Tea, from the Camellia sinensis plant, contains many plant polyphenols, catechins, antioxidants, and other phytochemicals. Though these grab attention for boosting metabolism and warding off cancer, in fact, they may be just as beneficial for the brain and cognitive health.

For example, some preliminary evidence suggests drinking tea can decrease the risk of dementia.

So let’s explore.

Tea boost brain functionCaffeine is probably the best known brain-booster found in tea. It’s effects are immediate: increased alertness, wakefulness, and attention. However, caffeine is a stimulant whose effects subside fairly quickly.

Uniquely, tea contains the amino acid L-Theanine which is more calming–it relaxes without inducing drowsiness. Therefore, caffeine and L-Theanine are a naturally-occurring pain found only in tea.

Consuming this combination (in extract form) has been found to reduce mental fatigue while increasing reaction time and working memory.  When taken over time (eg 16 weeks) this combination also led to improvements in memory and cognitive alertness.

But of course, caffeine and L-Theanine are not the only compounds that are present in tea. The brain also benefits from various catechins.

Scientists tested the effect of green tea catechins on mice and found that the green tea catechins can prevent cognitive dysfunction, improve working memory, and prevent negative changes in the brains of at-risk mice. One specific tea catechin, known as theogallin, was tested in conjunction with L-Theanine and was found to be cognitive enhancing and anti-depressive. Another study looked at the same combination (also without caffeine), but this time on humans, and found that attention improved.

Daily consumption of white tea helped to maintain the health of the cerebral cortex part of the brain in pre-diabetic rats, according to this researchOne meta study summarized the effects of consuming tea: “caffeinated tea, when ingested at regular intervals, may maintain alertness, focused attention, and accuracy and may modulate the more acute effects of higher doses of caffeine.”

So, what can we learn from all this?

If you need to be focused, alert, have a quick reaction time, maintain short-term memory, accurately process information, and want to be in a good mood, opt for a few cups of tea. If, over the course of your life, you want to maintain cognitive function and memory, prevent a decline in brain function, and avoid memory loss, then drink tea regularly throughout your life. This may be particularly appropriate if you have metabolic-related issues (such as Type-II Diabetes).

Though I drink tea regularly because I love it, sometimes I have an extra cup or two when I need to be really focused, think clearly, or write a lot.

When you drink tea, what effects do you notice? What does tea help you accomplish?


Photo by Allan on flickr.