The Antioxidants in White Tea

2/24/20243 min read

White, like green tea, is popular because of its health benefits. Both products of the tea bush Camellia sinensis have been widely touted as the main reasons such teas have become celebrated since they were first discovered and began to be popular. Tea was first treasured for its healthful properties above all else. In those days, tea was a medicine and used against more ills than it is today. However, the ancient Chinese were unaware of the fact that certain kinds of tea were very healthy for the opposite reason that soda pop is harmful to health; tea contains antioxidants in strong concentrations.

What are antioxidants? Antioxidants are natural chemical compounds that absorb and neutralize other chemical compounds known as free radicals. Free radicals are chemical compounds that break down the cells of the body and are one of the underlying causes of many serious diseases and ailments, including cancer and heart disease. They have even been associated with the physical process of aging. Free radicals are produced when the cells convert nutrients into energy when the skin is exposed to sunlight and by substances in the environment like tobacco smoke and many other poisons. It is impossible to avoid free radicals completely, but their damage to the body can be limited. A steady supply of strong antioxidants in the body is a big step toward staying healthy and slowing down or preventing physical aging.

In the Western world, our diet does not provide anywhere near the amounts of antioxidants that we need. The epidemics of cancer and heart disease can be largely blamed on unchecked free radicals in our bodies. The body itself can only manufacture a limited number of antioxidants.

Plants do not have this problem. They make their antioxidants in very large quantities to neutralize the effects of free radicals, which are a by-product of the immense quantity of direct sunlight they absorb. Many types of fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants, but not all of them are created equal. The tea plant has some of the highest concentrations of antioxidants found in any plant, especially in the leaves, from which tea is made. White tea, being the least processed with leaves plucked when they are very young, has the same concentration of antioxidants as fresh tea leaves still on the bush. Indeed, no type of tea has a higher concentration of antioxidants than white tea.

There are many antioxidants, and the antioxidants in white tea are called catechins. About 25 to 30 percent of the dry weight of a fresh tea leaf is catechins, sometimes known as polyphenols. They are found in many foodstuffs and plants like red wine, chocolate, vegetables, and coffee. Tea and coffee are the biggest sources of catechins in the human diet. People drink so much coffee—which also contains some catechins—that it is probably the greatest source of antioxidants in many societies. However, this does not mean it is necessarily the strongest source because most kinds of tea contain many more antioxidants per cup than coffee does.

The term "super-antioxidants" is apt for catechins. They neutralize most of the harmful free radicals in the body, lower cholesterol, and blood pressure, and have been shown to inhibit cancer in test tubes and animals. They also destroy bacteria and viruses, boosting immunity and helping control infections. Their astringency and tannins aid digestion, decrease ulcers, congestion, and post-nasal drip, and have been shown to inhibit diabetes, excess water, and the formation of kidney stones.

Catechins' ability to keep arteries open and healthy underscores their significant role in cancer prevention. Many studies have focused on how catechins inhibit cancer growth, particularly using green tea, which usually contains more catechins than other types of tea. Since white tea has even more antioxidants than green tea, it is likely even more effective in combating cancer. Some studies suggest that tea can speed up metabolism and burn calories, potentially preventing weight gain. Both green and white tea have demonstrated antibacterial and antiviral properties and may prevent tooth decay, gum disease, throat infections, pneumonia, and dental caries. Additionally, white tea might possess anti-inflammatory properties, making it a promising weapon against various diseases.

An intriguing observation is that despite high rates of smoking and diets high in calories in Eastern Asia, rates of heart disease and many forms of cancer remain much lower than in the West. This phenomenon, known as the Asian Paradox, has been attributed to the region's substantial consumption of green tea. Green tea is the second most popular drink worldwide, after water, even though it is consumed in very limited quantities outside of Asia.

Free radicals have been linked to physical aging, damaging cells, and their DNA, potentially leading to cancer or cell death. When thousands of cells in the same body part die over time, such as in the skin, the result is visible damage, like wrinkles. Therefore, supplying the body with enough antioxidants to defend itself is crucial.

While most research on the health benefits of tea has focused on green tea, white tea, with its higher concentration of antioxidants and closer resemblance to its natural state, is likely even healthier and stronger in its health benefits. Although it's not definitively proven that white tea consumption can prevent aging, cancer, heart disease, etc., it can significantly reduce the risks of these conditions.