Antioxidants are molecules that control the free radicals produced during oxidation. Oxidation is a natural part of your body’s metabolism -- it’s the process your body uses to break down matter, like food, and transform it into energy. But oxidation also creates free radicals, damaged cells that can further damage other cells, tissues and DNA, and lead to diseases like cancer, diabetes and heart problems. Antioxidants help control free radicals by limiting or stopping oxidation. Many herbal teas are rich in antioxidant chemicals and may help boost your body’s own natural antioxidants. Consult a health care professional before starting herbal therapy.
The tea plant, or Camellia sinensis, is a shrub native to Asia. The leaves are processed to make black, green and white teas, all of which have antioxidant properties. Green tea undergoes the least amount of processing, which involves oxidation, and has the highest antioxidant content. The active antioxidants are the polyphenols, including tannins and flavonoids, such as epigallocatechin gallate, or EGCG; epigallocatechin, or EGC; epicatechin gallate, or ECG; epicatechin, or EC; and catechin, or C. Green tea polyphenols also have anti-inflammatory and antimutagenic actions, which make them useful for inflammatory diseases and protective of DNA. Dr. Linda B. White and Steven Foster recommend several cups of green tea daily for rheumatoid arthritis. Lester A. Mitscher, Ph.D., and Victoria Dolby cite the benefits of green tea antioxidants for many forms of cancer, heart disease, digestion and tooth decay. Consult your doctor if you have stomach, kidney, mental, circulation or heart problems, or if you are taking medication for any related diseases.
Yerba mate, or Ilex paraguayensis, is an evergreen shrub native to South America. Traditional healers make a tea from the leaves to use as a stimulant for mental and physical fatigue. The main active ingredient is caffeine, but mate is also rich in antioxidant polyphenols like chlorogenic acid, tannins, catechols and flavonoids. A report by N. Bracesco and colleagues published in the June 2010 issue of the “Journal of Ethnopharmacology” cites the benefits of mate’s antioxidants for treating high cholesterol, hypertension, cancer, obesity and inflammatory diseases. The researchers note that the polyphenols in mate extracts are higher than those of green tea and similar to those of red wines. The research found that mate’s DNA-protective actions are due to the antioxidants chlorogenic acid, rutin and quercetin, and its anti-inflammatory, anti-obesity and anti-cholesterol effects are due to chlorogenic acid and flavonoids. Mate is a stimulant, so consult your doctor before combining it with medications for heart problems, hypertension, depression or insomnia.
German chamomile, or Matricaria recutita, is an annual herb in the Aster family native to Europe but used as a medicinal tea throughout the world. Traditional healers use chamomile to treat wounds, ulcers, eczema, gout, skin infections, nerve pain, sciatica, rheumatism and hemorrhoids. Chamomile is rich in antioxidants like apigenin, caffeic acid, chamazulene, chlorogenic acid, chrysoeriol, gentisic acid, hyperoside, isoferulic acid, isorhamnetin, kaempferol, luteolin, malic acid, p-coumaric acid, quercetin, rutin, salicylic acid and sinapic acid. These antioxidants play a role in reducing inflammation, which can lead to cell damage and disease. A study by V. M. Chandrashekhar and colleagues published in the February 2010 issue of the “Journal of Ethnopharmacology” tested chamomile on animals with brain damage due to oxidative stress. The study found that chamomile had neuroprotective action and reduced oxidative damage through the free radical scavenging work of the antioxidant apigenin and other phenolic compounds. Chamomile may trigger an allergic reaction if you are sensitive to plants in the Aster family.