FRIDAY, Jan. 7, 2005 (HealthDayNews) -- Chamomile tea, long touted as a cure-all for the sick or the stressed, may relieve a wide range of health problems, including colds and menstrual cramps.
Elaine Holmes, a chemist with the Imperial College London, and her team used German chamomile, also called manzanilla, whose flowers and leaves are brewed as a flavorful tea. Fourteen volunteers each drank five cups of the tea daily for two weeks.
"There have been many studies on the effects of individual ingredients of chamomile in animal models, but there have been very few studies on the effect of chamomile on human metabolism so far," Holmes said.
Daily urine samples were collected and tested before, during and after the study. A significant increase was found in urinary levels of hippurate, a breakdown product of plant-based compounds known as phenolics. Some of those have been associated with increased antibacterial activity, and this might explain why the tea seems to fight infections associated with colds, the researchers said.
Drinking the tea was also linked with an increase in urinary levels of glycine, an amino acid that has been shown to relieve muscle spasms. That might be why the tea seems to ease menstrual cramps, the researchers said. Glycine also can act as a nerve relaxant, perhaps explaining the tea's sedative value, they added.
Holmes' group found that the levels of both hippurate and glycine remained elevated for up to two weeks after the subjects stopped drinking the tea, so the compounds might work their magic for some time. Oxford Natural Products, a pharmaceutical, nutraceutical and technology company, funded the study.
The report appears in the Jan. 26 issue of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.
In other research, scientists have found that tea may have anticancer properties and may help lower cholesterol, among other health benefits.
"Other types of tea may work as well," Holmes said. "We don't know as yet." The chamomile appears to be altering the gut microflora, which leads to an increase in urinary hippurate and glycine, she explained.
"One of the most interesting findings was that the effect of the chamomile tea lasted at least two weeks after the volunteers had stopped drinking the tea," she noted.
The findings are probably a true reflection of the science, said Hasan Mukhtar, a researcher at the University of Wisconsin who has studied green tea and its role in stemming the spread of prostate cancer.
To learn more about tea, visit the Tea Association of Canada.