Is Chai Tea Good For You?
Chai tea is beginning to receive a little more attention for its health benefits. In light of this extra attention I wanted to look at some of the health benefits and to hopefully uncover some misperceptions.
First, let's define chai tea. There are many variations of the tea, but the most common blend of ingredients include: cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, ginger, black pepper, nutmeg, (sometimes star anise and fennel), black tea (Assam or Gunpowder Tea), milk, and a sweetener often sugar, but can be honey or syrup.
There are few studies looking at the comprehensive effects of chai tea, so instead it becomes necessary to look at the individual ingredients and their specific health effects to better understand Chai's benefits. Then we can look at the possible synergistic effects of these ingredients and how they relate to health.
Cinnamon: Laboratory studies have found that cinnamon may reduce inflammation, have antioxidant effects, and fight bacteria. Keep in mind these are laboratory studies, therefore, the health benefits for people are not fully understood. A recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that adding a little more than a teaspoon to rice pudding helped tame blood sugar in people without diabetes. Cinnamon contains polyphenols, antioxidants that create healthier arteries and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Cardamom: It appears that cardamom has the ability to inhibit cancer cell growth and proliferation, it can prevent blood clots and can help lower high blood pressure. Last it has been shown to help with detoxifying the body by stimulating the kidney output, i.e. urination.
Cloves: Cloves have been used as an herbal treatment for an upset stomach and ease the symptoms associated with diarrhea, gas, nausea, and vomiting. There, however, is little scientific evidence to support these claims at this time. Cloves have been shown to reduce blood pressure, and reduced glucose levels, which means there are possible benefits to those with diabetes.
Ginger: Ginger has been used to help treat arthritis, colic, diarrhea, and heart conditions. It also has been used to help treat the common cold, flu-like symptoms, headaches, and painful menstrual periods. There is evidence that ginger helps speed up the metabolism (think weight loss) and works as an anti-inflammatory agent.
Nutmeg: Nutmeg provides a range of vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals to the diet when consumed regularly. It appears nutmeg is a good source of vitamin A, C, iron, manganese, copper as well as omega-6 fatty acids, dietary fiber and aromatic oils such as myristicin, eugenol, elemicin and safrole. In fact, up to 40 percent of nutmeg is made up of the essential oil. Nutmeg has been shown to kill disease causing pathogens including over 25 species of bacteria. In a Japanese study nutmeg has been shown as a powerful liver protector and as an anti-inflammatory. AU.S. study has shown it to have beneficial effects on the nervous system and as a pain reliever. Before getting too excited, be aware it can be dangerous to ingest large amounts of it in one sitting (think several spoonfuls).
Star Anise: It is rich in iron, which is beneficial for replenishing the iron in your blood. The benefits would be greater for anemics and menstruating women. If you're already taking an iron supplement you may get too much. Star Anise can be as high as 200% of your FDA allotted daily intake. It also is high in calcium, and relatively high in vitamin C.
Fennel: Fennel not only improves digestion, but also can reduce bad breath and body odor that originates in the intestines. Fennel also acts as an excellent digestive aid to relieve abdominal cramps, gas and bloating. Fennel also calms the dry, hacking cough of bronchitis.
Black Tea: Black tea contains antioxidants that can help the body rid itself of abnormal cells before they become cancerous. Drinking black tea may help heart attack patients by increasing their rate of survival following a heart attack, especially since it has been shown to reduce LDL cholesterol.
Black tea improves the ability of the blood vessels in the body to relax and expand, thus helping consumers maintain a healthier blood pressure. Researchers at Rutgers University have found that a compound in black tea-TF-2-forces colorectal cancer cells to commit suicide. Furthermore, research conducted at Pace University found that drinking black tea can help neutralize the herpes virus. Black tea has been known for some time to kill some of the germs and viruses living in the mouth, as well as those that can cause infection, diarrhea and skin infections.
Soy milk: There have been cases of excessive soy consumption leading to increased estrogen counts in men. Soy products contain phytic acid which can inhibit the full absorption of iron, and has been shown to cause growth problems in children. It also appears to increase the body's need for vitamins D and B12.
Keep in mind most of these effects only occur with amounts greater than 30 milligrams per day, for adults. To get this much soy from soy milk you would have to consume five 8-ounce glasses of soy milk.
Sugar: This is a blog entry in of itself. I think most people are aware that sugars have a myriad of effects on the body, from tooth decay, weakened immune response, increased risk of diabetes, to weight gain and all the associated health risks that come with it. (try substituting natural honey or organic syrup as sweeteners)
Milk: This is another topic worthy of a blog entry at least. In short there are many competing claims made about milk. Pulling information from research done, trying to weed out research that was funded by the powerful dairy industry. It appears that the hormones fed to cows are broken down in the digestive tract and are rendered harmless and aren't much of a health concern. It also appears that the benefits of calcium for strong bones are well overstated, and that, the U.S. with the highest rate of dairy consumption has one of the highest rates of arthritis and osteoporosis. Casein, a protein in milk, has been shown to turn on cancer promotion in rats when fed above 5%.
Milk has been positively shown to help with more rapid muscle growth, and to possibly help lose belly fat in conjunction with exercise and other dietary changes. So bottom line, I'd imagine the tiny amount of milk used for Chai tea would have neither a beneficial or negative effect.
IN CONCLUSION it appears there are numerous benefits to drinking Chai Tea. There are some simple vitamins and minerals the body needs, along with ant-bacterial and anti-viral properties, which makes sense as a tea that was created in an area with greater heat and humidity, and therefore, greater occurrences of food-borne illnesses. The tea has one third the caffeine of coffee, which is easier on the kidneys. The possible downsides are overly sweetened chai teas. The health effects likely vary fro mtea to tea, and for the best results fresh ingredients and making your own tea will likely have greter benefits than manufactured pre-made teas. So if you're buying a cheaper off-the-shelf chai, don't assume it will turn your life around.
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