Pu-erh Tea: the Next Superfood for Battling Heart Disease? : Exclusive Renegade Health Article

Monday Aug 20 | BY |
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This fermented tea may have more in common with wine than other teas.

Don’t worry—that’s not a typo in the title. Also called “puer” tea, “bolay” tea, “Yunnan” tea, dark tea and black tea, pu-erh is a semi-rare type of tea that originates from the Yunnan province of China. The main difference between pu-erh and other types of teas is that the best types are aged for years before consumption.

Recently, researchers have taken an interest in pu-erh because of its potential health benefits. The main buzz seems to be around its ability to potentially reduce blood cholesterol and blood pressure. Could this tea be the next superfood for battling heart disease?

What’s Different About Pu-erh Tea
Pu-erh is made from máochá, a green tea processed from a large-leaf variety of Camellia sinensis and named for the town in China from which it was originally sold en route to other countries (Pu’er City). Unlike other tea varieties, it is grown and picked throughout the year.

There are actually two types of pu-erh—Sheng pu-erh is not oxidized (also known as “raw” or “green”). This type is the traditional kind, and is somewhat similar to wine, in that it is made to age for years before consumption. In fact, centuries ago, the tea was pressed raw and then vaulted for up to 100 years to gain the fermented status. This mysterious slow, natural fermentation made pu-erh tea a coveted item in the traditional markets of Tibet and Mongolia.

Shou pu-erh is made to enjoy immediately. It’s oxidized (also known as “black” or “cooked” pu-erh) to accelerate the aging process—a change that was developed in the 1970s for economic reasons and to better meet demand.

Potential Health Benefits
The most exciting studies so far have focused on symptoms of heart disease, especially in pu-erh’s potential ability to lower cholesterol levels. Here’s a peek at the research:

  • An animal study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry (2005) found that fully fermented pu-erh tea leaves were more effective in decreasing LDL “bad” cholesterol and increasing HDL “good” cholesterol than nonfermented green tea leaves.
  • Another animal study in 2009 found that pu-erh tea had strong antioxidative and cholesterol-lowering effects. The researchers concluded that the results suggested the tea could be used “to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disorders.”
  • A third animal study in 2009 found that extracts of pu-erh raw tea significantly reduced blood triglycerides and LDL cholesterol.

These are preliminary studies, of course, and further research needs to be done, but they indicate that pu-erh may have a promising role to play in the prevention of heart disease.

Other Health Benefits of Pu-erh
The benefits of fermented pu-erh don’t stop there, however. Below are other areas where the tea may help protect human health:

  • Diabetes: A 2009 animal study indicated that pu-erh tea may help significantly reduce blood sugar levels. Researchers observed 20 genetically obese lab rats with very high blood sugar levels. Ten were fed regular amounts of mature pu-erh tea while the other 10 were not given any. Only two not fed tea survived after 11 months. The others became infected and had sores before dying. All ten rats who drank pu-erh tea survived, and showed no traces of sores or infection.
  • Cancer: A 2006 laboratory study found that pu-erh tea extract had superoxide anion and hydroxyl radical scavneing activity, with protective effects against free-radical-induced damage in human cells.
  • Weight loss: A 2005 animal study found that gains in body weight were suppressed in rats fed pu-erh tea, and that the components in the tea may have anti-obesity effects. In 2012, TV’s Dr. Oz also suggested that drinking a couple cups of pu-erh tea a day may help in weight loss efforts.

Some other studies have also indicated that pu-erh may have some effect in soothing stress, calming irritable bowel syndrome, and taming epileptic seizures.

How to Find Good Pu-erh Tea
This tea has gained in popularity over the last few years, so you may now be able to find it in area whole foods stores and tea shops like Adagio Teas and Generation Tea. There are many different varieties to choose from, and they have a wide range in price, which typically coordinates with how long the teas were fermented.

Quality can vary widely, so if you’re looking for a good pu-erh tea, make sure you’re dealing with a reputable seller, and double-check that the tea is from Yunnan. Tea “cakes,” in which the leaves are pressed together, can be good sources for brewing pu-her tea—just make sure the leaves look uniform. The compression should not be too tight or too loose, and the color should look dark with red overtones. For a green cake, it should be dark green with silvery overtones.

For more information on how to make pu-erh, check out online tea companies, who will have more information on brewing and choosing quality teas. Or check out our favorite place to drink it—the Samovar tea lounge in San Francisco. 🙂

Have you tried pu-erh tea? Do you have tips for choosing quality cakes?

* * *

Sources
Kuo KL, et al., “Comparative studies on the hypolipidemic and growth suppressive effects of oolong, black, pu-erh, and green tea leaves in rats,” Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 2005 Jan 26;53(2):pp 480-9, http://purepuer.com/puer_tea/do/page/puer_tea_health_benefits_study_1.

Hou Y, et al., “Pu-erh tea aqueous extracts lower atherosclerotic risk factors in a rat hyperlipidemia model,” Experimental Gerontology 2009 Jun-Jul;44(6-7);pp-434-9, http://purepuer.com/puer_tea/do/page/puer_tea_health_benefits_study_3.

Way TD, et al., “Pu-erh tea attenuates hyperlipogenesis and induces hepatoma cells growth arrest through activating AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) in human HepG2 cells,” Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 2009 June 24;57(12):pp 5257-64, http://purepuer.com/puer_tea/do/page/puer_tea_health_benefits_study_4.

Ye Jun, “Pu-er tea a wonder cure for diabetics,” China Daily, September 28, 2009, http://purepuer.com/puer_tea/do/page/puer_tea_health_benefits_study_6.

Guoliang Jie, et al., “Free Radical Scavenging Effect of Pu-erh Tea Extracts and Their Protective Effect on Oxidative Damage in Human Fibroblast Cells,” Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 2006, 54(21), pp 8058-064, http://purepuer.com/puer_tea/do/page/puer_tea_health_benefits_study_9.

Chiang CT, et al., “Pu-erh tea supplementation suppresses fatty acid synthase expression in the rat liver through downregulating Akt and JNK signalings as demonstrated in human hepatoma HepG2 cells,” Oncology Research 2005;16(3):pp 119-28, http://purepuer.com/puer_tea/do/page/puer_tea_health_benefits_study_12.

Chien-Wei Hou, “Pu-erh tea and GABA attenuates oxidative stress in kainic acid-induced status epilepticus,” http://purepuer.com/puer_tea/do/page/puer_tea_health_benefits_study_14.

Kevin Gianni

Kevin Gianni is a health author, activist and blogger. He started seriously researching personal and preventative natural health therapies in 2002 when he was struck with the reality that cancer ran deep in his family and if he didn’t change the way he was living — he might go down that same path. Since then, he’s written and edited 6 books on the subject of natural health, diet and fitness. During this time, he’s constantly been humbled by what experts claim they know and what actually is true. This has led him to experiment with many diets and protocols — including vegan, raw food, fasting, medical treatments and more — to find out what is myth and what really works in the real world.

Kevin has also traveled around the world searching for the best protocols, foods, medicines and clinics around and bringing them to the readers of his blog RenegadeHealth.com — which is one of the most widely read natural health blogs in the world with hundreds of thousands of visitors a month from over 150 countries around the world.

14 COMMENTS ON THIS POST

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  1. Steph says:

    I got puerh and oolong tea from David’s Tea readin that it’s good for digestion. I don’t feel much difference, but it has a nice taste. Might try some other favors next time.

  2. Seppo says:

    I find it hard to believe that this tea would be significantly better than green tea. First reason being that in humans tea has only limited health benefits. It’s good but we are not talking about huge benefits. Second, the commercially available tea must be the oxidized version, so it’s essentially fermented black tea. Green tea in general has much better antioxidant profile than black tea, simply because oxidation process destroys some of the antioxidants in black tea. So I would call this intersting, but probably wouldn’t pay premium over good quality green tea.

  3. Kuru says:

    I haven’t tried it but Amazon.com has a wide selection, most from Yunnan, and most with glowing reviews.

  4. Rebecca D says:

    Check out Upton Tea – fine company out of Massachusetts – here is their site: http://uptontea.com/shopcart/home.asp. They have a wide selection, good prices and amazing customer service.

  5. Andrew says:

    Living in Taiwan, where Pu’er is part religion, part connoisseur, it is treated with a reverence similar to wine in the West. The varieties are vast and the tastes vary from muddy dishwater (as described by my visitors) to absolutely divine nectar. So careful which ones you buy – try before tasting. For Seppo above, the fermentation process is completely different from black tea, which is a wet ferment of around 24 hours ‘before’ being dried. Pu’er tea is dried earlier (before natural tea leaf fermentation – therefore more like green tea) – and then left to ferment through the probiotic, yeast (and mold!) actions over the next 20-50 years. So the anti-oxidant effects are different to both teas. The main belief however is that the tea’s ‘qi’ energy is magnified by this process, and thus it can be used as a pseudo-medicine for re-balancing the energetic systems.
    ADVICE – it takes a while to accustomize your taste so try starting with someone experienced in Pu’er to help you select the flavors that suit you.
    Thanks Renegade for the topic!

  6. cathy jeffries says:

    Hi Kevin – congrats on becoming a Dad !

    We have a master of Pu-erh tea right here in SF. Master Wang’s tea parlor is located at 2 Shotwell Street (close to Rainbow Grocery). Everyone is welcome to have tea with him and learn all about the benefits of Pu-erh tea.
    His book,Ancient Wisdom for Total Vitality describes his methods for healthy living and why they work so well.

    Cheers!

  7. Jane says:

    On our vacation to Yunna, China last year, we visited a Pu’er tea garden where a lot of celebrities visited before. They gave demos on how to make the tea; let us tasted all the varieties. It tasted very bitter and dark; not as pleasant as green tea. All I remembered is that it’s a “super food”! Everyone was “convinced” and buying the 6″ diameter tea “cake”. We got one “cake” as a gift from my husband’s international student. I also tried the tea once at my friend’s house; tasted excellent then those I had in China. (She got from China too.)

  8. joel brown says:

    you have prompted me to try this 🙂

  9. LynnCS says:

    Sounds wonderful. I will have to look into it. I am loving the “Heal all tea” from Dr. Robert Morse nd, right now. It really is wonderful. As far as I know there are no tea leaves in it. One of the problems with using the word “tea” is that anything can be a “tea.” Brewing almost any plant substance in hot water is a tea! It can get really funny too. Thinking about…compost tea, or manure tea…items used in gardening. Funny? My dad used to say, “Funny; ha ha? or Funny; queer, odd, strange, and peculiar? Well, after the cancer cures posts of recent history, thought I’d just get silly.

  10. Velda says:

    Interesting article. Question, Kevin …. since this tea lowers cholesterol, is that the reason it lowers blood pressure. What if someone had high blood pressure concerns, but did not have the high cholesterol? Could it then still be effective in helping stabilize blood pressure? Thanks,

  11. zyxomma says:

    I was given some tea bags of Pu-Erh; they were not my cup of tea. Then again, I have none of the health conditions for which it’s recommended.

    My go-to teas are organic silver needle jasmine (a white tea), organic chrysanthemum (gook fa cha), and a wide variety of herb teas (sage, hibiscus, and so forth).

    Health and peace.

  12. Debra says:

    I drink a lot of green tea and often scrape my teeth to get stain off of them. The stain may be from the tea. White tea is least likely to stain (and is lowest in fluoride which tends to concentrate in tea), but I’m sensitive to phenols and white tea is apparently highest in polyphenols.
    If any one knows of a tea that’s low in fluoride and unlikely to stain teeth, but which isn’t a white tea (highest in polyphenols), I’d love to hear about it.
    Debra

    • Jeni says:

      Hi

      I know what you mean about the fluoride. I think the Roobis is supposed to be a bit lower but I then went onto making my own Nettle/raspberry/etc,. then there is not much fluoride to deal with. Only what ever is in the water unless you filter that out.

      Nettle is the nearest tea like taste just a earthy but this is not so obvious when you start mixing it with other flavours.

  13. Deborah says:

    I have been drinking Emperor’s Pu-erh for some months now to help lower my blood pressure and maintain normal levels. It does work!

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