If you're a tea drinker, you may have heard of or tried Earl Grey tea, a blend of different Chinese teas with some added citrus flavor. Named for a 19th-century English prime minister, Earl Charles Grey, it's a flavorful, aromatic blend that could also provide significant health benefits because of its content of natural, biologically active compounds.
LIke all traditional teas, Earl Grey tea leaves come from the tea plant -- Camellia sinensis -- and contain compounds that belong to a class of natural chemicals called flavonoids and flavonols. The leaves are dried and rolled to produce black teas such as Earl Grey, a process that promotes formation of additional potentially healthy compounds called theaflavins and thearubigins. Many of these tea components are potent antioxidants that may help protect you from chronic problems such as cancer and cardiovascular disease, according to research summarized by experts at the Linus Pauling Institute.
Results of research into black tea such as Earl Grey support its ability to help keep you healthy and disease-free. Studies such as one published in the September 2001 issue of "Journal of Nutrition" suggest that this may be due at least in part to the antioxidant properties of theaflavins and other tea flavonoids. Antioxidants help your body rid itself of unstable, potentially harmful molecules called free radicals that form during digestion, in your skin when you're in sunlight or in your organs after exposure to toxins. A large study published in the November 2012 issue of the "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition" found that, among 69,000 female subjects, those who drank at least 3 cups of tea weekly had a significantly lower risk of digestive system cancer than women who weren't tea drinkers, although studies that identify a direct link between tea and lower rates of disease are still needed.
Black tea such as Earl Grey also contains fluoride, which can promote dental health. A study published in the January 2003 issue of "International Journal of Food Science and Nutrition" found that laboratory animals given an extract of black tea and fed a high-sugar diet that promotes cavities had about 64 percent fewer cavities than those fed placebo and a regular diet, a benefit the authors attributed to the fluoride content of the tea extract. Although direct studies supporting this benefit in humans are still needed, a study in the June 1999 issue of "Community Dental Health" found that, among 6,000 English children, those who drank tea regularly had the least cavities and best dental health.
Black tea such as Earl Grey is generally considered safe, although it could cause mild gastric upset in some people. It also contains caffeine, which might cause nervousness or agitation if it's consumed in large amounts. Tea might also slow uptake of iron from plant foods, dairy products or iron supplements, and should be consumed in moderation by pregnant or breast-feeding women. If you have questions about the potential benefits of Earl Grey tea, discuss them with your doctor or a registered dietitian.