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Reading Tea's Healthy Leaves

Green tea may lower cholesterol and even help fight cancer

In the never-ending rivalry between coffee and tea drinkers over whose beverage is superior, the tea drinkers seem to hold the current edge. Not only is tea the second most popular drink in the world after water, but researchers are now investigating whether one variety of tea has properties that can lower cholesterol levels and blood pressure and even inhibit the development of several forms of tumors.

Several preliminary studies of the chemical makeup of green tea have suggested that the leaves may contain powerful cancer-fighting agents. In one study involving laboratory animals, green tea extracts not only seemed to help prevent skin cancer but also to protect arteries from getting clogged by fatty foods. Other laboratory studies of green tea have suggested potential benefits in combating esophogeal and lung cancer.

Green tea is Japan's tea of choice and is popular, too, in China. But it accounts for only about a fifth of all tea consumed around the world; nearly 80 percent is black tea.

Whether black tea has the same intriguing characteristics as green tea is still unclear. When black tea is harvested, its leaves are rolled and exposed to air to stimulate oxidation of its main biological ingredients. Green tea leaves, however, are steamed and heated to remove the enzyme that promotes oxidation, a potentially crucial difference.

Until human trials are conducted under rigorous scientific conditions, the medicinal powers of both will remain uncertain. But as far as some tea researchers are concerned, tea should prevail over coffee under any circumstances. That's because lab tests show that a typical cup of tea has far less caffeine than the average cup of coffee.


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