Tea Boosts Immunity and Helps Skin, Study Finds

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"As in the test tube, blood taken [from the volunteers] after tea drinking made five times as much of a crucial anti-bacterial substance, compared to before tea drinking," said Bukowski. "Coffee drinking had no such effect."

Alkylamines found in tea are relatively weak, and don't fully activate the immune system's so-called T cells—a vital line of defense—but they do keep them in a state of readiness, said Bukowski. Then, "when bacteria arrive, they bring with them the same antigens, but also other signals that alert the immune system that this is the real thing," he said. This is when an all-out defensive attack takes place.

Studies suggest that "coffee doesn't seem to have any health benefits, but aside from excess caffeine intake, doesn't seem to be detrimental [either]," said Bukowski.

The new findings suggest that drinking tea can promote an increased immune response to bacteria, agreed Stephen Hsu, an expert on tea-related health issues and cell biologist at the Medical College of Georgia, Augusta. "Though there is some evidence that green tea drinking can [influence the immune system by reducing] allergic responses and asthma," this is the best evidence so far that tea can affect the immune system, said Hsu.

However, said Hsu, though the findings are interesting, a "more in-depth study" is required, with a larger group of tea-drinkers to confirm the link.

Refreshing in More Ways than One

Hsu has this week published his own study, in the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, revealing that other chemicals found in tea are able to reactivate dying skin cells. "If we can energize dying skin cells, we can probably improve the skin condition," he said.

The finding could one day possibly be applied not only to anti-aging remedies but also to wound healing and the treatment of skin conditions, said Hsu. Some anti-aging cosmetics already contain tea extracts, he said, though their effectiveness has not been scientifically proven.

"When the Chinese reputedly discovered tea, several thousand years ago, they felt that it did them a power of good," said Gorman. Unlike the early proponents of tobacco's healthful benefits, the ancient Chinese may be proved right by modern medical science.

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