On the Health Benefits of Tea

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Building on last week’s post about how I’ve decided to take steps to learn the medicinal use of plants in a more formal way, I thought I’d talk a little about how I view the supposed health benefits of tea (that is,¬†C. sinensis). Now, much has been said, particularly in the Western press about tea as some sort of miracle elixir that is supposed to promote weight loss, improve your skin, fight cancer, and reduce inflammation in the body. And recently, my mother (who was the first tea-lover in my life, but who largely drinks black tea) came to me with a request: can I suggest some white and oolong teas that she might like because they are supposed to be good for her.

So I invited my mother over to introduce her to some teas, both those that I thought she would enjoy, and those that were just a relatively good representation of what can be easily found in each style. We chatted a bit about tea, how to brew it, what kind of things made different teas different, and a bit about the reason she decided to try to drink teas (other than black tea, which for some reason is largely exempt from the health sensationalism). Of course, the darling of the popular press is green tea, but my mother categorically does not like green tea. I’m sure I could find one that she enjoys, but I didn’t want to push her, so I respected the request for oolong and white teas only. I sent her home with a few packets of oolong teas that she enjoyed (include my newly-beloved yancha), and hopefully a new motivation to expand her tea horizons.

The one thing I will say is that I am not here to talk about the validity of health claims about tea. If you read my contact information, you’ll find that I am not willing to work with companies that make overblown health claims or that promote weight loss or detox teas. That’s just not what I’m about with tea. But I think it is important to keep concepts of healthfulness in mind as context when exploring teas because tea was originally used (as were most plant-based beverages) as a medicine. The apocryphal story of the discovery of tea has the (likely mythical) emperor Shennong fortuitously tasting leaves that fell into his boiled water and finding out that it was an antidote to poisons he was testing. So acting like tea is purely a pleasure beverage, with no reason to consider any medicinal use, is also not quite right.

When I was pregnant, I had a really hard time determining if it was safe for me to drink tea. I’ve written about my research at length in a previous post, but suffice to say, I found a disconnect between research that lumped tea in with other caffeinated vices, like coffee, and research that treated tea like an everyday, innocuous-or-healthy beverage. The research that reduced it to “tea is for caffeine and caffeine is bad” tended to come from Western researchers, while researchers from Japan and China tended to focus more on the specific constituents of tea. In fact, if I hadn’t specifically looked up tea research from Japan, I wouldn’t have found information suggesting that the real worry about tea is not the caffeine, but the fact that other constituents can impede vitamin absorption! It was important to look at these drinks in a cultural context, particularly because in the case of pregnancy, there is a strong drive to demonize things and instruct pregnant women to avoid, well, everything.

So where does that leave me in the “is tea healthy?” debate? Honestly, tea, for me, is likely healthier than coffee because I’ve found that coffee causes me, personally, to have issues. But in that same vein, I’ve found that certain teas are more likely to affect me adversely than others. I think it’s important for each tea lover to do their own research, but that ultimately, the important thing is that you enjoy your tea, and don’t simply suffer through it for some particular health benefit that may or may not have been properly tested. I think tea is wonderful, and I understand the impulse to tout all the positive press I can find about my favorite beverage, but I think drinking tea solely for health benefits is rather missing the point. So when I set out to introduce my mother to oolongs teas, my goal was to find a tea within that style that she enjoyed, not to introduce her to the healthiest version of that tea. And I hope you, dear readers, will also choose your teas based not only on their purported health benefits, but also for the joy it gives you, because joy is a healthy thing, too.

NB: I am not a health professional and none of this should be considered medical advice. Please do your own research and come to your own conclusions (which can include consulting your own doctor).

My Soothing Nighttime Routine

In my recent post about rediscovering my meditation routine, I mentioned a bit of trouble I’ve been having getting to sleep. It’s actually not a terribly new problem. My generalized anxiety and OCD has always flared up right as I’m trying to fall asleep. It comes and goes, but lately, with late rehearsals and other excuses to stay up late, I found myself staying away into the wee hours and then dragging the next day, so I decided to make some changes.

First, I already had Night Shift enabled on my phone and F.lux on my laptop computer, but I made sure Night Shift was enabled on my iPad as well. That way, at least my evening viewing wouldn’t be as bad for my sleep habits. But lately, I’ve been trying hard not to mindlessly scroll through my phone when I’m supposed to be going to bed. For one, it’s very easy to get caught up scrolling through Instagram or reading an article and not do the things I need to do before bed (skin care, tooth care, etc.). Then, when I’m in bed, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve decided to “read one more thing” and then look up and realize it’s over an hour past my sleep time. So when I get into bed, I put the phone to the side and read an actual book.

As far as my nighttime beauty routines, those are generally set more by my body’s needs than my sleep needs, but lately I’ve been enjoying aromatherapy before bed. So I might reach for my Klairs toner or my Midnight Shift oil for a little relaxation boost from their lavender-based scents during my nighttime routine. Also, while I bought it for its skin and hair benefits, my mulberry silk pillowcase has proven a boon to my sleeping as well. I find it delicious to sink into when I go to bed, and when I sweat at night, the pillowcase wicks it away and dries quickly so I don’t feel as gross in the morning.

Getting into the more heavy-duty relaxation techniques, I’ve written before about how I brew herbal teas for various ailments, and sleep is no exception. While I can break out a more potent brew with valerian and other more powerful sedating herbs, I tend to stick to a simpler concoction for regular nightly use. I was going through so many Traditional Medicinals Chamomile with Lavender tea bags that I finally decided to just buy some bulk lavender and chamomile blossoms from Mountain Rose Herbs and mix my own nighttime tea. I store them separately and add two teaspoons of chamomile flowers to one scant teaspoon of lavender in a mug of hot water. I let that infuse while I’m doing my skin care, and then strain it and bring it to bed with my book.

Then, when I’m finally ready to turn off the light and sink into sleep, if I don’t feel completely exhausted from my day, I’ll take a little extra help from my Insight Timer app’s guided meditations. The app has a pretty good selection of guided meditations for sleep that I’ve been checking out. I tend to use the ones that are around 20 minutes long, although I’ve used longer ones for evenings when I’m in bed earlier. I generally don’t end up hearing the end of most of the apps. And then if I wake up in the middle of the night, I can remove my earbuds and let them hang to the ground, to be gathered up in the morning.

I hope hearing about my own nighttime routine can help my readers build their own routine. And I would always love hearing how you wind down for the day and go to bed.

NB: All products mentioned in this post are favorites of mine and I have not been given any incentive to mention them. All links are non-affiliate.

On Taking a Break, Remembering One’s Mortality, and Finding Simple Joy

What an ominous title, I know. But I’ve had a bit of an ominous weekend and I thought I’d talk about it. It has been a long time since I’ve posted here, and this was not the post I was planning for my triumphant return. In fact, I’ll be posting about travel beauty products later. But then this came up.

This weekend, I spent Sunday morning at the Urgent Care center because I thought there was something wrong with my heart.

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Spoiler: there is nothing wrong with my heart.

Anyway, starting about a week ago, I was trying to fall asleep and I felt what I can only describe as a kind of flutter-thud in my chest. My heartbeat felt weird. Like it was skipping every fifth beat. I tried taking my pulse with a heart rate app I have, as well as by feeling my neck, and I had Boyfriend try to take it independently. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that my chest felt… wrong. Now, I know I have anxiety, and I know I have a family history of anxiety sending people to the ER. I also know I have no family history of heart disease. So intellectually, I knew that I was almost certainly not having a heart attack. So I didn’t let Boyfriend drive me to the ER that night. But then the next night it happened. And the next night. When I noticed it during the day the next day, I decided I needed to do something. I called up and got a next-day appointment. And tried to relax until it was time to go.

That night, I really wondered if I’d done the right thing by not insisting on going in right away. What would happen if I’d been wrong and my heart stopped the night before I was supposed to see the doctor. Now, Boyfriend had a big event coming up, so I didn’t want to worry him as much as possible, so I stewed in silence. And I didn’t really sleep.

Sunday, we woke up, showered, and went for our standard Sunday morning coffee date, though I stuck to herbal tea. And then to the doctor. The actual visit was relatively mundane, although perhaps I was forcing myself to see it as mundane to prevent myself from freaking out. Fewer than five minutes after I checked in, I was called in to get an ECG. I made a Matrix joke as they hooked up all the electrodes. Then, I was shown to a bed. Not the waiting room. Not a chair in an exam room. But a bed in a private, curtained room. That was a bit weird. I gave samples of practically all my fluids, and talked to the doctor, who listened to my heart and chatted a bit about what they were up to. Basically ruling out the big stuff so that I could go home with peace of mind. Then I got a gown and a chest X-ray. Then, back to my bed until they looked at all the tests. I joked around and texted hospital gown selfies to Boyfriend, who was still in the waiting room, and messaged with a friend of mine who had dealt with something similar. And then the doctor came in and told me that everything looked clear except a couple of non-time-critical tests that took longer to process. I was free to go once they removed my IV.

And then it was over. I was free. Clean bill of health, nothing immediately wrong. I almost instantly felt better, just knowing that I was okay. Of course, they hadn’t actually done anything, but I had already suspected this was mostly due to nerves.

But then, every time I looked down at my arm, I saw the bruising from the IV. And I would keep getting email alerts of new test results (all negative). And I realized that it wasn’t all mundane and casual.

I woke up the next morning and walked around the lake and looked around me and realized just how much I was looking at the world just a bit differently. Even though I’m still young, it was one of my first real reminders of my own mortality in a long time, and it was poignant, if not serious. And really, the only thing I could think to do was to sit down and write a little bit about it, because I haven’t really fully processed it yet.

On Healing, Slowly

I’ve finally hit the tail end of this nasty cold. I no longer sound like a consumptive Victorian lady, for the most part. I do still have to walk around with my face swaddled in a scarf to avoid letting the cold air into contact with my delicate lungs. But I am also back at work. Boyfriend and I took a nice long walk yesterday in the sunshine to make sure I could handle my walk from the train station. I have to say that, while it was lovely to get out of the house and be active, I did feel it.

That’s the problem with being sick. It’s not just about getting better: it’s also about getting back to where you were. It’s been three weeks since I’ve been to my aerials class. It’s been almost a week since I’ve gotten regular exercise. If I hadn’t had to take my medication with food, I’d barely have been eating. As it is, I feel like yesterday was the first day where my appetite was approximately normal.

And that will return, slowly. It likely helps to have this episode at the new year, as I have no temptation to diet or restrict myself with food because I’m in a place where I know I need to be eating more, not less, right now. For now, I’m focusing on feeling normal and good. I did another pampering skin care ritual last night, along with a lovely hot bath, scented with lavender bath salts. I decided to increase the luxury by slathering my face with True Nature Botanicals face oil while I bathed, letting the oil and steam soften my face. After I emerged from the tub, I massaged a generous amount of frankincense-scented lotion into my body. Then, I exfoliated my face with a bit of rice and oat flour, washed my face, toned, and put on a sheet mask. This infused me with a bit of much-needed moisture. Duly moisturized, I patted in the serum, added face cream and topped off with a bit of a massage with my rosehip seed oil. It was lovely. The final touch was to spritz my hair with rosewater and glycerin, apply a bit of a lovely new scented hair oil I got recently, and braid for bed.

While it’s a bit fussy for every night, it certainly put me in the right frame of mind to rest before returning to my daily routines this week.

A New Month and a New Start

It’s the first of July, and the beginning of the second half of the year! The end of a month always feels a bit like a mini-New-Years-Day for me because it’s the perfect time to take stock of life and see what might need changing. June found me facing some uncomfortable truths about the state of my health, and so I’ve made a commitment to move more, even buying a fancy fitness tracker to do so. I’ve also resolved to spend the month of July re-vamping my eating habits by adding lots more fruits and veggies. With our housemate gone, I have the freedom to use noisy appliances in the mornings, and so I can make my favorite green smoothie with breakfast. That, along with a big salad with lunch will go a long way towards filling my belly with healthy, vitamin-rich veggies, so that I will hopefully be less tempted by the quick and easy snack foods that led to weight creep and other health bugaboos.

This is Boyfriend’s and my first month of having our house all to ourselves! I’ve already told you about some of the garden improvement we’ve undertaken in the past month or so, but now we get to redecorate most of the downstairs of our house! I already have a plan for each room, and hopefully we won’t have to buy too much, but it will involve some heavy lifting. Right now, it’s kind of amusing how we’re watching a television on the floor in the living room rather than bother bringing down our stand, but it works for now.

I’ve also started making an effort to exercise more. In addition to aerial class, which I’m trying to do twice a week to build my strength up for a while, I’ve also been running a couple times a week, and hopefully will be fit enough soon to run with Boyfriend on the weekends. He would slow down for me, but I feel bad when I have to stop and walk and complain. And I’m also trying to just walk more. When I’m not running around to meetings at work, I try to park as far away as I can, and take walks during the day. It’s also nice to get some fresh air and sunshine, really, although I’ve taken to wearing one of my large sunhats when I walk in the midday so I don’t get too much sun!

Hopefully, July will prompt a bit of a new beginning for me, with better health leading to a better mood. Is anyone else taking advantage of a mid-year tune-up?