Is tea good for you? Discover the science behind this popular drink

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By The Gut Health Doctor Team

Dr Megan Rossi in a lab looking through a microscope

Who doesn’t love a brew but is tea good for you? For many, especially Brits, it can play a pivotal role throughout the day… when looking for some comfort, a pick-me-up or even to wind down before bed. But, not many people think of a standard cup of tea as a health food. Many assume that you need to switch to an overpriced, exotic herbal brew if you’re looking to make some positive, healthy changes.

Thankfully exciting new research has revealed some hidden science to provide a new take on the question: is tea good for you?

Time to spill the tea…

Photo looking down on a tray of 8 mugs of tea, ranging from very milky/white to very dark

1) Infused with health benefits

A 2019 review of 96 studies found that tea could potentially benefit 40 different areas of our health. After sifting through the data, the researchers from Sichuan University in China concluded that drinking two to three cups a day of black tea may reduce risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and even certain cancers (such as lung cancer). They also concluded that those two to three cups could also help with gut and bone health, as well as cognitive function. So now you know your tea break is not only a chance to relax, but to perhaps boost your brain power, too!

2) A polyphenol powerhouse

Tea is high in polyphenols, which our gut microbes help break down into a range of beneficial compounds that have an antioxidant effect in the body. These antioxidants protect our cells and tissues from wear and tear and mop up potentially harmful substances circulating in our system. They help to guard against inflammation (known to underpin diseases such as type 2 diabetes as well as signs of ageing). 

There are lots of other ways that polyphenols support our body’s systems. For example, they’re also thought to help to lower ‘bad’ cholesterol by suppressing the amount made in the liver and increasing the amount excreted in poop. They’ve also been shown to stimulate the production of nitric oxide, which dilates blood vessels and helps reduce blood pressure and the strain on the heart.

Photo of a table with 9 different types of tea including black, builders and herbal teas, alongside a small jug of milk

3) A tea for everyone

There are four types of tea: black, green, white and oolong. However, these all come from the same Camellia sinensis tea plant – the difference is in the processing and how long they are left to mix with the air. What does this mean? You don’t need to buy costly, exotic-sounding teas to reap health benefits. For example, green tea is often marketed as the much healthier cousin of our standard English breakfast version but for every study showing green  to be superior, another shows that black tea is little different. 

Black and green tea provide similar amounts of antioxidants. However, if you’re anxious, suffer from headaches or poor sleep, then green might be a better option as it has less caffeine and is higher in L-theanine, a chemical known to have a relaxing effect on the brain.

For those who have to avoid caffeine altogether, it’s worth giving Rooibos tea (also known as red bush) a go, as it’s high in antioxidants and naturally caffeine-free.

4) Herbal tea heroes

Herbal infusions aren’t strictly speaking ‘teas’ as they don’t contain tea leaves. And although they don’t generally contain the same antioxidant hit as standard tea, you can certainly utilise these mixes of flowers, spices and roots for your health! Here’s how:

Photo of a glass of finger tea with ginger in the background and a slice of lemon on the side

Ginger for nausea

Ginger tea is often associated with easing morning sickness and nausea caused by cancer therapies. However, studies suggest you need at least four cups of shop-bought ginger tea to have any effect. So instead, you might want to try making your own by adding a teaspoon of grated fresh ginger to hot water. A word of warning though — if you have a history of miscarriage, it’s best to avoid large amounts and always ask your GP if you have any concerns.

Glass of a peppermint tea on a table with peppermint leaves in the background

Peppermint for IBS

Peppermint contains compounds that have been shown to have an anti-spasmodic effect so help to relax your gut lining and release any trapped air. While the amount of these compounds in the tea form is limited, making your own with a few mint leaves in water is worth a try for those with irritable bowel syndrome, bloating or stomach cramps. For those badly affected, you might find it more beneficial to take a peppermint oil capsule as you’ll get a higher dose. 

Photo of chamomile tea in a glass with flowers in the background

Chamomile for sleep

A cup of chamomile before bed can work wonders. Chamomile contains apigenin, an antioxidant that binds to certain brain cell receptors and so is thought to help to reduce insomnia. One 2015 study found that women who had recently given birth reported better sleep after drinking the tea for two weeks (one cup per evening) than those who didn’t. 

Photo of a glass or turmeric tea with spices in the background

Turmeric for anti-inflammation

There is promising evidence that turmeric may be beneficial for those with ulcerative colitis(UC) thanks to the active component curcumin. It’s worth noting however that the clinical trials investigating this used high-dose curcumin capsules, so if you do have UC it’s worth discussing whether the supplement form is right for you. Turmeric may also help with menopause-related hot flushes — but make sure you let it cool down first or a steaming mug-full will counter the benefit in the middle of a hot flush!

Tea caveats 

Before you go tea crazy, be aware that there are some caveats. One downside of any tea is that it contains tannin, a compound which while having antioxidant properties, less appealingly binds to iron and makes it harder to absorb. So, if you take iron pills or are anaemic, then drink tea two hours before or after meals. Also, don’t drink any tea scalding hot (aim for no hotter than 50c). That’s because research (albeit limited) has suggested very hot drinks might cause damage to cells in the oesophagus.

Lastly, it’s important to be aware that some herbal teas interfere with medication (high dose ginger may thin the blood and lower blood sugar levels, for example), so it’s worth checking with your pharmacist if you plan to drink more than a few cups a day.

Photo of someone holding out a white mug of steaming tea


There are so many benefits to drinking tea that you could argue it should be reclassified as a health food. And while yes, there are sources richer in nutrients, for example blackcurrants provide more polyphenols in a portion-size, the beauty of tea is its convenience, providing you a good, regular intake.

Also, we generally recommend switching to decaf tea after 12pm in order to not interrupt your sleep. Or go for to a tea such as rooibos tea (also known as red bush), which is high in antioxidants but also naturally caffeine-free.

So enjoy your next cuppa knowing that the soothing tea break could be doing you more good than you realise. 

If you’re looking to bring positive and workable changes into your diet and lifestyle habits, and want a personalised plan to prevent future issues, you can talk to one of our specialist registered dietitians at The Gut Health Clinic.



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