COVID-19 Research Includes Tea

Wouldn’t it be nice if a cure or treatment for COVID-19 were something simple, something already sitting in our homes just waiting to be discovered? Something as simple as a cup of tea?

jun chiyabari brew
Finest Nepal Hand Rolled Jun Chiyabari oolong

Well, reality is rarely uncomplicated or easy, especially when it comes to fighting viruses that are tough, adaptive, and tenacious. So if you see anyone suggesting that a couple cups of, say, black tea will confer immunity—as happened in Afghanistan—don’t believe them! Really. Wait for the infectious disease specialists and scientists to weigh in.

Or if someone recommends drinking an herbal concoction to prevent or cure COVID-19—as happened in Madagascar—don’t believe them quite yet! Again, wait for the scientific community to test and evaluate that brew.

taifu brewed lvs
Formosa Fancy Superior Taifu oolong

But how do these sorts of things get started? Is there any basis to these claims?

As I pointed out last month (Amid This Pandemic, a Look at Tea and Its Effect on Viruses), tea is used in a great deal of virology research, and it’s no different for COVID-19. Now that we’re a few months into the pandemic, preliminary studies are being published.

Something to note about many of these initial studies. Science builds upon what is already known and because time is so critical—COVID-19 is devastating the world—some researchers are intentionally looking at agents that have already been approved by the FDA or are commonly consumed, hoping to find something that is effective and that can be approved quickly.

In addition, many studies can now be carried out virtually, by software rather than physical laboratory equipment. Robust databases enable endless virtual manipulations that will rule out dead ends and allow scientists to design targeted research experiments.

O'Sullivan's brew
O’Sullivan’s Favorite black tea

Black Tea

An April 13 publication describes a study in which foods that contain polyphenols were virtually screened. The authors name black tea as worthy of further study because it contains theaflavin—this particular polyphenol can disrupt the novel coronavirus’ lifecycle by affecting protease, an enzyme critical to the virus.

But polyphenols that are consumed as a piece of fruit or in a cup of tea aren’t necessarily available, or available in therapeutic doses, to the human body. Often, specific polyphenols must be extracted and then “packaged” in something else that will get them to exactly where they’re needed or they must be concentrated to an effective dose.

And although the authors acknowledge that, and state that further study is needed, they also “suggest the use of ‘black tea’ in routine diet as it is economical and easily available source of potential polyphenols belonging to theaflavins chemical class, which might stop the virus replication and transmission in current health emergency state” (Bhatia et al. 2020).

You can see how someone could grab this bit of info and run with it.

But realistically, all plants provide polyphenols and keep us healthy and strengthen our immune system. And yes, tea is particularly promising—but drinking it is not going to prevent anyone from getting this virus.

palace needle lvs
China Palace Needle green tea

Green Tea

Another virtual study found that polyphenols in green tea also disrupted the virus’ lifecycle by targeting protease, but this team was far more qualified in their conclusions, stating only that “further research is necessary to investigate the potential uses of the medicinal plants containing these compounds” (Khaerunnisa et al. 20200).

palace needle brewed lvs
China Palace Needle

Yet another virtual examination of “dietary molecules” found green tea polyphenol epigallocatechin gallate to be the “most active agent against COVID-19” (Khan et al. 2020).

While the authors do stress that it’s vital to further investigate how polyphenols act upon the virus, they also suggest that people ingest polyphenol-rich foods—particularly turmeric, chamomile, parsley, whole grain oats and barley, and green tea—in part to fight secondary infections.

palace needle brew
China Palace Needle

In a recent letter to the editor of the International Journal of Antimicrobial Agents, Hanan Polansky and Gillad Lori outline their preliminary work. They are experimenting with a patented herbal antirviral treatment used for SARS-CoV (which is similar to COVID-19) to test its effectiveness on the novel coronavirus.

But this herbal blend isn’t akin to drinking an herbal tisane. Rather, it’s composed of extracts of quercetin, green tea, cinnamon, licorice, and selenium (a trace element), all of which have antiviral properties.

cinnamon sticks

Tea, Unfortunately, Is Not a Panacea

In the end, components in tea are used against viruses, and extracts of tea polyphenols may very well be part of effective treatment or prevention for COVID-19 at some point in time. However, drinking tea won’t prevent anyone from getting this virus!

On the other hand, ingesting polyphenols found in tea and many other plants does contribute to a healthy lifestyle and just may help you fight illness a bit more effectively. And that’s not a bad thing at all.

oolongs
Teas shown here available at TeaHaus.


Sources:
–AFP, “Madagascar president claims herbal tea remedy for coronavirus,” The Times of Israel, 4/22/2020.
–Bhatia, S., et al., “Battle against coronavirus: repurposing old friends (food borne polyphenols) for new enemy (COVID-19), ChemRxiv, 4/13/2020.
–Hayeri, K., “Afghanistan’s next war,” The New York Times Magazine, 4/23/2020.
–Khaerunnisa, S., et al., “Potential inhibitor of COVID-19 main protease (Mpro) from several medicinal plant compounds by molecular docking study,” Research Gate, March 2020.
–Khan, M. F., et al., “Identification of dietary molecules as therapeutic agents to combat COVID-19 using molecular docking studies,” Research Square Preprint, 2020.
–Polansky, H. and G. Lori, “Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19): first indication of efficacy of Gene-Eden-VIR/Novirin in SARS-CoV-2 infection,” Letter to the Editor, International Journal of Antimicrobial Agents, 4/10/2020, in press.

3 thoughts on “COVID-19 Research Includes Tea

  1. the evidence suggests otherwise, Japan has had a mild epidemic despite not shutting down fully and having an elderly population yet 1300 deaths from covid and they drink the most green tea per capita of any nation. the same holds for every nation or area where they drink green tea-every such area has had a mild epidemic with low death tolls.

    Green tea doesn’t prevent covid? the evidence says otherwise

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    1. Thank you for writing. Please keep in mind that I wrote this post in April, at which time there was no scientific evidence that drinking green tea had any effect on the virus. Also, the major point of my post was looking at how components of green tea have long been used in research studies, including as part of our tool kit against viruses. Also, I did say that drinking green tea can contribute to a person’s health, which might make them more resilient to illness.

      I absolutely cannot say that drinking green tea has an effect upon COVID-19 because I am not an epidemiologist, virologist, or health expert, and at the time that I wrote this post, I found no scientific studies on which to base such a statement. If you know of any such scientific studies that have been published since April, I’d definitely be interested in reading them.

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  2. While green tea may not prevent COVID-19, it may cause a COVID infection to be less severe. We now know that the virus is a vascular disease and it binds to ACE-2 receptors to enter cells. My hypothesis is that green tea keeps the virus from binding to these receptors. Some key words to look up are green tea and ACE-2 and COVID and ACE-2.
    I started researching this topic after my mother recovered from the virus after she drank rooibos (she’s caffeine sensitive). She drank it only because it hits the spot when a person is ill. She was surprised when it eased the tickle in her throat and tightness in her chest. When my father started getting symptoms, he drank lots of rooibos because he wanted to beat this illness. He noticed that when he started getting a tickle in his chest, Cafix and coffee wouldn’t do anything, but rooibos would make his cough go away. Neither of my parents had to visit the hospital, which may not have been the case had we not known about that drink. It’s good to know that green tea may also fall into that category.

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