responsible tea marketing: the truth behind tea and health with anita haworth

I first came across Anita Haworth while reading this piece in the Daily Record, “How a nice cuppa is actually good for your health” [published in September 2010]. Since then I’ve had the pleasure of talking with her about tea and health, and responsible tea marketing.

We’ve all seen health claims made about tea, often by big companies who produce bottled tea, nonsense claims about antioxidants and health (when their ‘tea’ product contains a mountain of sugar and very little of what I’d call ‘tea’). I wanted to explore this article a little more so I got in touch with Anita to have a chat about tea and health.

Anita, who is the MD of Jenier Teas in the UK, provided some unique insight into health trials, the health claims of tea, her thoughts on regulation of health claims, on dispelling tea myths and some leads to some really exciting and positive medical trials that we can all feel hopeful about.

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Your background in the pharmaceutical industry must have given you a great footing for really looking at tea claims with a critical eye, what parallels have you found in both industries.

I was a medical sales representative in the UK Pharmaceutical industry for over eight years and yes, the training I was given certainly helped me evaluate trials and question claims. As with any subject, the methodology (way the trial is set up), number of participants, trial duration, p values, if or where the trial is published, all have an impact in evaluating the weight of suggested outcomes or conclusions.

The sponsor of the trial is also worth checking out too – who commissioned the trial and why? It doesn’t necessarily mean the trial is no good because a commercial company commissioned the trial – without such research funded by private organizations many valuable products could never be developed, however it’s just something to consider when looking overall at trials and claims.

There are some tea companies that wildly market the health claims of tea. Are there government regulations that cover this area to help educate and protect consumers? Do you think there should be, and would they be enforceable.

There are a few helpful links that might help answer this question I’ll put here, but I certainly do think there should be regulations to protect consumers against unfounded claims, absolutely. We contacted the UK trading standards prior to trading to ensure that our website did not mislead or contravene any laws and whilst we cannot gain an endorsement as such from trading standards, we’re happy with the dialogue we’ve had that we are not misleading anyone. We do not make any claims about any teas we sell but do refer to reported published trials regarding types of tea in general e.g. green tea.

Personally, I’m particularly wary about how we report trials regarding tea and cancer. I think this area is extremely emotive for anyone who may be challenged by cancer and whilst there are many hopeful trials being reported on the role tea can play, I still think we have to be extremely careful not to play to people’s desperation. I believe that anyone providing any such information to consumers has to act responsibly and should we ever find any trials we refer to are questioned by a regulatory body, we would seek to understand the issues and if necessary remove all references of that trial from our website and literature.

A couple of links you may find useful:
•    UK Food Standards Agency
•    European Food Standard Agency

Who do you think does a great job of dispelling these wild marketing claims about tea.

The two websites I mentioned above and also the UK’s own Tea Council website.

The Tea Council has been set up to “provide journalists and health professionals with the latest scientific research and nutritional information on tea.”

What’s the most surprising or exciting fact you’ve come across while reading about these health benefits (or the craziest).

I think for me, a recent study reported that tea was just as good as keeping the body hydrated as water and is thought to be because the caffeine intake from tea is absorbed over a longer period of time.  A lot of people had always thought of tea acting as a diuretic because it contained caffeine, however this thought has now been shown to be incorrect.

In the Daily Record article above there are a number of health claims but the author hasn’t cited any references, do you know the studies they are referring to by name.

I’m not sure where the author sourced all of those from as there are no references, however I’ve noted below the trials I think might be the ones.

Claim: A raised metabolism: If you do nothing but drink three cups of green tea a day, you will burn around 80 extra calories. White tea and Oolong have a similar effect.

Claim: Reducing cardio-vascular disease and stroke: Major studies have shown that drinking three to four cups of tea a day could lower the risk of a heart attack significantly.

  • 15-year study conducted by the Netherlands National Institute of Public Health found a correlation between the regular consumption of black tea and the reduced risk of stroke. The study looked at 552 men and concluded that the flavinoids in black tea helped reduce the production of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol that can lead to stroke and heart attacks. The study also indicated that those men who drank over 4 cups a day had a significantly lower risk of stroke than those who only drank two to three cups a day.
  • French research found that women who drank more than three cups of tea a day had a 32 per cent lower risk of developing blocked arteries. Other studies have shown Rooibos tea helps, too.
  • Dr. Mahmoud Zureik and colleagues found that older women who reported drinking at least three cups of tea a day were less likely to have plaque in the carotid arteries in their neck than those drinking less tea. 
  • A trial looking at the benefits of Rooibos tea in humans was recently reported by the American Botanical Council. The trial (entitled “Modulation of blood oxidative stress markers and DNA damage by rooibos tea in volunteers at risk for coronary heart disease”) showed in preliminary results that Rooibos tea protected the body against oxidative damage. This kind of damage plays a significant role in cardiovascular disease. The trial was conducted by Jeanine L. Marnewick (PhD), senior researcher at the Oxidative Stress Research Centre at Cape Peninsula University of Technology in Cape Town, South Africa. [the link above is to the PDF version of the study]

Claim: Improved cognitive function: A review of 23 different studies shows that caffeine improves mood and alertness while flavonoids may improve blood flow to the brain.

  • A new research study has shown that tea really can be a pick-me-up – with the caffeine consumed by typical British tea-drinkers benefiting both mind and body without causing health concerns.  The study, published in the March issue of the British Nutrition Foundation’s Nutrition Bulletin, shows that the caffeine obtained from the equivalent of one to eight cups of tea per day offers a wide range of benefits. These include improved alertness, short-term recall and reaction time, better mood and reduced levels of fatigue. 

Claim: Parkinson’s disease: A study in Finland suggests that three cups of tea a day can significantly reduce the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease.

Claim: Stress: A Chinese study proved that drinking four cups of tea a day could help tackle stress.

Claim: Cancer: There have been relatively few studies but one suggested tea could inhibit the growth of tumors and help kill off cancer cells.  There are quite a few different studies but here are a few:

  • University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, who examined the effectiveness of green tea as a chemo-preventative agent in high-risk patient population, for their study on Cancer Prevention Research, found that more than half of the oral leukoplakia patients who consumed the extract showed promising results.
  • Dr. M. Shimizu and co-workers from Gifu University in Japan (Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers and Prevention, Volume 17, page 3020, 2008), patients who had received additional green tea extract, there was a 51 percent reduction in the number of pre-cancerous adenomas in just 12 months. In addition, compared to the group that had no additional green tea extract, the size of these pre-cancerous growths that were detected were much smaller if patients had received green tea extract. The degree of reduction in size was from 4.0 mm with usual diet and activities down to 3.0 mm with green tea extract.

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You can find Anita at Jenier Teas, and on Twitter as @Jenierteas

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Comments
3 Responses to “responsible tea marketing: the truth behind tea and health with anita haworth”
  1. Melanie says:

    Am supposed to do a workshop on tea & health soon so this article comes in really handy and provides a balanced, objective perspective. Thanks!

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