Are The Health Benefits of Tea Exaggerated?

11Nov08

One of my pet peeves is the barrage of advertisements I see on the web for “Amazing Fat Loss Oolong Tea” or “How I Lost 55 lbs With Oolong” or, the most egregious: “Drop 3 Clothes Sizes Fast And Easy! 2 day tea diet. 100% Authentic or Money Back Guarantee.”

Deceptive advertising for weight loss

Tea advertising. Fact or Deception?

The advertising must be working, because I have been asked on more than one occasion: “Do you guys sell that weight loss tea I keep hearing about?” or “Does tea really prevent cancer?”

Now, I have no idea if a tea actually exists that can miraculously reduce my waist size by multiples of 3 (if such a tea exists, I will gladly buy it now), but there seem to be plenty of reasons to be just a little doubtful whether the claim is weight loss or cancer prevention.

From The New York Times:

The promise, researchers say, stems from the tea’s polyphenols, which are powerful antioxidants that studies have shown can inhibit the growth of cancer cells in animals. But the evidence has been sparse when researchers have tried to determine if the findings carry over into humans. Results so far are mixed, at best. But the evidence over all is such that the Food and Drug Administration refused this year to let green tea producers place statements about cancer-fighting properties on their packages.

Last year, the UK Tea Council was reprimanded for a misleading poster:

…while there was some scientific evidence that tea may protect against cancer and heart disease, the findings had yet to be confirmed in tests on humans.

And back in 2002, a well known tea company got into a spot of trouble because:

…it said tea also contained “essential nutrients” such as potassium, riboflavin and vitamin B6. However, many of these nutrients do not come from the tea – but from the milk commonly added to it instead.

I am aware that I am probably bucking the trend here. As a marketer of tea, shouldn’t I get on my soapbox and push the health benefits of tea to the maximum extent possible? After all, study after study indicate yet more evidence of tea’s beneficial role. Yes, I know the studies are promising, and I believe that there are plenty of very real health benefits from drinking tea. But even the experts acknowledge that their studies are encouraging, but not conclusive. So next time you encounter some “irrefutable” or “100% guaranteed” claim that tea can help you lose 55lbs, or prevent you from getting cancer, a healthy dose of skepticism may be just what the doctor ordered.

I don’t know about you, but I tend to find tea to be much more appealing when I think of it as a delicious drink to be savored rather than as a medicine to be endured.

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22 Responses to “Are The Health Benefits of Tea Exaggerated?”

  1. As a marketer of tea, you should be honest, and it sounds like that’s exactly what you’re doing. I’ve always been a little skeptical of the huge health claims put on tea and have always drank it for the flavor. If I live to be 500 years old, I’ll consider that a nice side benefit. When I was doing STeaP, I never wanted to push the health claims all that much since it all seemed very circumstantial.

    Of course, if most people switched from soft drinks to unsweetened tea, that 55 lbs weight loss may not seem so crazy after all. :)

  2. @Joe Skeptics unite! Incidentally, I no longer drink carbonated soft drinks — but that darn 55 lbs still refuses to leave :)

  3. @Nikhil – I’m right there with you. I drink at least a cup of tea a day and usually 4-5 (no additives) and I haven’t seen any weight-loss going on here. :P

    Even if tea doesn’t have physical health benefits, for those of us that sit and really enjoy a cup of tea, there’s definitely a mental health benefit. Stress relief at its best!

  4. @MandyBee – I agree. It makes me feel better, and that’s all the scientific evidence I need!

  5. Wait? It’s not a miracle cure? Shoot.

    Seriously, I too have a hard time with those claims. I am often debunking them – ie sending them to proper research and explaining that tea has no calories aside from the sweetner (but how many people ALWAYS skip the tea and/or milk in their average cuppa?).

    That’s why I believe tea should taste good, even if it’s good for you.

  6. I think that the health benefits are great in regards to antioxidants, minerals and other proteins that benefit the body, however I do not believe it could magically cause weight loss, without doing any exercise or food restrictions, it just doesn’t happen!

  7. Great post. There is a lot of misinformation surrounding tea, particularly in relation to how it can impact on weight loss. From what I understand, you need to drink an awful lot of tea before it starts making a dent in your weight.

    There have been studies on humans on how tea fights heart disease. This page has a good, very scholarly outline of which claims about tea have evidence to back them up: http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/infocenter/phytochemicals/tea/.

    Whether it’s weight loss, heart disease or cancer, I think the number one trap people can fall into is seeing tea as the cure. I think it can be part of the cure, but chances are that other things in your lifestyle need to change as well.

  8. Personally i feel that there are some benefits to drinking tea but most companies tend to exaggerate them to boost sales.

  9. It’s simple. Tea needs to be combined with a healthy lifestyle. When this is done the miracle stories do happen in real life. I weighed at one point 198 lbs. When I quit drinking alcohol I didn’t get all the extra calories anymore. I switched to tea right away for my everyday drink so it was a part of what I was doing. Today, 3-4 years later, I weigh 130 lbs and have a flat belly. I am on a calorie-restricted diet now and have never felt better. I also drink copious amounts of tea. Is there a connection? You bet. Tea’s health benefits are only inconclusive for those people who aren’t willing to take care of their health in a holistic way. –Jason

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