As a young man, I thought my creativity would last forever. I couldn’t imagine writer’s block, or not having the time to wander around with my dog and a camera. Though as we persist, our lives become more complicated, sometimes tragic, & often hurried. The desire to get back to our creative selves can become a kind of quest. Though search as we may, the truth is being creative, though seemingly easier when we were more carefree, is a conscious choice, requiring a deliberate effort to free ourselves from the stresses and conformities that hamper it.
Among the variety of strategies I have explored and employed in the service of maintaining my own creativity, the habit of regularly drinking tea seemingly delivers the most rewards for the amount of time it requires. “Second only to water in its consumption,” tea, more specifically green, has considerable physiological and psychological effects on those who consume it [Gibson & Rycroft]. Though my introduction to tea drinking began as a fascination with Japanese tea culture, I have spent the last few decades exploring a variety of teas & herbal infusions and their impact on human vitality.
It All Starts In The Body:
Most of us don’t need to read a study to believe that stress negatively impacts our creativity. We can argue, and scholars do, about whether it is workplace stress or interpersonal stress that has the greatest impact on our lives. In either case, stress impacts human health in three key areas: heart disease, cancer risk, and obesity [Gibson & Rycroft]. Research indicates that the constituents of green teas, and some blacks, could not only prevent these three health challenges, but reverse them, and even lower the stress they cause us.
In actuality, stress itself doesn’t directly impacts us. It is the cortisol that the human body produces in response to stress that has negative impacts. It’s a simple mechanism to understand. Stressors like being in pain, not getting enough sleep, feeling anxiety, anger, and depression over the conditions of our lives, or grieving loss, all cause our bodies to produce cortisol. So with repetitive stress, we end up with an excessive amount of cortisol inside our bodies.
“Studies suggest that the high levels of cortisol from long-term [chronic] stress can increase blood cholesterol, triglycerides, blood sugar, and blood pressure. These are common risk factors for heart disease. As well, stress can cause changes that promote the buildup of plaque deposits in the arteries”[URMC]. Chronic stress has been shown to even promote cancer growth. It “creates something of a perfect storm where precancerous cells can grow and flourish” [CTCA]. Cortisol build up from chronic stress is also a major cause of obesity, which in return can increase your chances for both heart disease and certain forms of cancer.
Protecting Our Hearts:
When discussing tea’s cardiac benefits, we want to start with “Catechins.” Catechins are an organic chemical compound in the flavonoids family —a collection of naturally occurring antioxidants and metabolites found in certain plants. Without going too far into the science on this, tea catechins “exert [a] vascular protective effects through multiple mechanisms, including antioxidative, anti-hypertensive, anti-inflammatory, anti-proliferative, anti-thrombogenic, and lipid lowering effects” [Velayutham, et al]. The multi-spectrum effects of catechins make it a strong candidate for the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular diseases.
“A typical tea beverage, prepared in a proportion of 1g of tea leaves to 100 ml of boiling water in a 3-minute brew, usually contains 250–350 mg of dry materials that are comprised of 30–42% catechins” [Velayutham, et al]. Green tea though is the beverage you’d want to gravitate toward. “In green tea, catechins account for 80% to 90% of total flavonoids, with Epigallocatechin Gallate being the most abundant catechin (48–55%)” [Velayutham, et al].
Epigallocatechin Gallate (EGCG) is the powerhouse compound among the tea’s catechins. “EGCG has been studied to treat a wide variety of diseases and may be one of the main reasons green tea has such powerful medicinal properties” [SunsafeRX]. Specifically, EGCG reduces stress on cardiac muscles, dilates blood vessels, & “are able to inhibit cortisol formation” [Hintzpeter etal].
When discussing tea’s ability to fight and prevent cancer, we begin with EGCG and its effect on human’s p53-gene. “The p53 gene … is a tumor suppressor gene, … its activity stops the formation of tumors” [NIH]. Making it, in a sense, the “guardian of the genome” [Rensselaer Polytec.]. It “has several well-known anti-cancer functions, including halting cell growth to allow for DNA repair, activating DNA repair, and initiating programmed cell death … if DNA damage cannot be repaired” [Rensselaer Polytec.]. When present in the human body “EGCG is able to boost p53’s anti-cancer activity” and stop other compounds from suppressing its function [Rensselaer Polytec.]. Other catechins found in tea, like ECG also have substantial free radical scavenging effects that protects our DNA.
Polyphenols, another category of plant compounds found in tea, are also worth noting. Tea polyphenols have been shown to inhibit the formation of tumors. They achieve this by prohibiting the growth of new blood vessels that would allow the tumor to grow and spread.
Our Struggles with Obesity:
“Worldwide obesity has nearly tripled since 1975” [WHO]. Last surveyed in 2016, 39% of adults over the age of 18 years were overweight and 13% were obese [WHO]. “During recent years, an increasing number of clinical trials have confirmed the beneficial effects of green tea on obesity” [Huang etal.]. A 2019 study published in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry indicated that green teas particularly hinder “obesity and a number of inflammatory biomarkers linked [to] poor health” [ScienceDaily]. “This study provides evidence that green tea encourages the growth of good gut bacteria, and that leads to a series of benefits that significantly lower the risk of obesity” [ScienceDaily].
Again, it is teas Catechins that are lending tea drinkers a hand with their weight control. Studies “have shown that consumption of Green Tea Catechins (270 mg to 1200 mg/day) may reduce body weight and fat” [Rains et al.]. To put this into perspective, “A single cup (8 ounces or 250 ml) of brewed green tea typically contains about 50–100 mg of EGCG” [Healthline]. So if an average cup of green tea contains say 75mg of catechins, you would need to consume a little over 3.5 cups a day to hit the low end of the range explored in that studies. It’s worth noting that other studies have shown that daily intake of 800 mg of EGCG, or above, increases risk of liver damage [ANS et al.]. To give this warning some context, to reach 800 mg of ECGC from green tea you would need to consume 10 cups 8 oz a day.
Getting Tea on the Brain:
There is mounting evidence that tea consumption can decrease the risk of Alzheimer’s Disease and improve cognitive function in older populations. With life expectancy increasing, studies are indicate that 50% of the people over the age of 85 are at risk for developing Alzheimer’s Disease [Ribarič]. Prevention is clearly a growing concern. Beverages containing plant polyphenols, like green teas, have been recommended as a natural complementary therapy for alleviating the symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease and other other neurodegenerative diseases [Polito et al.].
“In Japan, a community-based comprehensive geriatric assessment involving 1003 Japanese residents aged 70 or older showed that a higher consumption of green tea was associated with a lower prevalence of cognitive impairment” [Polito et al.]. Adjusted for other lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise, results are similar across the globe.
A key constituent in tea that is responsible for these effects is the amino-acid L-theanine. “L-theanine significantly increases activity in the alpha frequency band which indicates that it relaxes the mind without inducing drowsiness” [Nobre et al.]. Alpha brain waves produce the state you feel when we first wake up in the morning, when we’re very relaxed, yet wakefulness. Researchers have found similar increases in the alpha band among those who practice meditation.
L-theanine is also being studied as a neuroprotective and cognitive enhancing agent as it seems to increases brain serotonin, dopamine, GABA levels [Pradeep et al.]. In the human body serotonin is responsible for regulating depression & anxiety, healing wounds, and maintaining bone health. Dopamine regulates sleep, heart rate, blood vessel function, kidney function, and pain processing [ScienceDaily]. Psychologically it plays a role in learning, motivation, mood regulation, and your attention. Least known of the the three, GABA is found naturally in fermented foods such as kimchi, miso, and tempeh. Its natural function is to soothe and calm the brain. Deficiencies in GABA have been linked to panic and anxiety disorders, depression, alcoholism and bipolar disorder. Though genetics may play a role in low levels of GABA, prolonged stress is also a major contributor [Integrative Psychology].
Currently there is no evidence suggesting the values of tea consumption are only beneficial for the aging. A 2014 study of the effects of green tea on the brain among adult volunteers showed the promising results. After four weeks the research team reported increased working memory among participants. Brain scans conducted at this time showed increased neuro-connectivity in areas associated with memory. Other studies have reported improvements in “visual memory, the ability to control responses, and the ability to plan or make calculations” over 12 months [Senthilingam, for CNN].
With so much research supporting it, there should be little doubt that tea consumption can have a considerable impact on human lives. For creatives, it can help moderate the sometimes crushing, inspiration-inhibiting stresses we experience in the human world. Though like all things, tea alone won’t keep you healthy or creative. It isn’t a panacea or universal cure. Though, it can be one of many small lifestyle changes we make to improve our odds of staying creative longer. As I asserted at the onset of these writings, creativity requires a deliberate effort. Making yourself a few cups of tea a day and getting the returns outlined here, could be among the easiest things you do to maintain your creativity.
How Many Cups?
Saying that I have been as persuasive as I’d hoped, you’ll probably want to brew yourself I nice cup of tea. The most natural questions you’ll have are: “what tea should I drink” and “how much”.
To date, there is no study of teas that measures the flavonoids, amino-acids, and other constituents that occur in each variety. What is generally accepted is that green teas have more of the active constituents discussed in these writings than their darker cousins. “Compared to black tea, green tea has a much higher catechins content. This is a consequence of oxidation of catechins … during the fermentation process [associated with Oolong & black teas]. In addition, the important fact is that the higher the catechins content in tea, the higher the antioxidant activity” [Musial et al.]. This is also true for the other polyphenolic compounds we discussed, though the conditions in which the tea was grown also play a considerable role.
Stepping Into The Greens:
To extract the greatest amount of beneficial nutrients from green teas, your water temperature is the deciding factor.
“Matcha,” the powdered ceremonial tea used in Japan that has recently found its way into Hipster culture as the “Matcha-latte,” is among my favorites. Though less than coffee or black teas, Matcha has the most amount of caffeine among the green teas, but it also packs the most nutritional punch. A good Matcha can have as much 109 mg of EGCG compared to other greens averaging between 25 to 86mg. There is also a major difference in price. Matcha is considerably more expensive than other greens. Matcha is not steeped like other teas. It is whisked or stirred into water raised to 180°F / 82°C.
“Sencha” is the other popular Japanese tea. It tends to be less expensive than Matcha, which makes it a more popular tea. Sencha is a steamed green tea made from the smaller leaves of tea bushes. When making Sencha use a ratio of 1 teaspoon of tea to 1 cup of clean water. This tea prefers a lower water temperature 176°F / 80°C. Like many other green teas, you can reuse the leaves to get a second, and depending on the quality, a third pouring. Each pouring releases different nutrients as well as flavors.
Another quality green tea is the Chinese Longjing or “Dragon Well”. The most common tea in China, it is generally an affordable tea. Though as it is considered an artistan tea, making certain brands very expensive outside of China. This family of green teas is roasted after picking to inhibit oxidation. The result of this process is that Longjing teas have some of the highest concentrations of Catechins among green teas. To brew this tea use .5 tsp to 1 cup of water. Steep the tea for 2 to 3 minutes in water 176℉ to 185° (80°C- 85°C). You may also reuse the leaves for a second and third pour.
“Zhū Chá” also known as ‘Pearl Tea’ or ‘Gunpowder Tea’ is another popular Chinese tea. To make this tea the leaves are withered, steamed, rolled, and then dried. In the US and Europe this is a moderately priced green tea. It is also the primary tea used in traditional Moroccan mint tea. Generally, Zhū Chá is brewed by steeping 1 tsp in water at 70 °C (158 °F) to 80 °C (176 °F). Steep the first and second pours for around 1 minute.
Probably the most well know tea in the world is the Jasmine Green Tea that is popular in Chinese restaurants. Generally this is a very poor quality green tea with a pleasant aroma, with a nutritional value slightly above water. Though, along with the “Moroccan mint” mentioned above, there are a few other quality green teas that are worth considering. “Genmaicha” is a Japanese green tea with puffed brown rice. It’s flavor is sweet, toasty, and enjoyable. Lower in caffeine than most greens, “Houjicha” is a green Japanese tea that’s often made from roasted tea leaves and stems. Packing an unexpected sweet flavor, “Kukicha” is a steamed Japanese green tea that is made from the twigs of the tea plant. It is also low in caffeine. Though difficult to find in the US, “Pi Lo Chun” is maybe China’s most famous green tea. Much like “Zhū Chá” this tea is also brewed at lower temperatures.
As for how many cups of tea you should drink a day, I’m leaving you in the hands of the 9th century Chinese poet Lú Tóng. Known for his lifelong study of tea culture, he leaves us this poetic hint, maybe just less than a suggestion, of how much tea a person should consume.
“The first cup moistens my lips & throat;
The second ends my loneliness;
The third eases my nervous belly, & brings the wisdom of 5,000 chronicles;
With the fourth I sweat a little, evaporating tragedies and complication;
The fifth cup, purifies everything between heaven and earth.
And the sixth cup awakens my immortality;
The seventh cup remains, steaming –there is no reason to drink,
the cool wind carries me on to the island of the immortals.”
Forgiving my clumsy translation of this classic, you wild creatives should keep this in mind before drinking seven cups of green tea ––the traditional Chinese teacup is 4.5 oz., not 8 or 12 oz, like we have in the West.