Few doubt the power of tea, forever revered as a calming salve on a rough day. Legend has it a box of Bigelow Mint Medley herbal tea once kept tent-bound climbers sane during a particularly nasty Denali storm. Chamomile tea can supposedly even add streaks to your hair.
But there's more: According a study published earlier this year in The Gerontologist, chamomile tea is associated with a decreased risk of death in Mexican-American women aged 65 or older.
That might sound like an oddly specific result, but Bret Howrey and his colleagues at the University of Texas Medical Branch weren't crazy for investigating it. Some herbs have well-documented health value, and chamomile in particular may help fight inflammation and lower cholesterol, to name just two medicinal benefits. Meanwhile, according to a 2007 National Institutes of Health survey, around 18 percent of Americans use natural remedies of some kind, and studies show that chamomile is a common treatment in Mexico for colitis, dyspepsia, and other gastrointestinal ailments.
The researchers estimate that Hispanic women over 65 who drank chamomile as a home remedy died at rates 28 percent lower than others.
Those potential benefits led Howrey and his team to wonder whether drinking chamomile tea might lead to longer lives. To find out, they gathered data on 1,677 people who took part in the "Hispanic Established Population for the Epidemiologic Studies of the Elderly" research series. Among many other things, that research tracked which herbal remedies participants used, as well as if (and when) those participants had died.
Remarkably, drinking chamomile tea was associated with a roughly 30 percent drop in mortality rates—though only for women. Adjusting for demographic factors such as age and education, health factors including high blood pressure and diabetes, and even financial strain, the researchers estimate that Hispanic women over 65 who drank chamomile as a home remedy died at rates 28 percent lower than others. There was no statistically discernible effect for Hispanic men over 65.
That's not to say everyone should rush out and buy chamomile tea. The study only looked at older Hispanic men and women, aged 79.5 on average, and the researchers had no information on how much or how often anyone drank tea. The nature of the statistical analysis almost means that chamomile tea is only associated with a lower risk of dying, not that drinking the daisy-based tea actually helped save lives. "It is possible that other unmeasured factors, such as frequency and duration of chamomile, level of physical activity and quality of diet, which were not measured in the survey, could influence the results," Howrey and his colleagues write.
On the other hand, chamomile has been used as an herbal therapy for centuries, and recent studies suggest its value is more than a superstition or old wives' tale. So go ahead, give in to the power of the tea—if nothing else, it'll keep you hydrated.
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