Nutrition Basics

The Health Benefits and Risks of Tannins



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Tannins are a broad class of compounds that are found in many of the foods and drinks that we consume, including chocolate (the cocoa in it), red wine, grapes, cranberries, even coffee (both regular and decaffeinated), and, most especially, tea. Tannins have such extraordinary qualities that are often misunderstood or ignored.

Even the term 'tannins' throws off many medical experts as to its exact definition simply because these compounds are, again, of a wide variety. But tannins, in general, can actually protect us from many kinds of illnesses and health problems.

Most noticeable among tannins' many characteristics is their being astringent. This styptic power binds proteins located on the surface of the mouth, thereby making the harmful bacteria in the mouth ineffective while putting in check the buildup of plaque and preventing tooth decay.

Also because of their astringency, tannins have been used as the bases of traditional herbal medications. Some of the herbs that are known to contain tannins and are used in the treatment of ailments include sage (to treat sore throats and bleeding gums), blackberry (to halt bleeding from cuts or scrapes), and raspberry (to ease morning sickness in expectant mothers). Most of the other berry varieties are also used to treat diarrhea.

Tannins are likewise known to have antioxidant properties which can help prevent cellular damage and, therefore, may protect against heart disease and cancer. In fact, several studies have proven that the polyphenols found in red wine (resveratrol) and in black and green tea (catechins) are antioxidants that carry potential health benefits.

But tannins have downsides, too. For one, they can discolor teeth. This is one reason why dental specialists advise on limiting coffee and tea intake. Tannins can also impede the body's ability to absorb iron which may adversely affect an otherwise balanced diet. If, for instance, you are in the habit of drinking coffee or tea while having your meal, the tannins in your drink can retard your body's absorption of iron from the vegetables in your meal.

There is a way though to counter the effect, or at least lessen it, through lemon or milk added to your brewed beverage. Another suggestion is to drink coffee or tea between meals - not during mealtime itself. Tannins are also believed to cause migraines in some people, although some medical experts strongly disagree with this, contending that the evidence from relevant researches is inconclusive.

Overall, the many healing properties and health benefits of tannins far outweigh their disadvantages. This fact makes tannins able protectors of our health and well-being.

Sources:

1. "Tannins" - http://www.herbs2000.com/h_menu/tannins.htm

2. "TANNINS AND HUMAN HEALTH: Nutraceuticals effect of Tannin and its Monomers" by Mayank Tandon & Dr. S.N. Rai, Animal Nutrition Division, National Dairy Research Institute

More about this author: Omar Salvador

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