
While most people think of chamomile tea as being generally calming and relaxing, it offers more benefits than just this. Chamomile helps reduce pepsin production, which can help people who are suffering from acid reflux.
It is also an anti-inflammatory and can help to reduce symptoms of diarrhea. Indeed, an apple and chamomile extract mixture is a traditional home remedy for treating diarrhea in children.9 Chamomile tea is often used as a substitute for green tea because, unlike green tea, chamomile tea is caffeine free.
Oolong tea is not green tea, but it is not black tea either. It has its own special category, and it is often overlooked in spite of having many health benefits. Oolong is known for being an antiemetic and antiseptic. One recent study looked at oolong as a weight loss aid and found promising results.10
While no tea or supplement can cause weight loss in the presence of a calorie surplus, it was found to have a mild metabolism-boosting effect and also helped improve fat oxidation.
Using Tea to Improve Your Digestive Health
If you want to try using tea to boost your digestive health, you should remember to drink it in moderation. A couple of cups per day is enough to enjoy therapeutic effects. There is a small amount of caffeine in some types of green tea, and this may interfere with your sleep. If that is something that you are worried about or that you notice happening, then try not to drink green tea in the four to six hours leading up to bedtime.
Be wary of green tea extract. While this is something that is often promoted for health purposes, it is significantly more concentrated than plain green tea, and as such, it could be dangerous. Green tea in high doses is considered to be “likely unsafe” because of the concentrated caffeine content and the possibility of other compounds causing damage to the liver and kidneys.11 It is highly unlikely that the average person would reach a toxic dose from drinking tea, but using powdered extracts is much riskier.
If you want to drink tea to settle an upset stomach, try to drink tea unsweetened and without milk. Adding sugar or honey to tea can greatly increase the calorie content and can offset some of the other benefits of the tea (especially if you are interested in the weight-regulating benefits). Plain tea is more likely to settle your stomach and is close to zero calories.
If you don’t consider yourself a “tea person,” nevertheless consider adding green tea into your daily routine or at least try to drink it a little bit more often. There are a wide variety of green tea blends to choose from, and the digestive and overall health benefits that these blends offer are well worth it in the long run.
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