Green Tea and Immune System

A green tea and immune system study found that tea contains antigens that may help ward off cold and flu. Coffee does not have the same health benefits.

Tea fights flu and cold. It contains antigens that prepare us for bacterial invasion. A study on black tea drinkers found that 5 small cups of black tea a day increases immunity.

Tea contains chemicals known as alkylamine antigens, which are found in some bacteria, tumour cells, parasites and fungi. Drinking tea helps our body build up defence against them.

The study was carried out jointly by Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School in Boston, and the University of New Hampshire, Durham.

The first part of the study was conducted in the laboratory petri dishes. 

The gamma-delta T cells are our first line of defence against infections. They were exposed to an alkylamine antigen to build up their defence, before being exposed to bacteria to simulate an infection.

Cells which had been "primed" fought back against the bacteria, by multiplying up to 10 times and secreting disease-fighting chemicals. Cells not exposed to an alkylamine antigen showed no significant response.

The second part of the study was designed to find out if similar result would apply to black tea drinkers.

Volunteers were asked to drink either 5 small cups of black tea or coffee daily for up to 4 weeks. Tea contains alkylamine antigens, coffee does not.

After 2 weeks, gamma-delta T cells from tea drinkers were better able to produce disease-fighting chemicals, but coffee drinkers were not.

The researchers said this suggested that drinking tea can promote a strong immune response, in addition to other known health benefits.

This green tea and immune system study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science in 2003.

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