A key factor in stroke prevention may be as near as your next cup of tea, according to a recent study conducted in Japan. The study, which was featured in the March issue of Stroke: A Journal of the American Heart Association, found that drinking green tea may lower overall stroke risk. Study participants who drank at least two cups of green tea daily lowered their general stroke risk by 14 percent and they lowered their chances for a “hemorrhagic” stroke by 32 percent. (A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a blood vessel in the brain bursts and floods part of the brain.)

Although green tea has been lauded for its health benefits in some cultures for centuries, it was not fully embraced by western mainstream medicine until about two decades ago. Green tea is recognized for its ability to boost the immune system and mitigate risks for several serious health issues, including cancer and heart disease. Some studies have linked green tea to a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s because it reduces the chemicals that contribute to plaque deposits in the brain. It can also boost energy levels and aid in weight control by promoting fat oxidation.

Green tea’s benefits come from its high concentration of powerful antioxidants known as flavonoids. It is the best food source of catechins, which are some of nature’s most powerful health-boosters.

Because it tends to be over-processed, black tea does not have the same healthful attributes. Green tea is produced by leaves that are simply steamed or baked shortly after they are picked. The leaves are then rolled and dried, which allows them to retain healthy nutrients.

Many companies have responded to green tea’s growing popularity by producing convenient bottled versions. But don’t let the fancy, nature-inspired label fool you. Much of the bottled green tea that is on grocery shelves contains low levels of catechins and high amounts of sugar and artificial ingredients.

Bottled teas often contain high levels of fructose corn syrup that is quickly absorbed by the liver and converted into fat.  Many of the diet versions of bottled green tea contain aspartame which has been linked to serious health risks including headaches, seizures, neurological disorders and cardiovascular problems.  There are some reputable brands of bottled tea on the market, but it is important to read the labels to make sure you are getting “the real deal.”

One of the best ways to capture the catechins and flavonoids from tea is to drink it when it is freshly brewed.  Allow the tea to steep for three to five minutes, then pour a cup, relax and enjoy. You need at least three cups a day.

Green tea is available in nutritional supplements for people who don’t have the time or the inclination to drink several cups per day. It comes in a tablet, liquid and powdered form and can be purchased online and at natural health stores.

Affordable and delicious, green tea can easily be incorporated into your daily routine. Whether you drink it freshly brewed or use it in supplement form, take advantage of this natural antioxidant powerhouse.