Herbal Tea vs. Regular Tea: Medical Experts Debate Health Benefits

Joel Eisenberg

Though herbal tea is not, in fact, a true tea, medical experts agree the beverage is nonetheless potentially healthful based on ingredients.

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Author’s Note

This article is free of opinion and bias, and is based solely on science and accredited media reports. No medical advice is offered herein on the part of the author. All listed theories and facts within this article are fully-attributed to several medical experts, scientists, and media outlets, including Drugs.com, WebMD.com, QualityMatters.USP.org, Cancer Prevention, and MedicalNews.org.

Introduction

As mentioned in the above subtitle, herbal tea is actually not a true tea. See ”What is Herbal Tea?” here, from The Republic of Tea website, which defines the oft-misunderstood beverage: Herbal tea is not technically a true tea, as it does not derive from the Camellia sinensis plant (i.e. the plant that is used to create black, oolong, green, and white teas). Instead, herbal tea is an infusion or blend of various leaves, fruits, bark, roots, or flowers belonging to almost any edible, non-tea plant. In Europe and other areas of the world, herbal teas are commonly known as tisanes. Herbal teas have existed for a very long time, but have surged in popularity over the past several decades thanks to their vibrant flavor, as well as their myriad mental, emotional, and physical health benefits.

Many tea companies such as the above sell and/or manufacture herbal and regular teas, with the caveat that only the regular brand derives from the Camellia sinensis. For more information on herbal teas, including varieties, compositions and health risks, see well-attributed Wikipedia article here.

There are indeed health risks associated with certain ingredients in some herbal teas. For example, as paraphrased from the Wikipedia entry: While most herbal teas are safe for regular consumption, some herbs have toxic or allergenic effects. Among the greatest causes of concern are Comfrey, which contains alkaloids that may be harmful to the liver from chronic use, and particularly is not recommended during pregnancy or when prescription drugs are used, and Lobelia, which contains alkaloids and has traditional medicine uses for smoking cessation, and may cause nausea, vomiting, or dizziness at high doses.

Further, though generally considered safe, the ingredients in some herbal teas may negatively interact with prescription medications. See here for article from Drugs.com, entitled “18 Herbal Supplements with Risky Drug Interactions,” which takes into consideration common pill supplements as well as teas.

Regarding the potential for drug interactions, regular tea is likewise not exempt from that possibility.

Let’s explore.

Herbal Tea vs. Regular Tea

Though commonly recognized as one of the healthiest of all true teas, green tea also has potential drug interactions. See WebMD.com article here, “Green Tea - Uses, Side Effects, and More.” According to the article, major benefits of green tea include the potential for fat burning, lowering blood pressure, and improved brain function. Deficits of green tea primarily regards drug interactions, as listed in the article, and also a warning for pregnant women to refrain from the tea.

Further, some studies, though inconclusive, have linked a vague association of green tea with liver issues. See here for 2020 report, “Brewing Thoughts: Green Tea and Liver Injury,” as published by QualityMatters.Usp.org.

From the article: The USP Dietary Supplements Expert Committee started investigating reports of liver injury associated with the consumption of green tea extract (GTE) in 2008 and pubished a review article in which they proposed the inclusion of a label caution statement based on evidence from 34 adverse event reports that were reviewed. However, the proposal was abandoned as the evidence was considered inadequate. As is USP practice of continuously reviewing its standards and guidelines, the EC continued to monitor the literature for further cases of liver injury related to GTE and in 2016, USP decided to re-introduce a cautionary labelling statement based on additional data that showed that GTE continued to be associated with liver injury. Even then, the Expert Committee judged that the information reviewed was still insufficient to determine whether the reports of liver damage were due to GTE itself or external factors, such as contamination occurring during the manufacturing process.

It should be noted, however, that green tea has also been linked with authentic liver benefits. See here for an article from the Cancer Prevention website, “Effect of Green Tea Supplements on Liver Enzyme Elevation: Results from a Randomized Intervention Study in the United States.”

The article addresses the potential issues, but also mentions the tea may be useful as a preventative against cancer. As with all true tea, caffeine content should be watched.

The other common teas associated with general health benefits, in moderation, include white and black teas. See here for “The Top 5 Teas For Health” from Medical News Today. According to this article, green tea is actually the healthiest tea of all.

From the article: Researchers from the University Hospital of Basel in Switzerland found that healthy people who agreed to consume a soft drink containing 27.5 grams of green tea extract exhibited more intense activity in brain areas linked to working memory. Therefore, participants who had ingested the green tea extract had better connectivity between the frontal and parietal lobes of the brain, which are two regions involved in aspects of learning, memory processes, and decision-making. The health benefits brought about by green tea have been linked with their content of polyphenols, which are micronutrients with antioxidant properties. As antioxidants, these substances can protect against the action of free radicals, which induce the type of cellular damage consistent with aging.

Conclusion

It appears, as with all listed healthy true teas, moderation is key. The same can be said for the herbal variety, as both appear to offer their share of health benefits as well as risks.

Again, if you have any questions or are on a drug regimen, it may be wise to speak to your doctor before adding any tea into your diet.

Thank you for reading.

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I am an award-winning author, screenwriter for film and television, and producer. My mission on News Break is to share socially important perspectives on both culture and pop-culture. Member of PEN America, and the WGA.

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