An insight on tea’s neurological and health benefits 

By Shreya Mantripragada

Header image by Hiranya Sundar

Whether it’s cramming for last minute calculus exams or preparing for the next big playoff game, some MVHS students constantly push themselves to achieve more in hopes of fulfilling their personal goals, all the while dealing with stress. By definition, stress is the physical and psychological way of handling an immense build up of pressure or tension. From a recent survey of 200 students at MVHS, 26.7% of the individuals reported that they regularly deal with immense amounts of stress, usually caused by the academic pressure that they put on themselves. 

Of a survey of around 200 MVHS students, 32.4% of those individuals demonstrated that they lean towards energy drinks such as Red Bull or coffee to help them destress and regain focus. Jacqueline Howard demonstrated the numerous chemicals that individuals are putting in their body and the negative effects it has on one’s overall well-being, brain and body function. Not only does this show how many students are filling their bodies with unwanted toxins and chemicals, but it also illustrates the lack of education that they receive in regards to other substances that aid with the de-stressing process in a more natural way. 

Chemistry teacher Elizabeth McCracken, a believer in mindfulness, gratitude and the power of de-stressing, advocates that with a rigorous academic load, students should take a different, more mindful approach to deal with stress. 

“There are absolutely students here at MVHS who are stressed and I think that perspective is really important and it can sometimes be hard as a teenager,” McCracken said. “You don’t have to get everything done when you’re 15 or 16, but that’s not easy to understand when you’re that age.”

Determined to find a more natural way of destressing and focus regain, University of Singapore graduate students Junohau Li and Lei Fang studied the specific neurological benefits of tea and its power to the human brain. In examining the importance of tea, Li and Fang split their experimental group into two sections, tea-drinkers and non-tea drinkers. Using MRI scans and various experimentation, Li and Fang discovered that the tea-drinkers had more organized brain sections, directly relating to feeling  less stressed and have an overall higher focus. 

The main neurological disparity between the two groups was the structural distinction in the tea-drinkers frontal cortex, a section of the brain that is responsible for actions relating to stress and focus. The frontal cortex of the tea-drinkers was much bigger compared to that of the non-tea drinkers, allowing Li and Fang to conclude that the non-tea drinkers frontal cortex shrunk due to immense amounts of chronic stress. 

Past research has shown that stress hinders the progress and function of the frontal cortex, creating difficulties in thinking and behaviors that are normally controlled by this part of the brain. Li and Fang’s research indicates that tea may help prevent brain damage from chronic stress, playing a role in the overall well-being of humans.

Brain regions exhibiting significant differences in structural nodal efficiency between the tea drinking group and the non-tea drinking group at the significance level of 0.01 (uncorrected) statistical evaluated by a permutation test.

The MRI scans taken of the tea-drinkers resulted in images that showed more structured and organized brain regions. Li and Fang colored the sections of the brain from the tea-drinkers that were more organized compared to the non-tea drinkers. The sections of the tea-drinkers brain that had a darker color were sections of the brain that had a structural difference to the brain of the non-tea drinkers. 

In order to show the differences between neural components of the tea-drinkers to the non-tea drinkers, Li and Fang graphed the leftward and rightward symmetry of different sections of the brain, a positive value denoting leftward asymmetry and a negative value denoting rightward asymmetry. 

As shown by the graphs, the non-tea drinkers (NT) had more fluctuation in the symmetry of their neurological components, while the tea-drinkers showed more consistency in the symmetry of their neurological regions. Not only did this finding indicate that tea-drinkers may have more organized brain regions compared to non-tea drinkers, but it also showed the drastic fluctuation of the non-tea drinkers.

Senior Aditi Mukkara, a tea lover, believes in the importance of tea and how drinking it has been beneficial in her life. She and her family have been drinking tea for a long time and believes that drinking tea has benefited her body’s health. 

“Usually, I drink green tea and in general, it’s very easy to make and I drink it in the morning and night. It’s soothing in my throat and I actually love the taste,” Mukkara said. “I drink tea when I’m studying or doing my homework, and it helps me to focus and it makes me feel less stressed.” 

Mukkara emphasizes the importance of tea has on her life on a day-to-day basis as she regularly drinks it, knowing that it will instantly make her feel less stressed and more focused on the task ahead of her. 

To try and see the positive impacts tea would have on the students at MVHS, one hundred chemistry honors students drank tea during their midterm and noted their stress level after the exam. Around 71% of the students who took the midterm said that they felt less stressed and more relaxed both during and after the exam, while around 29% of the students said that they felt no overall change in their mood or stress level.

Chemistry honors student Janhavi Revashetti, said that this was her first time drinking tea and she was surprised by the benefits. 

“I felt more calm and less stressed,” Revashetti said. “My overall mood definitely changed that day, and if needed, I would definitely drink tea in the future at healthy and regular increments.”

Revashetti added that before tests, she usually gets very frantic and stressed, which are two conditions she doesn’t want to be in when just about to take a test. Tea had helped her to flush out all negative emotions she was feeling and look at the test with a more open mindset. 

Scientific research has indicated that tea may reduce the overall stress of an individual, benefiting the structure and size of the brain’s components, as well as increasing the health of a person. In addition to decreasing the negative impacts of stress on the human brain, drinking tea may stop the brain from losing its size and shape due to immense amounts of chronic stress. A crucial part to maintaining a healthy body and lifestyle includes reducing the amount of stress on the body. Learning about and actively using natural stress-relievers such as tea are essential to a healthy brain and prosperous lifestyle.

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