People have known about the health benefits of tea for hundreds, if not thousands of years. As far back as the thirteenth century monks in Japanese Zen monasteries drank green tea “because of the relaxation effect of the L-theanine" explains Michael Lelah, Ph.D., "at the time, the monks found that green tea helped them concentrate and remain alert during their many hours of meditation."
Although the evidence for the health effects of coffee goes back and forth, with one study saying it’s good for you and the next saying it’s bad, the positive effects for tea are under no doubt. We know that different kinds of teas give different advantages, but there’s plenty of evidence that regularly drinking any kind of tea can have a positive and lasting impact on your health.
Chai Tea for Alertness
Anyone who has drunk tea first thing in the morning, or to avoid the mid-afternoon slump, knows about the caffeine in tea, and chai contains almost as much as a cup of standard black tea. Although the high quantities of caffeine in coffee and energy drinks can make you feel jittery and nauseous, the level of caffeine in chai tea is much more moderate. Caffeine in tea has been shown to help extend your attention span, as well as many other mental health benefits such as clarity of mind and relaxation.
Anyone who pays attention to new food trends can’t help but have seen the word ‘antioxidant’ written over almost everything. That’s because cutting edge science is linking ‘antioxidant’ foods and drinks with longer and healthier lives. One of the leading theories of ageing is that it’s caused by something called ‘oxidative stress’ - when free radicals bounce around in your cells, breaking them down and ageing the cells. Happily for anyone who enjoys tea, The British Journal of Pharmacology published a study showing how tea is packed with antioxidants (called polyphenols and flavonoids), which neutralise these free radicals before they have time to wreak havoc on cells. The importance of oxidation on our cells is still being investigated, but it has been linked to all kinds of ageing, as well as to a number of chronic diseases including cancer, heart disease, neurological disorders, and rheumatoid arthritis.
As well as the tea, the nutmeg in chai contains an abundance of antioxidants, which can help reduce the appearance of ageing. One animal study showed that consuming nutmeg extract prevented cellular damage in rats given a medication that caused high levels of oxidative stress. Rats that did not receive the nutmeg extract experienced significant tissue damage and cell death as a result of the treatment. In contrast, rats that received nutmeg extract did not experience these effects
Although we’re not sure exactly the reasons behind it yet, a number of studies have shown that people who drink three to four cups of tea per day could have a lower risk of type 2 diabetes than those who drink less.
As well as that, recent studies have shown that drinking tea after a meal can help stop people from experiencing the big spikes in blood sugar which can eventually lead to diabetes. The reason for this is still being figured out, but it may well be due to tea’s major bioactive compounds, the polyphenols.
All these benefits of tea are great, but why drink chai tea?
The simple answer is that chai contains lots of health improving ingredients not present in a cup of your standard black tea.
Chai contains cloves, cardamom, black peppercorns and ginger all of which have been shown to help improve digestion.
The ginger in chai Ginger is often marketed as a natural way to reduce nausea or calm an upset stomach. In fact, ginger is so good at helping with nausea that some studies have found that it may be as effective as some anti-nausea medications, but it doesn’t have the side effects that those over the counter medications come with.
Cinnamon - A Superfood
Cinnamon, one of the most important spices in your chai, has been used in traditional Indian (ayurvedic) medicine for thousands and thousands of years and it's only recently that science has begun to understand how powerful it may be. Cinnamon is crammed full of antioxidants, which have been shown to stop your cells ageing, and in a study that compared the antioxidant activity of 26 spices, cinnamon wound up as the clear winner, even outranking “superfoods” like garlic and oregano.
In fact there are so many health benefits of cinnamon alone it will be worth us writing a blog about just that one day, but let's just say it’s been shown to be anti-inflammatory, may cut your risk of heart disease, improve your sensitivity to insulin, lower your blood sugar levels, have beneficial effects of neurodegenerative diseases, protect against cancer, help fight bacterial and fungal infections and may even help the body combat the HIV virus.
And that’s just one ingredient in chai! Phew!
Aches and Pains
More than one of the spices in chai have been shown to reduce inflammation and help with pain.
Cloves, one of the most important spices in chai, have been used for thousands of years in India to treat pain, especially toothache and are still used to this day, both to help with dental pain and give people sweet smelling breath. Cloves are so effective that studies have even shown that clove gel can be used as a topical anaesthetic similar to benzocaine.
Cardamom has been used in Tibet for thousands of years to improve dental hygiene, and recent studies have shown that it can reduce common mouth bacteria as well as help with bad breath.
Nutmeg (another ingredient in chai) is rich in anti-inflammatory compounds called monoterpenes, including sabinene, terpineol, and pinene. These may help reduce inflammation in your body and benefit those with inflammatory conditions such as arthritis.
Ginger increases circulation, delivering oxygen-rich blood cells to areas with aches and pains, which helps to alleviate painful symptoms. It has been shown to reduce inflammation, especially for people suffering from osteoarthritis.
As you can see there’s a huge amount of evidence to suggest that the tea in chai, as well as all the spices in it, are really good for you. However, we need to remember that the science is quite new and in ten years some of it might be disproved. However, not all of it will be and either way you still get to enjoy a delicious cup of tea!See More: How many calories in chai?