The Beverage that Flattens Your Belly

Surprising new research shows that one of the world’s most popular beverages can shrink your waistline, increase calorie burn, strengthen your bones—and even boost brainpower. What’s more, this invigorating, health-enhancing drink may also reduce risk for heart disease, according to new studies presented at the 5th International Scientific Symposium on Tea & Human Health in Washington, DC.

In a comprehensive review of earlier studies, Dutch scientists found that 24-hour energy expenditure and fat oxidation rose when people drank a green tea/caffeine beverage. The tea-drinkers burned an additional 100 calories daily and fat oxidation rose 16 percent—indicating that fat cells were being broken down and burned for energy more quickly. In a related review, the researcher found that quaffing green tea daily led to an average weight loss of nearly three pounds when the volunteers followed their usual diet.

By combining a green tea/caffeine mix and a low-calorie diet, overweight women in a recent randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled trial (the gold standard of scientific research) dropped 13 pounds over four months. Women with a high caffeine intake had greater reductions in body weight, fat mass and waist circumference, compared to those who consumed a low-caffeine placebo drink, reported scientists from Maastricht University in the Netherlands in the journal Obesity.

Why Does Green Tea Boost Weight Loss?

Several studies show that the antioxidant-rich brew increases thermogenesis (a biological process involved in burning calories). For example, a 2007 paper published in American Journal of Physiology: Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology reports that green tea combats the drop in metabolism that typically occurs during weight loss, thus improving calorie burn.

However, there’s scientific debate about which compounds in green tea explain its fat-burning effects. Although researchers used to credit caffeine, a 2011 meta-analysis of earlier research demonstrated that the mix of catechins (disease-fighting antioxidants) and caffeine is why green tea revs up both metabolism (so you burn more calories) and fat oxidation. Drinks that only contain caffeine also stimulate metabolism, but have no effect on fat breakdown, the study reported.

Researchers also report that tea catechins inhibit the effects of an enzyme that normally breaks down brain chemicals that regulate appetite. Combining catechin-rich green tea and moderate-intensity exercise helped overweight adults shed 4 more pounds and lose 3 percent more belly fat, compared to exercise alone in a 12-week study of 107 overweight adults. The tea drinkers also had a greater drop in blood fats called triglycerides.

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Tea and Heart Health

Many studies show that tea appears to reduce risk for cardiovascular disease, the leading killer of Americans. In a study presented at the scientific symposium, Italian researchers reported that black tea helps lower blood pressure. When hypertensive patients were asked to eat a high-fat meal followed by a cup of tea, their arteries show better flow-mediated dilation (FMD) than when the unhealthy meal was consumed without tea.

In a previous study by the same researchers, tea lifted FMD from 7.8 to 10.3%, and reduced both systolic and diastolic blood pressure. “Our studies build on previous work to clearly show that drinking as little as one cup of tea per day supports healthy arterial function and blood pressure. These results suggest that on a population scale, drinking tea could help significantly reduce the incidence of stroke, heart attack, and other cardiovascular diseases,” concluded researcher Claudio Ferri, MD, of University L’Aquila, Italy.

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Tea Boosts Bone Health

Researchers at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center studied 150 middle-aged women with low bone mass to evaluate the effects of green tea flavanols, Tai Chi exercise or a combination of two improved bone health and muscle strength in study participants.  

At the end of the six-month clinical trial, the scientists found that 500 mg. of green tea extract (equivalent to 4-6 cups of green tea daily), alone or in combination with Tai Chi, was linked to improved markers for bone formation, reductions in markers of inflammation and increased muscle strength in study participants.

“Our work suggests that green tea and weight bearing exercise like Tai Chi may be an effective way to help improve muscular strength, reduce inflammation and improve bone biomarkers, which may help reduce the risk for osteoporosis and fractures among older Americans,” said Chwan-Li Shen, PhD, lead researcher at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in Lubbock, TX.

And here’s yet another reason to enjoy a refreshing cup of tea today: “The many bioactive compounds in tea appear to impact virtually every cell in the body to help improve health outcomes, which is why the consensus emerging from this symposium is that drinking at least a cup of green, black, white or oolong tea a day can contribute significantly to the promotion of public health,” said symposium chair and Director Antioxidants Research Laboratory, Jeffrey Blumberg, PhD, and Jean Mayer of the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, Boston.

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