Pu-erh TeaJanuary 26, 2010 Written by JP [Font too small?]
It’s a dark and rainy day here in southern California. The weather is just perfect for bundling up in warm clothes and steeping some Camellia sinensis leaves in my new glass tea pot. When most people think of tea black or green tea usually comes to mind. But have you heard of or tried pu-erh tea? This is an ancient brew that differs slightly from black and green tea but is sometimes erroneously classified as being the same.
Pu-erh tea can be found in a relatively unprocessed form or aged for many years. The “raw” variety of pu-erh is indeed similar to green tea, but is often lumped in with black tea because of the dark color of its leaves that come from mature, wild tea trees (Camellia sinensis assamica). The seemingly minute differences that make pu-erh unique are manifested in potentially important distinctions in its chemical composition. For instance, some research indicates that this unique beverage may possess higher levels of therapeutic amino acids and phytochemicals such as GABA, gallic acid, polyphenols and theanine than what is found in more commonly consumed teas. (1,2,3,4)
The chemical make-up of a tea is relevant because it can have a direct impact on its efficacy “in-vivo” (in living organisms). Recent animal trials indicate that pu-erh is: a) safe, even when consumed in large dosages; b) compares favorably to green tea in mitigating short term (post meal) and long term cholesterol elevations and; c) can significantly lower LDL cholesterol, oxidative stress and triglycerides while raising the beneficial HDL cholesterol fraction. (5,6,7,8)
Human trials are also beginning to roll in as well. A recent 3 month study provided 3 tablets of pu-erh extract (333 mg each) per day or a placebo to 47 patients with hypercholesterolemia. The experimental and placebo tablets were all taken prior to meals. The Japanese scientists conducting the research noted an 8.5% decline in total cholesterol and a 12% drop in LDL. A few additional benefits were reported as well: a reduction in triglycerides and body weight. No adverse reactions were expressed by the study volunteers. These findings are in line with another Japanese experiment which recently examined the efficacy and safety of high dosages of pu-erh in animals and humans subjects. (9,10)
If you’ve read yesterdays column about black tea/theaflavins and green tea, you may be wondering what this all means. Black tea is worthless in promoting heart health? Green tea appears more promising? And pu-erh tea looks like it might be the most beneficial of the bunch? That’s precisely the message I don’t want you to take away from this! The fact of the matter is that just about all of these studies have used different dosages and types of tea for varying durations of time. Many of the trials haven’t even used comparable products. Drinking 5 cups of green tea from the Munnar Tea Garden in India may not be equivalent to ingesting 5 cups of green tea from the Yunnan province in China. The dirty little secret about natural foods and supplements is that they can contain dramatically different levels of nutrients and phytochemicals based on how and where they’re grown. This is a very real complication that over-the-counter and prescription drugs do not have to contend with.
The best way for us to improve the current state of natural medicine is to conduct more research. By this I don’t just mean the type of study that only scientists with lab coats oversee. I’m calling for consumers/patients to do their homework before buying and taking any supplements. I want supplement manufacturers to take the time to better understand how to formulate products that are more likely to work. Finally, it would be a welcome change if more conventional and naturopathic doctors relied on actual science when recommending or discouraging natural products to their patients. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen allopathic doctors mistakenly state that “there’s no scientific evidence that shows that ‘such and such’ is beneficial”. At the same time, I often come into contact with holistic physicians who prescribe natural remedies that are unlikely to help and/or aren’t clinically or scientifically validated. Change needs to come from every player on the health care field.
Here’s my three part suggestion about how to practically change this dynamic in our favor. First and foremost, inform yourself and don’t be afraid to ask your health team appropriate questions. The second step is to help educate your doctors about what they don’t know. Even the finest physicians need assistance with this and, in all likelihood, you have more interest and time to do this than they do. Finally, contact supplement manufacturers and let them know what you like and don’t like about how they conduct business. Use your hard earned money to support the good guys out there who are actually trying to help people and present their products in an ethical manner. I suspect that meaningful change in this arena will probably only happen on a grassroots level. So let’s stir things up by using our curiosity and intellect to start our own peaceful revolution. It may very well save lives.
Note: Please check out the “Comments & Updates” section of this blog – at the bottom of the page. You can find the latest research about this topic there!
Tags: Cholesterol, Heart Health, Tea
Posted in Alternative Therapies, Food and Drink, Heart Health