Green Tea as an Effective Alternative to Daily Low-Dose Aspirin
Daily Green Tea Health Benefits
Daily low-dose aspirin is sometimes advised or prescribed by medical professionals for those at risk of stroke and heart disease, but after hearing of its benefits many people began to start taking it without medical supervision.
But aspirin can have its risks, as well, so when my elderly and health-conscious mother told me she had started to take it daily without consulting her doctor, I began to investigate whether there were other things she could do instead to safely prolong her active life.
I've been drinking green and white teas for a long time, and I've been very impressed by the positive effects they've had on my own health and well-being. And the more I read the scientific research into this very beautiful and simple drink, the more I saw that some of green tea's health benefits are very similar to those of aspirin—both might help prevent some cancers, and both have blood-thinning properties.
The benefits of green and white teas are very wide ranging, but they are quite mild and they become useful and apparent only over long periods of regular tea drinking. For the best results, think of it as a healthy and easy lifestyle change rather than as a cure-all, and replace your regular tea or coffee habit with green and white teas.
Important! Contraindications of Green Tea
If you have been prescribed aspirin by your doctor DO NOT stop taking it without consultation. DO NOT drink green or white tea if you are taking aspirin regularly. Both tea and aspirin prevent the blood from clotting, and so combining the two can cause haemorrhaging. For the same reason, DO NOT drink these teas if you are taking Warfarin. Green and white tea interfere with the effect of Warfarin and can make it ineffective.
Daily Low-Dose Aspirin Risks and Benefits
Research shows that taking low doses of aspirin every day can help cut the risks of heart disease, and that for some people it might prevent or halt the spread of cancer. In people over 45, and especially those at risk of heart disease or stroke because of lifestyle factors such as weight and smoking, doctors might cautiously advise patients to start taking low-dose aspirin daily. It is a well-tolerated drug for many people at small doses, and has probably helped to extend the active life of thousands of people. Certainly, if your doctor has recommended that you start a daily regimen of aspirin, it would be very unwise for you to stop taking it - it might be saving your life.
But aspirin is not without its risks. One of the reasons why it works so effectively against diseases of aging and some chronic conditions is that it thins the blood. But in a small percentage of cases, this effect can also cause haemorrhaging. Aspirin can also cause irritation to the lining of the stomach, which can be painful and may interfere with digestion. Both the American Heart Association and the NHS in the UK recommend that a person should NOT start to take aspirin on a daily basis without the direct advice and continuing supervision of their doctor, because of the risks that come with taking aspirin on a regular basis.
Scientifically Demonstrated Effects of Aspirin and Green Tea - Benefits and Cautions - Blood Thinning Properties
Both green tea and aspirin cause thinning of the blood, so much in fact that if you drink green tea on a regular basis, you are advised not to take aspirin; and if you are already taking aspirin regularly (whether low-dose for its possible long-term health benefits, or at pain-killing doses) you should not drink green tea. Actually, aspirin is an 'anti-platelet' drug, which stops the blood from clotting, which is why it is effective in preventing strokes and heart attacks, both of which can be caused by blockages caused by blood clotting.
Low-dose aspirin may be recommended by doctors to high-risk patients such as those who have already had a stroke or heart attack, and also to people with diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol. But aspirin is an over the counter medicine available without prescription, and there is a concern that because of the publicised benefits, people may begin to take daily low doses without consulting a doctor and without considering the risks.
If you are in a high-risk group for any of the above conditions, or if you have already been prescribed low-dose aspirin, then green tea as an alternative is not for you. But if you are simply concerned about your health because you are getting older (45 is considered the age at which many diseases of 'lifestyle' may start to appear) and are carrying extra weight or you smoke, then green tea might be a safe and effective way for you to avoid many of the common chronic diseases of age.
Cancer Prevention: Green Tea v. Aspirin
In one study, a surprising effect of aspirin emerged - that regular low doses appeared to stave off cancer. The UK's NHS cautions that this effect is not validated by full research - the study during which this emerged was actually designed to test a different property of aspirin, and the surprising cancer-fighting property was noticed accidentally.
Whilst this doesn't necessarily mean that the cancer-preventing properties of aspirin are any less impressive, it does mean that it hasn't been fully explored yet, which means we cannot weigh up the real effectiveness of aspirin in this area against its known negative effects.
Green Tea has also been found to have anti-cancer effects. These may in part be attributed to the enormous amounts of antioxidants found in the drink, which neutralise and get rid of harmful molecules in the body before they can wreak havoc. In part, though, the effect is down to a substance called EGCG that is found in green tea, which has been found to reduce the incidence of a number of cancers, including lung, breast, prostate, ovarian and endometrial cancers. One study found a 32% reduction in the risk of pancreatic cancer in women who regularly consumed green tea.
How Green and White Teas Have the Edge over Aspirin
Memory: Drunk regularly, green tea enhances memory - a good way to get rid of those 'senior moments'. This effect takes about 6-12 weeks to become noticeable, and continues to improve for as long as you continue to drink green tea.
Stamina: Easily fatigued? Green tea has been shown to improve energy and stamina. Again, this is a long-term effect, and will take several weeks before you begin to feel a new buzz of energy and motivation.
Look and Feel Younger: Not a purely skin-deep effect! Green and white tea will do wonders for your complexion and help stave off those lines and wrinkles. This is more than just a 'vanity' effect, though, since tea appears to work against myriad negative effects of aging, and in a study conducted jointly by academic researchers and the ethical cosmetics company Neal's Yard, white tea was found to have the greatest positive effect among a number of natural substances studied.
How Much Should you Drink, and what kind of Green or White Tea?
Almost every scientific study carried out has either studied populations where green and white tea is consumed on a daily basis, or has used extracts equivalent to drinking around 3-6 cups of green or white tea per day, and this amount seems to have the most beneficial effect.
Tea bags of green tea, whilst they are by no means harmful, are older and can contain quite stale tea leaves that have lost a lot of their health-giving properties. Some powdered tea drinks can contain high levels of fluoride that can be potentially harmful. So the best teas to drink are high quality loose-leaf teas that have been harvested the previous spring. You will have to order these online from a speciality tea merchant. I buy a lot of my teas from about four or five online 'tea shops' but there are many very reputable merchants, and the things to look for on websites are that they give the date of the tea harvest (which should be the previous April/May); that they post customer reviews of their individual teas; and that they give some description of each variety of tea.
Popular Varieties of Green and White Teas
As to which variety of tea is the best, this is largely a matter of personal taste. In my opinion, the following varieties are the lightest, most delicate and most delicious, and have also been found to have the greatest amounts of health-promoting substances:
Silver Needle White Tea: one of the most popular white teas, with a very subtle grape or melon aroma.
Dragon Well (Long Jing) Green Tea: this is often a flagship variety for many tea merchants, and is considered one of the most beautiful green teas. The best of these can be very expensive, and tea merchants often sell a number of different grades to suit different pockets, but if the merchant is reputable even the lower grades will healthful and delicious.
Anji Bai Cha: my favourite green tea, this too is expensive, but has a wonderful calming and focusing effect and a truly delicious taste.
Meng Ding Ganlu and Bi Luo Chun: these two green teas are very similar in taste - subtly sweet and floral.
Links to My Own Favourite Online Tea Shops
There are tons of incredibly good, reputable online tea merchants. Here are some of the ones from whom I've had substantial amounts of tea. Just to note that none of the following links are 'affiliate' ones—I do not receive anything from these tea merchants for featuring them here; I just really do enjoy the teas that they sell, and have been impressed by their service and delivery times.
I particularly enjoyed their Silver Needle Organic White Tea, but found all of their teas very nice indeed.
- Amazing Green Tea
A small online tea shop that sells a very small amount of superlative teas each year. The website contains a wealth of information on tea and also on the scientific research into its many benefits.
- Canton Tea Co.
I thoroughly enjoy the teas from Canton, and I've recently spotted that they have started a 'tea club' so that you can get a different tea delivered every week - something that I've yet to join but which appeals to me very much.
A collective of tea lovers owns this online shop, and they sell a very wide variety of teas. I've really liked the teas from here and would highly recommend them.
How to Brew Green or White Tea
Basically, the method is to put a couple of pinches of leaves in a glass jug and pour just-off-the-boil water over them. For Meng Ding Ganlu and Bi Luo Chun, the tiny rolled-up leaves are sprinkled into the hot water in the jug. The tea is left to steep for two or three minutes before straining the liquid into a cup. The leaves can be reinfused 2-3 times so you get 3 or 4 cups out of every couple of pinches of leaves.
Adding too many leaves, using water that’s too hot, or letting the tea steep for too long can all result in a rather bitter brew, and all teas and tastes are a little bit different so you’ll need to experiment a couple of times to find the taste you like.
Other Ways to Stay Healthy, Happy and Active
Whether you're ninety five or twenty five, the more of these you do regularly the healthier you'll be, so as well as adding 3-6 cups of green tea to your day, try some of the following suggestions.
Walk: walking briskly for half an hour every day keeps your blood flowing and can stave off many chronic diseases like Diabetes, Alzheimer's, Heart Disease, the risk of Stroke, and can lessen the pain of Arthritis. If you have difficulties walking, try a different form of exercise - some gentle Tai Chi, or some very basic easy Yoga - both of these have 'sit down' chair-based exercises that you can do even if you have very severe mobility problems, and they'll build your stamina and flexibility, and even help relieve the blues.
Fruit and Vegetables: the more you eat, the better you'll feel. People who eat Blueberries and Strawberries every day have a greatly reduced risk of many of the diseases of aging, and berries in general (but especially blueberries) activate a mechanism in the brain that 'sweeps' away the build-up of harmful molecules, so that you can think more clearly; Broccoli has long been known for having powerful healthy properties; and half an avocado every day will keep your skin and hair in tip-top condition. Different fruits and veggies have a wide variety of beneficial effects on the body and mind, so try to eat as many different ones as you can every day.
Laugh: laughter really is the best medicine, relieving pain and blowing depression and melancholy away.
Socialise: people with a large circle of close friends live longer, and taking an interest in other people can make you forget about your worries for a while.
Read: keep your mind active and challenge it once in a while by reading something that doesn't usually appeal to you, and if Joyce's Ulysses or Dylan Thomas's Under Milk Wood seem a bit too daunting, download the free audio readings and listen to them instead - they may not be your cup of tea, but the greatest works of fiction can spark your imagination and bring it to life.
Relax: I don't mean sit in front of the TV, but actively relax and allow your muscles to unwind. Try five minutes meditation every day - let your thoughts drift through your mind without attaching any emotions to them, or repeat a calming phrase over and over in your mind. And from the tip of your toes to the very top of your head, actively relax all the muscles in your body one by one, letting all the stress drain away on every out-breath. Doing this for just five or ten minutes every day will give your body and mind a well-deserved break from all the tension and stress that life throws at you.
Links to Research on Tea
If you're looking for more information on the health effects of tea, here's some links to scientific abstracts on PubMed that you might find interesting.
- Green Tea and Pancreatic Cancer
A study which found that women who regularly drank green tea had a 32% reduction in the incidence of pancreatic cancer.
- Green Tea Inhibits Cancer Growth
A very technical abstract that basically looked at the mechanisms by which EGCG - a bioactive component of green and white teas - prevents the proliferation of tumour cells.
- Overview of Green Tea Research into Health Benefits
A short but layman-friendly overview that found no evidence of cancer risk from green tea drinking, buut found positive cancer-reducing effects for some cancers in regular green tea drinkers. The study also found that green tea reduced cholesterol,
There are a million ways to keep yourself in tip-top condition: exercise, drinking green and white teas, eating lots of lovely fruits and veggies, avoiding saturated fats—the list is almost endless. What's your favourite way to stay well?