What are Tea Polyphenols?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Tea polyphenols are chemical compounds, such as flavanoids and tannins, found naturally in tea. Depending on how the tea is harvested, handled, processed, and brewed, the polyphenol level can vary. These chemical compounds are believed to be beneficial to human health, and they are the basis of many claims made about the health benefits of tea. As with many natural compounds that appear to have health benefits, it is difficult to isolate and study these polyphenols on their own, and some researchers have suggested that their actions in the body may actually be the result of several compounds working together.

Some polyphenols make tea appear reddish or brown.
Some polyphenols make tea appear reddish or brown.

Polyphenols are antioxidants, which means that they can reduce the risk of developing coronary artery disease and a number of other health problems. The compounds found in tea have also been linked with cancer reduction, as they appear to block the action of some enzymes linked with this condition. Because cancer is so complex and it can be influenced by many environmental and genetic factors, scientists are reluctant to say that tea polyphenols will categorically prevent cancer, although rates do seem to be lower in tea drinkers after controls for other obvious factors like diet are used to evaluate the data.

The Chinese tradition of having tea with dinner may reduce harmful bacteria and prevent infection.
The Chinese tradition of having tea with dinner may reduce harmful bacteria and prevent infection.

The polyphenols found in tea also appear to suppress the growth of harmful bacteria, while promoting beneficial bacteria in the gut. The Chinese tradition of drinking tea with and after many meals may be linked to this activity, as food can be a prime source of bacterial infection when it is not handled well, and drinking tea with food could reduce the risk of developing infections.

Grapes are an excellent source of polyphenols.
Grapes are an excellent source of polyphenols.

The flavor of tea is also influenced by its polyphenols. Tannins, found in high concentrations in black tea and lower concentrations in green and white tea, lend tea its distinctive dark color and bitter, sharp flavor. Other polyphenols can also change the color of the tea, making it more reddish or brown depending on how it is handled, and the subtle and distinctive flavors of well-processed teas are due in part to these compounds.

The chemicals identified as being present in tea can also be found in other plants. Grapes are another excellent source of these antioxidant chemicals, as are bright fruits and vegetables. Eating a diet rich in plant material confers a number of health benefits, including the benefits of polyphenols.

The polyphenols in tea have antioxidant properties.
The polyphenols in tea have antioxidant properties.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


@MrMoody - Actually I have to disagree with your claim that green tea is the “man” in the tea world. It’s just that it’s been advertised a lot and it does tend to dominate over black tea. However, white tea has been shown to be better than green tea from what I understand.

In addition to having more antioxidant properties than black or green tea, white tea polyphenols have more fat busting properties as well. Studies have shown that this kind of tea has been effective in breaking down fat cells, which means that you could probably use it as an alternative to those diet shakes.

Also, white tea has less caffeine than the other drinks; so you get the benefits without the buzz.


@letsheartit - I too have wondered about how much “dosage” you need to get the advertised health benefits of tea. I heard that you need to drink three cups or more per day. I don’t know that I could drink that many cups of tea, or any beverage for that matter, per day, but I suppose even one cup a day should do some good.


@David09 - I think green tea is the “man” when it comes to the health benefits of tea, but other teas have their own healing properties as well, in greater or lesser measure.

English breakfast tea, for example, has been shown to be good as a mood reliever and relaxant. It has an amino acid that triggers alpha waves in the brain and apparently these are the signals that make you feel more relaxed.


@Mae82 - There are other tea benefits from green tea in addition to its cancer-fighting properties: it fights bad breath. That’s right; you can throw away your Listerine. Studies have shown that green tea (and I think to a lesser extent blank tea) fights halitosis. Why is that? Apparently it’s for the same reasons that it fights cancer.

Green tea polyphenols inhibit the growth of bacteria. Bacteria are the root cause of halitosis, specifically the anaerobic bacteria that live at the back the tongue. Researchers have found that drinking tea inhibits the growth of these bacteria and leaves your mouth feeling minty fresh.


Does anyone know how much black tea you would need to drink to get all of the health benefits?

I currently drink a ton of green tea as I have heard it is great for helping you lose weight and works as an anti-oxidant.

Another benefit of green tea is that the polyphenols in it have been shown to help prevent heart problems. There was a study a while back that showed that it helps lower the chance of heart disease.

If you are not a huge fan of tea, but still want to consume some helpful polyphenols, it has been shown that red wine also contains quite a lot of them, and can also help with preventing heart disease.


Drinking tea has been known for centuries to have health benefits. Tea polyphenols are known to have some amazing properties that are believed to fight cancer depending on how much of this key substance is available for consumption.

Fermented black tea has been known to have high quantities of tea polyphenols. This tea can have quite a strong taste that takes some getting used to, but for the health benefits many feel it is well worth it.

You can buy fermented black tea at most health food stores and online. It can be a little expensive, but I feel it is worth the investment.

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