Tea: Another Candidate for Weight Loss Help

November 16, 2006

Tea:  Another Candidate for Weight Loss Help 

 Competency # 20  Cuisines of the Long Lived.         ReferenceZhong, L Urne, J Am J Clin Nutri 2006:84:551-5  (Minneapolis VA Hospital) 

 Tea has been touted to have all sorts of health benefits.  The British had to travel all over the world to find out that Indians and Chinese had been happily drinking tea for centuries.  They brought it to America where we promptly dumped it in Boston Harbor.  Now, when we track down where those allegations about tea and weight control come from, we only find a mouse study where the mice don’t get fat on a high-fat diet when tea is added to their diet.  And there is one human study that has looked at tea and weight gain, and found it to be helpful in weight loss.  Not much solid research. 

 This study shows us that tea may be very useful in achieving weight loss.  The very high-tech study used radioactive carbon tracers to show that tea does something very interesting.  It causes your small bowel to NOT absorb 25% of the carbohydrates you eat.  Those carbs then get down to your colon.  Were it not for the fact that the bacteria in your colon partially digest those carbs, and you reabsorb some of them back, the authors speculate that adding tea to an average diet would result in a 35 lb weight loss a year.   

Unfortunately, we are learning that the bacteria in your colon are a very important part of your total nutritional environment.  Your colonic bacteria process foods they receive and make it possible for you to use that food.   So, the carbs you don’t absorb in your small bowel do get partially absorbed lower down.   The weight loss calculation is just a dream.  But a new mechanism is being elucidated by this study.  Now none of us will lose any weight if we add tons of sugar and whole milk to our tea. 

 What we learn from this study is that tea does slow down the RATE at which you absorb carbohydrates.  It lowers the “glycemic index” of the food you eat.  A slower absorption ends up being beneficial for you because you don’t secrete insulin and store your carbs as fat.  That is speculation and wasn’t proved by this study.  But it follows in logic and sure makes sense.  And, as opposed to last week with wine, you don’t have to drink hundreds of bottles.  The study was designed around the consumption of the equivalent of about 5 cups of tea a day. 

 WWW: What will work for me?  I like tea.  It has less caffeine than coffee and doesn’t get me as jittery.  This effect of tea is another of its many alleged health benefits.  And this has some hard science.  So, I might just add some civilization to my routine and have a nice afternoon tea.  Or, as our trip to New York, last month showed, I can stop in at the Ritz and have afternoon English Tea Time for $ 47 a person.

This column was written by Dr. John E. Whitcomb, MD, Brookfield Longevity, Brookfield, WI, (262-784-5300)