If you’ve ever eaten a rich or greasy meal, then wondered how get rid of that heavy, sluggish feeling, let me introduce you to the perfect after dinner beverage to aid digestion and cut through the fat: pu-erh tea, a fermented drink from Yunnan Province in southern China that alters your gut bacteria and lowers cholesterol.

Green tea has received much research attention and its benefits are well established. It has antioxidant properties, which stop cellular damage and lower the risk of cardiovascular1 and neurological diseases.2 It helps decrease glucose production and regulates blood sugar, reducing the risk of diabetes.3 Its antibiotic and antifungal properties decrease colds and flus.4 

Black teas such as pu-erh share some of the characteristics that make green tea a beneficial food or supplement. And in the past 20 years, interest in using pu-erh to lower cholesterol has increased, because unlike other teas, it contains small amounts of a chemical called lovastatin. 

Statin drugs are prescription medications used for lowering cholesterol. As with many drugs, the chemical constituents were first observed to occur naturally in organisms that use fermentation as a form of cellular energy. Tea leaves cultivated for pu-erh are fermented and aged, sometimes for many years, and this fermentation process increases the amount of lovastatin.5 It also introduces bacteria, which benefit the gut microbiome of humans, much like kombucha.

While green tea, oolong tea, and yerba mate can all lower cholesterol, pu-erh tea excels at it by increasing bile acids. These steroid molecules bind to cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood and increase their excretion from the body. This may help reduce adipose tissue deposits (fat pads), decrease fatty liver disease, and aid in weight loss.6 Drinking tea helps maintain a healthy body weight by causing people to feel full, consequently consuming fewer calories. The caffeine in tea also increases metabolism and the body’s fat burning ability.7

For a black tea, the taste of pu-erh is surprisingly mild, with very little of the tannin effect that makes your mouth feel dry after finishing a cup. I sampled Numi brand’s Chocolate Pu-erh, which combines cocoa powder, nutmeg, cinnamon, orange peel and cardamom with the tea to make a dessert drink. 

I also tried Bana Tea Company’s Sweet Rice Scent Ripe Pu-erh 2016 Vintage, whose aroma reminded me of cooking ramen noodles. This tea came in a small foil-wrapped cake called a bing cha, which is the traditional way to transport and serve pu-erh. There are numerous steps to preparing pu-erh from a compressed cake, making this a good choice for people who enjoy the ritual of preparing and consuming a hot beverage and are looking for an alternative to coffee.

Pu-erh tea is relatively safe, but should be avoided by people taking medications that interact with caffeine, such as anticoagulants and asthma drugs. Those with sleep disorders, high blood pressure or gastroesophageal reflux (GERD) may want to avoid caffeine as well. Most people can tolerate two cups per day, and anecdotal evidence says that drinking pu-erh will keep you looking young and living long.

Dr. Needle is a licensed naturopathic doctor with Optimal Health Center in Palm Desert and can be reached at (760) 568.2598. 

References available upon request.

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