by Graham Schutte

Black is the new green

Varying health benefits from top teas

Tea reputed to be beneficial to your health
Black tea is better than green

The fermentation process that turns green tea black induces a range of complex flavonoids, including theaflavins (theaflavins, are antioxidant polyphenols that are formed from flavan-3-ols such as in tea leaves) and thearubigins (thearubigins are polymeric polyphenols that are formed during the fermentation of tea leaves), to which several potential health benefits have been attributed.

Researches set off to decipher the true meaning behind this. They analysed information on black tea consumption based on 2009 sales data collected by an independent specialist market research company as well as the World Health Organization data for those same countries on the prevalence of respiratory, infectious and cardiovascular diseases.

Cancer and diabetes testing was also done and the results were added to the data collected. The results show that more than 2kg black tea is consumed, in Ireland, per person per year. The lowest consumers were South Korea, Brazil, China, Morocco and Mexico.

A statistical approach was used to tease out the key contribution of black tea to each of the health indicators selected at the population level. A link was found between black tea and rates of diabetes, but not for any of the other health indicators studied.

The global prevalence of type 2 diabetes has increased sixfold over the past few decades, and the International Diabetes Federation calculates that the number of those with the disease will soar from 285 million in 2010 to 438 million in 2030.

In Hong Kong, type 2 diabetes affects about one in 10 people, with prevalence ranging from two per cent in people aged under 35 to more than 20 per cent in those older than 65. The incidence of diabetes is increasing, with more than half of being undiagnosed. The disease is the leading cause of kidney failure, blindness, leg amputations, cardiovascular diseases and stroke.

The study authors acknowledge several caveats to their findings. They caution that the quality and consistency of data among the countries are likely to vary, as will the criteria used to diagnose diabetes. And what may seem positive at the population level may not work as well on an individual level.

They also point out that various factors are likely to have contributed to the dramatic rise in diabetes prevalence, and that a link between black tea consumption and the prevalence of the disease does not imply that one is caused by the other.

But their findings do back those of previous research, they say. "These original study results are consistent with previous biological, physiological, and ecological studies conducted on the potential of [black tea] on diabetes and obesity, and they provide valuable additional scientific information at the global level," the report says.

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