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Does tea really help with digestion?

Cup of green tea
(Image credit: Getty Images)

If you've been dealing with digestion problems like bloating, constipation, or stomach pain, you've probably already tried various remedies. In your search for a 'cure' to your digestion issue, you may have come across claims that drinking tea can help to — well — get things moving again. There are many perks of drinking tea. But does tea really help with digestion, or is it just one big marketing myth?

We took a look at the research and chatted with a few experts about digestive health and how tea can (and can't) help. We also found out how tea can help to keep your digestive system healthy and how you can incorporate the beverage into your routine in a safe way.

Curious about gut health? Discover five ways to improve gut health at LiveScience.

What is 'good' digestion, anyway?

The digestive system is composed of all of the parts of the body that are involved in eating and digesting food. The overall purpose of the system is to take the food you eat and convert some of it into energy and some of it into waste, which is excreted from the body. When one of the parts of this system, such as the stomach or the intestines, stop functioning properly, you may start to experience discomfort or bloating.

Digestive problems can be caused by a wide number of things, including:

  • Food intolerances
  • Stress
  • Sleep issues
  • Allergies
  • Alcohol
  • Dietary problems
  • Changes in your routine
  • Lack of exercise
  • Chronic conditions

In the long term, digestive issues may even lead to other health problems including arthritis or diabetes, so it's important to take your digestive health seriously.

If you've been experiencing problems with your digestion, it's always best to speak with your doctor to get to the bottom of the problem. However, if you want to troubleshoot on your own, there are a few things you can try. 

“Some people are predisposed to have digestion issues," Adylia-Rhenee Gutierrez, a Certified Integrative Nutritionist at Yhorlife (opens in new tab) tells LiveScience. "You should start by taking a probiotic which prevents overgrowth of the wrong bacteria in the gut. Then, increase foods high in fiber, decrease alcohol intake, reduce your stress and reduce refined carbohydrates."

Another way to potentially improve your digestive health is by drinking tea. 

Black tea

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Does tea really help with digestion?

"Tea can help with digestion," Dr Kellyann Petrucci (opens in new tab), gut health specialist, tells LiveScience. "According to a 2019 Systematic Review in Nutrients (opens in new tab), drinking tea could favorably regulate the profile of the gut microbiome and help to offset the imbalance of bacteria caused by obesity or high-fat diets. Black and oolong tea were two popular teas that produced these results."

While some teas can help to soothe and stabilize the digestive system, other teas are less effective. "Some teas can help with digestion," Gutierrez tells us. "Teas with flavonoids calm the digestive tract."

Noom (opens in new tab) coach Ashley Bannister, MS RD LD, adds: "Drinking tea may help to aid digestion, depending on the tea itself. For example, black tea contains thearubigins which may improve indigestion by reducing inflammation and improving gastrointestinal mobility."

What does the science say about tea and digestion?

Several studies have been conducted to examine the effects of drinking tea on the digestive system.

In one 2015 study published in Scientific Reports (opens in new tab), researchers found that green tea consumption could improve the digestion and absorption of starch, thus improving the functioning of the digestive system.

Another 2015 study in Drug Metabolism Reviews (opens in new tab) showed that flavonoids, which are present in high quantities in many teas, can help to regulate and calm the digestion process.

Certain teas like ginger tea, peppermint tea and fennel tea may be especially beneficial. Studies in the European journal of gastroenterology & hepatology (opens in new tab) and Phytomedicine : international journal of phytotherapy and phytopharmacology (opens in new tab) have shown that ginger, peppermint and fennel all have unique properties that can improve digestive health, although few studies have been done to discover the benefits of these teas specifically.

Some studies indicate that tea-drinking can also lead to long-term digestive health. For instance, a study in The American journal of clinical nutrition (opens in new tab) found that those who drink an ‘average’ amount of tea (around three times a week for more than six months) are less likely to develop cancer in the digestive tract in comparison to those who don't drink tea.

Lemon and ginger tea

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Which are the best teas for digestive health?

Drinking tea does seem to provide benefits for the digestive system. So, what do the experts suggest on a practical level?

According to Gutierezz, teas that are good for digestion include: 

  • Black
  • Green
  • Fennel
  • Ginger
  • Kombucha

While tea has been shown to help digestion, Petrucci suggests another beverage. "I suggest drinking bone broth," she says, "This is a similar experience to drinking tea. Bone Broth is rich in flavor and contains glutamine, the key nutrient shown to repair the holes in the gut lining. It's also very important to populate the gut with good or beneficial bacteria to out-crowd the bad or pathogenic bacteria which is why I suggest replacing high sugar and high processed snacks with bone broth to further benefit the health of the gut."

Verdict

The research and digestive experts seem to agree: tea really can help with your digestive health. Black and green teas in particular have high amounts of flavonoids, which can help to keep the digestive system functioning optimally, while other herbal teas often contain natural ingredients that contain elements that can contribute to overall, long term digestive health. 

But while tea is certainly a great way to improve your digestive health, it's not a cure or a remedy for digestion issues. If you're experiencing ongoing digestion problems, we suggest visiting your doctor to find the root of the problem. 

Meg Walters
Meg Walters

Meg Walters is a freelance journalist and features writer. Raised in Canada and based in South East London, Meg covers culture, entertainment, lifestyle, and health. Her work has appeared in Cosmopolitan, i-D, Refinery29, Stylist, GQ, Shondaland, Healthline, HelloGiggles and other publications.
When she's not writing, Meg is probably daydreaming about traveling the world, re-watching an old rom-com with a glass of wine, or wasting time on Twitter, where you can follow her @wordsbymeg.