Fermented tea is a surprising ally in bone health

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Tea is a beloved beverage consumed worldwide, second only to water. Among its varieties, fermented teas such as oolong and black tea have gained attention not just for their taste but for their health benefits. Recent studies suggest that these teas could play a significant role in bone health, especially in preventing osteoporosis, a condition that weakens bones and makes them more prone to fractures.

The rise of fermented tea

China, a major producer and consumer of tea, has seen a growing interest in fermented teas. These teas are rich in beneficial compounds like tea polyphenols, tea pigments, and amino acids. These compounds are believed to contribute to the teas’ health benefits, including their potential to protect against bone loss.

Tea and bone health: What the research says

Epidemiological studies over the past two decades have shown that regular consumption of tea, particularly fermented varieties, can support bone health. For instance, a study from Taiwan found that elderly people who drank black or oolong tea weekly had better bone mineral density (BMD) compared to those who didn’t.

Similar results have been reported in other studies from Japan, China, and Sweden.

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Active Ingredients in Fermented Tea

The main active components in fermented tea that benefit bone health include tea polyphenols, tea pigments, and catechins. These compounds help in various ways:

fermented tea
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  • Tea polyphenols: These are known for their antioxidant properties. They help in reducing oxidative stress, which can damage bone cells. Studies have shown that polyphenols in tea can prevent bone loss in rats by enhancing the activity of bone-forming cells and reducing the activity of bone-resorbing cells.
  • Pigments: These include theaflavins and thearubigins, which are unique to fermented teas. They have been found to inhibit the formation and activity of osteoclasts, the cells responsible for bone resorption. This helps in maintaining a healthy balance between bone formation and bone resorption.
  • Catechins: These are a type of polyphenol found in high concentrations in tea. Catechins like EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate) have been shown to promote the activity of bone-forming cells and inhibit the activity of bone-resorbing cells.

How Fermented Tea Works

  • Promoting bone formation

Fermented tea enhances the activity of osteoblasts, the cells responsible for bone formation. Compounds in the tea increase the levels of proteins and enzymes that are crucial for bone formation. For example, EGCG has been shown to increase the activity of alkaline phosphatase, an enzyme that plays a key role in bone mineralization.

  • Inhibiting bone resorption

Osteoclasts are the cells responsible for breaking down bone tissue. Fermented tea compounds, particularly theaflavins and catechins, inhibit the formation and activity of these cells. This helps in preventing excessive bone loss and maintaining a healthy bone density.

  • Enhancing calcium and phosphorus metabolism

Calcium and phosphorus are essential minerals for bone health. Fermented tea has been shown to enhance the absorption of these minerals in the intestines, leading to better bone mineralization. Studies have demonstrated that tea extracts can increase the activity of enzymes involved in calcium absorption, thus improving bone density.

Fermented tea in inflammation and immunity

Inflammation is a key factor in the development of osteoporosis. Fermented tea compounds help in reducing inflammation, thereby protecting bone health. They do this by inhibiting the production of inflammatory cytokines, which are molecules that promote inflammation and bone resorption. For instance, theaflavins in black tea can reduce the levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines like TNF-α and IL-6.

Safety and dosage

Research indicates that consuming fermented tea is safe and does not have significant adverse effects on bone health. The studies on rodents have shown that even high doses of tea extracts do not cause toxicity. However, more research is needed to determine the optimal dosage for humans.

Fermented tea, with its rich composition of polyphenols, pigments, and catechins, shows great promise in promoting bone health and preventing osteoporosis. Regular consumption of black and oolong teas could be a simple and natural way to support your bone health. While more research is needed to understand the mechanisms and optimal dosages fully, the existing evidence suggests that adding a cup of fermented tea to your daily routine might be a good step towards stronger bones.


Dr. Nikhil Prasad

Dr. Nikhil Prasad is an independent researcher, medical, pharma and health PR consultant, herbalists and phytochemical specialists and a medical and health writer for numerous international publications and sites including his own sites such as Thailand Medical News. He is based either at Sydney, New York, Shanghai, Mumbai or Bangkok.

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