Can Herbal Teas Lower My Cholesterol?

Medically reviewed by Alan Carter, PharmD on May 18, 2016Written by Annette McDermott and Tim Jewell

Overview

The healing benefits of herbal teas have been enjoyed worldwide for centuries, and modern science is catching on. Research shows that herbal teas may treat some medical conditions, including high cholesterol.

Traditional vs. herbal tea

Traditional teas, such as black, green, white, or oolong, come from the leaves and buds of the Camellia sinensis plant. Each tea is unique based on how it’s grown and processed. White tea is the least processed and is made from the plant’s youngest tea leaves. Green tea leaves are dried and heated to minimize fermentation. Black tea undergoes extensive fermentation. Each Camellia sinensis tea contains natural caffeine, although the caffeine can be removed.

Herbal teas aren’t exactly tea because they’re not made from Camellia sinensis. They are made from parts of edible plants, including the:

  • roots
  • bark
  • leaves
  • buds
  • flowers
  • fruit

Some popular herbal tea flavors include:

  • chamomile
  • peppermint
  • lemongrass
  • berry (including cranberry, raspberry, strawberry, and blackberry)
  • orange or orange peel
  • lavender
  • ginger

Herbal teas don’t contain caffeine unless the plant itself contains natural caffeine. Yerba mate or herbal teas blended with a traditional tea usually contain caffeine.

Tea and cholesterol: What’s the connection?

Antioxidants help fight cell-damaging free radicals in the body. Foods rich in antioxidants include:

  • peppers
  • berries
  • oranges
  • carrots

Traditional teas and some herbal teas contain antioxidants. Antioxidant strength depends on the type of tea and its processing method. Hibiscus has the highest recorded level of antioxidants out of all herbal teas. Teas with berries, orange peel, and peppermint tend to have similarly high levels of antioxidants.

Some research indicates that antioxidants found in tea may help lower cholesterol. A meta-analysis from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that green tea significantly reduces total cholesterol, including LDL or “bad” cholesterol, in the blood to 2.19 mg/dL. However, green tea didn’t affect HDL, or “good” cholesterol.

Herbal rooibos, or redbush tea, may help improve your lipid profile, or levels of cholesterol in the blood. In a study from the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, participants who drank six cups of fermented rooibos every day for six weeks showed a decrease in LDL of about 0.7 mmol/L and an increase in HDL of about 0.3 mmol/L.

Ginger tea is usually thought of as a stomach soother, but it may help with cholesterol as well. Ginger powder significantly lowered lipid levels compared to a placebo in a double-blind clinical study.

Based on animal studies, dandelion tea may also reduce cholesterol. Bitter melon tea may improve your cholesterol and reduce your risk for cholesterol-related conditions. It can also have a host of other positive health-related effects. Bitter melon has been shown to help with type 2 diabetes, hemorrhoids, and even certain cancers.

Another study shows that peppermint tea can lower cholesterol by helping your body produce bile. Bile contains cholesterol, so the production of bile can put your cholesterol to better use.

You won’t see the effects of herbal tea on your cholesterol right away. Many studies note that you must drink herbal teas for weeks before there is any improvement in cholesterol. Some studies claim that you’ll notice a drop in blood sugar in less than an hour, as with hibiscus and bitter melon tea. Other studies show that improvements might not occur for over two months.

Your personal health and metabolism can also affect how quickly herbal teas help to improve your cholesterol. Talk to your doctor about your overall physical health to see how tea might affect your cholesterol levels.

Your diet and lifestyle matter

Research suggesting that tea lowers cholesterol is promising, but more data is needed. Drinking tea shouldn’t replace a gym workout or a healthy diet.

Some causes of high cholesterol are not lifestyle-dependent. Other causes, such as unhealthy eating habits and lack of exercise, are. Fortunately, unsweetened tea can certainly be a healthy addition to your day.

8 Essential Benefits of Green Tea

Herbal teas and drug interactions

Herbal teas can interfere with prescription and over-the-counter drugs. You might experience drug reactions based on the ingredients of the herbal tea. If you are taking warfarin or another blood thinner, cranberry herbal tea might cause bleeding. Drinking ginseng or ginger teas can cause similar problems with aspirin or blood thinners. Ginseng tea can also interact negatively with blood pressure medications or diabetes treatments such as insulin. Ginkgo biloba affects a range of medications, including:

  • anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen (Advil) and naproxen (Aleve)
  • antiseizure medications
  • aspirin
  • blood thinners
  • drugs that lower blood pressure

Dosages depend on how the tea is made and the herb’s purity. Be careful if you drink herbal teas that are blended with caffeinated teas. Too much caffeine can make you jittery or anxious. One study linked caffeine overdoses with symptoms found in people who took cocaine or methamphetamines. If you already drink coffee every day, choose an herbal tea that doesn’t have too much caffeine in it.

Takeaway

Talk to your doctor before using teas to treat high cholesterol. You’ll benefit most from drinking herbal tea if you aren’t already using cholesterol medication or eating a diet rich in antioxidants. Herbs used for tea can have complex interactions with your body and they may contain chemicals that are unfamiliar to you. Herbs and herbal tea may also help lower your cholesterol. Learn about tea and cholesterol, and it can help you maximize the positive effects tea has on your overall health.

Q:

Are herbal teas safe to drink during pregnancy?

A:

Herbal teas have not been carefully studied for safe use during pregnancy. Some herbal teas may have chemicals that cause complex interactions with the daily changes in your body during pregnancy, and have no purity guarantee. To be safe, you should not drink herbal teas during your pregnancy. 

Alan Carter, PharmDAnswers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.
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