Digestion is probably one of these things most of us take for granted. Like breathing and a heartbeat and the like, it’s a function that doesn’t attract much of our attention until something goes wrong. Which for many people is apparently quite often, if you consider the constant barrage of advertising one sees for antacids and numerous other pills and potions intended to right digestive ills.

Cadbury Drinking Chocolate for your digestion? (ETS Image)

Cadbury Drinking Chocolate for your digestion? (ETS Image)

But what about tea? What role does it play in aiding or impairing digestion? Well, that depends on whom you ask and when you ask them. I didn’t really find much in the way of studies on the topic from recent times but it’s one that various commentators have tackled over the years, with diverging opinions.

You can see some of these conflicting opinions sometimes in the very same article, as in this 1821 piece from a health magazine of the day. In a book called On Disordered Digestion and Dyspepsia, published in 1889, the author also provides some conflicting opinions on whether tea is good for digestion or not. If I read it right, he seems to conclude that sometimes it is and sometime it isn’t.

Fast forward 15 years, to 1904, and Alexander Lockhart Gillespie tackles the topic in his book, The Natural History of Digestion. He concludes that tea is not necessarily so good for digestion and recommends that it should be taken “weak” and sparingly, and only with meals. He also offers the somewhat offbeat suggestion of adding a pinch of bicarbonate of soda to one’s cup of tea. Two years later, another researcher concluded that beer, tea, and coffee all retarded digestion, but wine did not. Yet another author took on the topic in relation to tea, coffee, and cocoa, in 1920. Read his conclusions here.

More recently, researchers have studied the effects of green tea catechins on the digestion of food allergens and the effects of milk on the absorption of green tea catechins into the system. But most important of all these studies may be a curious one from China titled Effects of Tannin Content in Residue of Tea-leaves on Digestion and Utilization of Nutrients and Metabolic Parameters of Nitrogen in Sheep.

See more of William I. Lengeman’s articles here.

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