What is Inflammation?
If you’ve ever twisted your knee, cut your finger, or been stung by an insect, you have firsthand experience with inflammation. The familiar sensations of pain, redness, swelling, and heat that result from an injury or infection are hallmarks of the inflammatory process. Inflammation represents an essential survival mechanism that helps the body fight off hostile microbes and repair damaged tissue. Yet there is another side of inflammation that can be harmful rather than helpful to human health. There’s evidence that inflammation, promoted in part by such factors as obesity, smoking, and a sedentary lifestyle, contributes to a variety of diseases.
There are two forms of inflammation: acute and chronic.
Acute inflammation comes on rapidly, usually within minutes, but is generally short-lived. Many of the mechanisms that spring into action to destroy invading microbes switch gears to cart away dead cells and repair damaged ones. This cycle returns the affected area to a state of balance, and inflammation dissipates within a few hours or days.
Chronic inflammation often begins with the same cellular response, but morphs into a lingering state that persists for months or years when the immune system response fails to eliminate the problem. Alternatively, the inflammation may stay active even after the initial threat has been eliminated. In other cases, low-level inflammation becomes activated even when there is no apparent injury or disease. Unchecked, the immune system prompts white blood cells to attack nearby healthy tissues and organs, setting up a chronic inflammatory process that plays a central role in some of the most challenging diseases of our time, including rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, asthma, and even Alzheimer’s.
Chronic inflammation is heavily influenced by lifestyle choices, diet, and genetic history. Genetics are something we can’t control, but diet and lifestyle we can.
Diet factors that promote inflammation
- Highly processed foods, such as those that contain refined carbohydrates, trans fats, and lots of artificial ingredients.
- Processed meats like hot dogs and cold cuts, which contain sodium nitrate.
- Fried foods.
There are other diet specifics that are beyond the scope of this article which need to be customized to the individual. There is no one-size-fits-all standard. For example, certain meats and dairy may aggravate inflammation in certain individuals while others do not.
Using Tea to reduce inflammation
As part of good eating habits, drinking tea will provide your body with many different sources of anti-inflammatory compounds. Tea contains anti-oxidants known as polyphoenols. Catechins are a class of polyphoenols that are found in the highest concentration in green, white, and purple tea. Drinking these teas every day will ensure that you have exposure to these compounds.
When it comes to green tea, loose tea is always preferable over bags. The main reason is that bags, being “fannings” or very small particles, will lose their potency quicker than the loose tea. Also, lower quality tea is used mainly in bags. The main factor in determining a tea’s quality is location. Elevation and soil quality are the main considerations. Higher elevation tea not only exposes the tea to more UV rays, which yields more antioxidants, but they are also away from industrial pollution.
Why not just take green tea in capsule form?
The major mistake people make with regards to supplements is thinking that they are a replacement for food. They also do not understand dosing. Green tea, when converted into an extract, can be toxic and lead to liver failure. This is because the dose is many, many times higher. It is a classic example of more is not always better. Therefore drinking tea in moderation will expose your body to a low, but effective dose.
General tea recommendations
White and Green Tea
Green tea and white tea contain a lot of these potent anti-oxidants. Some oolong tea (especially the lighter greener types) will contain them as well. Most herbal tea will also contain anti-inflammatory compounds. Generally, a blend of different herbs will taste better versus just drinking a single herb by itself. As mentioned above, try to limit sweetening your tea. If you are used to sweet tea, gradually lower the sugar content over time. Eventually, your taste buds will become used to the tea flavor. In fact, you’ll realize that high sugar content will cover up the true flavor of the tea.
We did a cursory search on a variety of herbs – things like lemon balm, sage, ginger, coriander, nettle, and cinnamon. Each herb was linked to a study with anti-inflammatory and/or anti-oxidant properties. As we mentioned in a previous article, many people who live in Blue Zones (areas of the world with higher life expectancy) all drank tea in one form or another throughout the day.
Drinking tea–especially the ones mentioned above–throughout the day provides a mild dose of ‘medicinal properties’ that correlate with improved health. With chronic inflammation being a source of disease, food and beverages that reduce inflammation should be consumed regularly.