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Can Tea Fight Diabetes?

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Updated January 29, 2013

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Some research shows that drinking tea may boost your defenses against diabetes, a disease estimated to affect 7.8 percent of the United States population. While scientists have yet to determine how or why tea might fight diabetes, there's evidence that certain compounds in tea may help lower blood sugar levels. Tea is also rich in antioxidants, which are known to combat oxidative stress (a destructive biological process linked to the development of diabetes).

Health Benefits of Tea for Diabetes

A high consumption of tea appears to be associated with reduced diabetes risk, according to a report published in 2009. Analyzing nine previously published studies (with a total of 324,141 participants), the report's authors concluded that drinking more than four cups of tea daily may lower your risk of diabetes. In another research review published the same year, researchers sized up seven studies (with a total of 286,701 participants) and found that high intakes of tea were linked to reduced diabetes risk. However, the review's authors note that their results "may represent an overestimate of the true magnitude" of tea's anti-diabetes effects.

In lab research, scientists have found that epigallocatechin gallate (a compound abundant in green tea) may help protect against diabetes by affecting several biological processes (including metabolism). Findings from one small study also suggest that drinking oolong tea may help lower blood sugar levels in diabetes patients.

Using Tea to Fight Diabetes

To date, there is not enough scientific evidence to support the use of any kind of tea as a primary treatment or prevention of diabetes. To reduce your diabetes risk, make sure to follow a balanced diet, exercise at least 30 minutes a day, maintain a healthy weight, and watch your blood pressure and cholesterol.

While tea is generally considered safe, high doses of caffeine may lead to a number of adverse effects (such as anxiety and increased heart rate and blood pressure). Since diabetes can lead to many life-threatening complications (including heart disease and stroke), it's important not to rely solely on tea (or any other type of self-prescribed natural remedy) in treatment of this disease.

Sources

Chen H, Qu Z, Fu L, Dong P, Zhang X. "Physicochemical properties and antioxidant capacity of 3 polysaccharides from green tea, oolong tea, and black tea." J Food Sci. 2009 74(6):C469-74.

Hosoda K, Wang MF, Liao ML, Chuang CK, Iha M, Clevidence B, Yamamoto S. "Antihyperglycemic effect of oolong tea in type 2 diabetes." Diabetes Care. 2003 26(6):1714-8.

Huxley R, Lee CM, Barzi F, Timmermeister L, Czernichow S, Perkovic V, Grobbee DE, Batty D, Woodward M. "Coffee, decaffeinated coffee, and tea consumption in relation to incident type 2 diabetes mellitus: a systematic review with meta-analysis." Arch Intern Med. 2009 4;169(22):2053-63.

Kao YH, Chang HH, Lee MJ, Chen CL. "Tea, obesity, and diabetes." Mol Nutr Food Res. 2006 50(2):188-210.

Maritim AC, Sanders RA, Watkins JB 3rd. "Diabetes, oxidative stress, and antioxidants: a review." J Biochem Mol Toxicol. 2003;17(1):24-38.

Yali Jing, MD, Guanjun Han, MD, Yun Hu, MD, Yan Bi, MD, PhD, Lirong Li, MD, PhD, and Dalong Zhu, MD, PhD. "Tea Consumption and Risk of Type 2 Diabetes: A Meta-Analysis of Cohort Studies." J Gen Intern Med. 2009 24(5): 557–562.

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