It’s strange times we’re living in right now, I don’t gotta tell you that.
And with it, it’s been ripe time for vendors to amp up just how awesome tea is for boosting the immune system and fighting off infections…
…Oh, and maybe protecting you against the coronavirus!
Let’s be real. That’s really what they’re implying there.
Now, how much does that really stand up to reality?
The health benefits of tea are a contentious topic. And honestly, I was reaaaally dubious about going into it much until last year’s GTI colloquium, where I saw that it was actually possible to talk about tea and health that wasn’t just “omg, drink tea and live forever, lol!”.
But to do this, we gotta go into the nuances. So bear with me here.
(Oh, and note that I am not a medical expert and this does not constitute medical advice, okay?)
There are lots of studies on the potential benefits of tea, but there are three big problems:
- Problem One: Many studies focus on tea extracts and components, like catechins, EGCG, theaflavins, and tannins, rather than the actual consumption of the tea. This is done because it’s harder to study people (who are unfortunately awfully complex), but that’s an issue because brewed tea =/= extracts, and also…
- Problem Two: Those extracts are often tested in vitro, which basically means that they were applied to cells or viruses in a petri dish or test tube. You’re not a petri dish or test tube, now, are you?
- Problem Three: It’s often unclear exactly which teas are being used in the studies. We see that it’s “black tea”, or “green tea”, or “pu’erh”, but we know that teas from the same type can vary wildly based on harvest, location, and even brewing style. Thus, it’s hard to extend conclusions found about one black tea to all black teas.
So there’s some issues. But that’s OK. Nothing’s perfect. As long as you’re aware that this research isn’t perfect, I’m OK if we go on to talk about what might actually be working.
It’s not perfect science, but we can look to the studies done on another coronavirus, SARS-CoV (from the SARS outbreak in the early 2000), to guess at what tea might be doing for us in all of this.
- Theaflavins in black tea seem to inhibit bovine/cow coronavirus
- Theaflavins and tannic acids in black tea and pu’erh seem to inhibit human coronavirus
- Catechins in green tea seems to inhibit proteins found in human coronavirus
In a nutshell, some tea compounds can disrupt coronavirus in a lab setting.
Now let’s get this beyond the lab. What’s exciting is that for other viruses, like influenza, there are studies on real-life populations that support what these lab-based studies are saying.
And how about one last study, based on COVID-19 itself? This one was posted just 4 days ago and is not peer-reviewed yet, but it suggests that green tea catechins may inhibit COVID-19.
So yes, take things with a grain of salt.
But also, probably take some extra tea while you’re at it.