Beware teas

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Tea is a fabulous drink. In its various guises it is the second most consumed beverage worldwide after water and contains many biologically active compounds that can improve health. Recently, tea has seen a product revitalisation similar to coffee’s over the past decade, with flavoured teas and herbal teas now sitting next to the traditional red label on our supermarket shelves. Alongside this, a slightly more insidious change has occurred, the emergence of teas targeting women for specific health benefits (The rise of women’s teas, 31 July).

These products are claimed to be specially blended for women, with ingredients including cranberry, rose, shatavari and vanilla. So far, so tasty. However, without the input of food scientists, or even basic clinical trials, it is impossible to make any robust claims for beneficial effects for womankind, as one will have no idea if these ingredients make the perilous journey though the stomach and into the bloodstream, and if they do, are they found in sufficient quantities to do anything good for the body?

Some of the marketing claims are so scientifically illiterate it makes my test tubes weep. It worries me as a scientist in a post-fact age that people are increasingly turning to alternative therapies with either no evidence base or, worse, totally debunked therapies. Often this occurs at the expense of engaging with proven medical approaches, and with conditions such as endometriosis affecting around one in 10 women of reproductive age this kind of marketing can be dangerous.

It is unlikely that these teas will do much harm, other than lightening the bank accounts of those who feel obliged to purchase them, but it is equally unlikely that they will be any more beneficial than drinking other forms of tea. Don’t believe the hype, pop the kettle on and enjoy whichever tea you like, whichever gender you are, but don’t expect for-women brews to revolutionise your life.

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