Meet The Blood-Sugar-Balancing Tea You've Never Heard Of 

Integrative Gastroenterologist By Marvin Singh, M.D.
Integrative Gastroenterologist
Dr. Marvin Singh is an Integrative Gastroenterologist in San Diego, California. He is trained and board certified in Internal Medicine and Gastroenterology/Hepatology.

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Because I am an integrative gastroenterologist, you might not think I'd be an expert on tea. That is, until you figure out how many amazing health benefits it has and how you can apply it to improve your well-being. One type of tea in particular, called pu-erh tea (pronounced poo-air), is particularly worth your time and attention.

Pu-erh tea is an oxidized form of tea that gets better as it gets older, sort of like a fine wine. This means that it's aged and yes, that it can be expensive. In fact, like wine, some of the most expensive forms of this tea can sell for thousands of dollars! What's really special about this tea is that the leaves are picked, sun-dried, fermented, and then aged and packed into tight bricks. Since it's fully oxidized, it has lower antioxidant power than green tea, but people in China swear by it for its role in weight loss, cholesterol reduction, cardiovascular health, and blood sugar balance.

The health benefits of pu-ehr tea.

Admittedly, there aren't many peer-reviewed articles published on the health values of this fermented tea, but there are a few studies out there. One demonstrated that black tea extract from pu-ehr tea significantly reduces cholesterol levels and could be a safe and useful tool in improving cholesterol plaque formation and/or obesity in those with metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is essentially a condition that is defined by having increased blood pressure, excess blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist, and abnormal cholesterol or triglyceride levels. When you have all of these factors together, you have an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Sounds like a pretty good natural method to help with some of the most common chronic conditions we have in this country, don't you think?

Another study showed that Chinese black tea had specific anti-cholesterol effect in rodents, and the authors went on to propose that it could potentially have some role in the management of elevated cholesterol in humans. Even more interesting, a recent study suggested that pu-ehr tea had neuroprotective properties and was able to protect neural cells from necrosis and even relieved epilepsy in rats. Another recent study suggested that pu-ehr tea significantly lowered uric acid levels and could play a role in helping those with elevated uric acid, which can occur for a variety of reasons including thyroid issues, drinking too much, and taking diuretics.

Probably one of the most exciting studies, published just last month, examined the impact this special kind of black tea could have on the gut microbiome and its ecosystem. The study authors took aqueous extracts of fermented and non-fermented pu-erh teas and looked at the composition and function of the gut microbiome in rats who had diet-induced obesity. What they found was that both types of extracts significantly increased the gut microbiome diversity and changed the composition of the gut microbes in the cecum (the far end of the colon). The scientists described how the polyphenols in the tea and their metabolites promoted the growth of Akkermansia muciniphila bacteria, which is one of the "good guys." The presence and activity of this type of bacteria has been inversely associated with obesity, diabetes, inflammation, and metabolic disorders.

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The blood-sugar-balancing properties of pu-ehr tea.

Better blood sugar balance is another of the reasons people may want to drink pu-ehr tea. We've already discussed how it can influence metabolic syndrome and those with diabetes or prediabetes, but when you dig into the literature a bit further, you find that the benefits of pu-ehr tea on blood sugar are even more interesting than you thought. One interesting article discussed how a group of carbohydrates in pu-ehr tea could block alpha-glucosidase and might have a less inhibitory effect on alpha-amylase. What does that mean in plain English? It means that it might be better than the already available diabetes drug called acarbose at reducing blood sugar after a carbohydrate meal and have fewer side effects like bloating, gas, and diarrhea (which happens when the bacteria in the colon ferment the undigested carbs).

Another interesting study demonstrated that when a water extract of pu-ehr tea was given to mice for four weeks, it suppressed the increase in their blood insulin and sugar levels. The authors suggested that it improved glucose intolerance and it may have a beneficial role in blood sugar balance in those with type 2 diabetes. Taking this to the next level, another study raised the possibility that pu-ehr tea could inhibit the formation of advanced glycation end-products (or AGEs for short). By doing this, they felt that the tea could potentially prevent or stop the progression of complications from diabetes, like diabetic nephropathy.

While the research is still developing on pu-ehr tea, it's pretty amazing stuff. Many of you are probably ready to become a pu-ehr connoisseur after hearing all the benefits of this fermented Chinese black tea. And I get it! I'll be following the research on this ingredient closely to see what benefits we might uncover next.

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