Tea for Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Tea is one of the most popular drinks in the world, but it's way down on the list in the U.S., coming in behind coffee and soda. In the past few years, however, studies suggesting health benefits of tea have certainly raised their profile and popularity here.

So is it all hype, or is there something to it? According to research, it looks like tea has several things to offer. Much of the research is in its early stages and some results are contradictory, but a picture is emerging.

Tea contains 2 things that appear to offer health benefits: polyphenols and theanine. Polyphenols have gotten the lion's share of the attention. Research shows they may:

  • Offer protection from coronary heart disease,
  • Protect against stroke,
  • Improve blood vessel dilation
  • Protect against numerous types of cancer.

Those are all important things, but I believe that, for those of us with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome, theanine has a lot more to offer.

Theanine is an antioxidant found naturally only in tea and a rare mushroom, but a synthetic form is available as a dietary supplement. It's been fairly well researched and is believed to:

  • Increase alertness and improve memory,
  • Boost energy,
  • Relieve anxiety,
  • Aid relaxation without drowsiness,
  • Protect brain cells,
  • Increase levels of dopamine and norepinephrine (which can be low in both conditions,)
  • Lower glutamate activity (which can be high in fibromyalgia,)
  • Boost T cell production (which can be low in chronic fatigue syndrome,)
  • Help regulate the sleep-wake cycle.

Those are all things we need. However, to get the full health benefits from drinking tea, you have to know a few things about it.

  1. Theanine and polyphenols are only in green, black, oolong and white teas, which all come from the Camellia sinensis tree. Herbal "teas" don't have true tea leaves in them.
  1. The strength of the tea is important -- the studies that did look at steep time suggested at least 3-5 minutes to reach the necessary strength to provide a health benefit.
  2. Depending on the disease, you need to drink 2 and 6 cups per day to get enough polyphenols.
  3. Green and oolong teas contain more polyphenols than black tea.
  4. Decaf teas do keep their theanine content through the decaffeination process, but we don't yet know if they retain polyphenols.
  5. Bottled teas can contain a lot of sugar or artificial sweeteners.

I've always been a big tea drinker, and I also take theanine supplements to ensure I consistently get a therapeutic dose. I drink extra tea when I'm stressed or about to go into a potentially stressful situation, and also when my brain fog is bad. I believe I owe a large part of my functionality to it.

Photo &copy Dougal Waters/Getty Images

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