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Gut health benefits of tea as Brits found to prefer a cuppa over coffee

Woman enjoying a cup of tea. (Getty Images)
Enjoying a hot cup of tea is could bring some unexpected gut health benefits. (Getty Images)

Tea or coffee? Countless debates have arisen over the superiority of one over the other. But turns out a good old cuppa has seemingly won the battle of the hot beverages with new research suggesting Brits of all ages prefer a cuppa.

"Brits are drinking over 100 million cups of tea each day versus 98 million cups of coffee – that’s at least two million more cups of tea each day versus coffee," explains Dr Sharon Hall, chief executive of the UK Tea & Infusions Association.

A real-world research poll, commissioned by the association, found that only 2% of those polled did not drink tea, with a total of 38% drinking 1-2 cups daily, 36% drinking 3-4 cups and 15% drinking 5-6 cups every single day.

"As a result, tea remains, after water, the most consumed beverage in the world and a national treasure."

She's right of course us Brits do take our tea drinking very seriously so much so that there was recent uproar after a US scientist suggested we add salt into our cuppa in order to bring tea back from the brink of bitterness.

Turns out there are some feel-good reasons cited by Brits for their love of tea. When asked how a cuppa made them feel, 55% said it helped them relax and 53% said it provided comfort. Almost a quarter (24%) of 18-29 years claimed tea made them feel healthy, while 43% of people in Stoke-on-Trent and 40% of people in Truro/Cornwall said tea gave them motivation for the day.

A cup of hot tea. (Getty Images)
A cup of Rosie has some potential benefits for the gut. (Getty Images)

It seems a warming brew has many perceived mental wellbeing benefits for many of us, but what about other health plus points?

Recent research found that people who drink one cup of tea per day are 28% less likely to develop type 2 diabetes than those who don’t drink tea, but like its sister drink coffee, there are also some plus points for the gut in sticking the kettle on.

"Drinking black tea contributes to gut health," explains nutritionist, Dr Pamela Mason from the Tea Advisory Panel.

"A meta-analysis of 96 studies found that drinking 2-3 cups of black tea (with milk) could, amongst a range of other health benefits, contribute to good, gut health."

Dr Mason says black tea contains polyphenols which help promote the growth of good bacteria in the gut whilst reducing the growth of bad bacteria.

"This action can improve the microbial mix in the gut by reducing the ratio of less healthy bacteria to healthy bacteria."

Gut health benefits of tea

1. Improves microbial diversity

A review by the Tea Advisory Panel identified studies showing that black tea can improve microbial diversity in the gut and the ratio of Firmicutes (relatively healthy bacteria) to Bacteroidetes (less healthy bacteria).

"The main polyphenols in black tea include theaflavins and thearubigins which are beneficial to our health and wellness, plus they are absorbed by the gut bacteria," Dr Mason explains.

"A healthy gut enables the absorption of these important compounds."

2. Prebiotic properties of black tea (builder's tea)

Some black teas contain substances with prebiotic properties. "Research indicates that these components can promote the growth and activity of beneficial probiotics, contributing to a healthy balance of microorganisms in the gut," Lara Buckle, nutritionist specialising in gut health and founder of The Wellness Detective.

3. Polyphenol richness in green tea

Green tea is rich in polyphenols, particularly catechins. "Studies have demonstrated the antioxidant properties of these compounds, highlighting their potential to support the growth of beneficial gut bacteria and foster a balanced microbiota," Buckle adds.

4. Antioxidant impact

Polyphenols, such as those found in tea, are some of best antioxidants in the human diet. "These polyphenols are only digested once they reach the large intestine and therefore act as fuel for the good bacteria in our gut," Buckle explains.

There are many gut health benefits in our daily cup of tea. (Getty Images)
There are many gut health benefits in our daily cup of tea. (Getty Images)

5. Anti-inflammatory effects in herbal teas

According to Buckle certain herbal teas, like chamomile or ginger tea, contain anti-inflammatory compounds. "Studies on herbal teas, like chamomile and ginger, reveal anti-inflammatory compounds. These properties may help alleviate inflammation in the gut, offering support for digestive health," she explains.

6. Improvement in gut barrier function with white tea

Studies on white tea suggest improvements in gut barrier function. "This emphasises its potential role in maintaining the integrity of the gut lining and preventing the entry of harmful substances," Buckle explains.

7. Diversity from herbal blends

Buckle says research on herbal tea blends, such as peppermint or hibiscus, highlights their potential to contribute to increased microbial diversity in the gut. "A diverse gut microbiota is associated with better overall health and a lower risk of digestive issues," she adds.

8. Improving the health of the gut bacterial mix

According to Dr Mason there is evidence linking the humble cuppa (black tea with or without milk) with health benefits not only for the gut itself but also for our cardiovascular health.

Things that might counter the gut health benefits of tea

  • Adding sugar or excessive sweeteners to builder's tea can counteract potential benefits. "High sugar intake may contribute to an imbalance in the gut microbiota and increase the risk of digestive issues," Buckle explains.

  • Builder's tea, being a black tea, contains caffeine. "Excessive caffeine consumption can disrupt sleep patterns and may affect gut health indirectly. Moderation is advisable, especially for individuals sensitive to caffeine," Buckle adds.

  • While herbal teas offer diverse flavours and potential benefits, the quality and quantity matter. "Ensure you choose high-quality herbal blends and moderate your intake to avoid any potential negative effects," Buckle says.

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