ABI Awareness Week
The 9th - 15th May 2016 is Action for Brain Injury (ABI) awareness week and I've teamed up with prominent ABI blogger, Tom Massey (@ABIblogger), who tirelessly writes to promote awareness and support ABI on his blog: Life After a Brain Injury. A hand for this guy. Seriously an inspiration.
The focus of our collective posts (he has worked much harder on this than me and he's so far been giving me far too much credit!) is not only to raise awareness, but offer help and guidance for recovery. Tom will be talking about various methods that can contribute to recovery in mind, body and soul, whilst I shall be focusing on the basics of ABI (for a more in-depth coverage see Tom’s blog) in the hope of generating awareness to an entirely new audience, as well as how tea and tisanes can help the recovery process.
What is ABI?
ABI or Acquired Brain Injury is the collective term for any type of brain injury to occur after birth. Brain injuries can take many different forms and most of us will probably know, or know of, someone who has, or had, a brain injury. For instance, minor brain injuries, such as concussion, can result from even the smallest knock. More serious brain injuries include; haemorrhages, strokes and even tumours. However, people are less aware of traumatic brain injuries or TBI’s, which are caused by head traumas, in cases such as road accidents and falls.
Why is it important?
Before I continue, some of you may be thinking, great cause, I’ll learn something new blah blah but doesn’t really affect me. In some ways, you're right, this doesn’t affect you. However, over 300,000 people are admitted to hospital each year in the UK with some form of ABI. This could so easily be someone you know. Furthermore, I was shocked to find out recently (from Tom) that there are no specific outpatient programs for ABI patients. Imagine watching a friend or family member struggle through the long term effects of an ABI/TBI without adequate health support. This is why organisations, such as Headway, that run ABI week, are so important for providing awareness and support to those who need it.
Long Term Effects
The effects of brain injuries are presented in a vast array of symptoms through: cognitive, how a person thinks, learns and remembers; behavioural, how a person acts; and physical side effects. These side effects present to varying degrees in different people, no ABI/TBI being the same, but many of these side effects can be frustrating to deal with and take a long time to work through and manage. A full list can be found on the headway website, however I shall be focusing on the following symptoms:
- Reduced concentration
- Mood swings
- Frustration / Anger
Tea or Tisane; Whats the Difference?
Tea is any single origin (one type of tea) or mixed blend (assorted single origin or tea with additional herbs) that contains the leaf of camellia sinensis. This includes black and green tea, as well as more specialty teas, such White, Oolong and Puerh. It’s all the same plant, just a different post-picking process to create different flavours and textures. As camellia sinensis naturally produces caffeine, as a defence against insects, all teas contain caffeine in varying amounts.
Tisanes on the other hand are any other herbs, roots, fruits, leaves, flowers, seeds and spices that are steeped and drunk in the same way as tea, but do not contain camellia sinensis. These ingredients can be used on their own, for example steeping rose buds is becoming increasingly popular and mint leaves has always been a favourite, or they could be blended. A large majority of tisanes do not contain caffeine, but some herbs, similar to the tea plant, do contain naturally occurring caffeine.
Why Loose Leaf?
This is an age old argument between tea lovers and general tea drinkers, but in short tea bags (particularly shop bought, well known brands) tend to hold low-grade, poor quality tea known as fanning’s or tea dust. Loose leaf tends to be higher quality as the leaves are more whole, thus giving the greatest benefit. Just check out the difference between quality black tea leaves and the contents of a supermarket teabag.
How Tea and Tisanes Help
Tea is thought to have begun as a medicine but is now actually the second most consumed beverage in the world, following water, which is pretty impressive. But aside from being loved by many, tea actually has some beneficial elements and with the right blend of ingredients has the ability to rejuvenate, energise, relax and calm. In more spectacular words:
“Tea tempers the spirit and harmonizes the mind, dispels lassitude and relieves fatigue, awakens thought and prevents drowsiness.” - Tea Master Lu Yu
According to an article published by World of Tea, there are many studies that highlight the significant benefits formed from the unique combination of two elements that can only be found in tea; caffeine and L-theanine, which is an amino acid found in very few species. As mentioned above, all tea contains caffeine, so this can help to give you a vital energy boost throughout the day. Knowing how much caffeine is in each type of tea may help to regulate caffeine intake, which is important to those with a TBI who are trying to create a routine. Tom (@ABIblogger) often states that having a set sleeping pattern helps to reduce fatigue and create increased cognitive function, therefore being aware of which teas or tisanes to drink, and when, may help to regulate your pattern. However, too much caffeine (the recommended safe amount is approximately 400mg per day) can cause jitters and shakes, as often happens with coffee drinkers. Green tea contains much less caffeine but contains more L-theanine, creating a more calming effect, reducing stress and anxiety levels but also aiding concentration. Caffeine content is also important for those who suffer from epilepsy as caffeine is a suspected trigger for seizures, so again it’s important to know what you are taking into your body and how much of it. Of course, caffeine may or not affect your TBI, everyone is different, but as a tea lover I want everybody to enjoy tea and be safe to do so. Some of the other reported benefits, that derive from the chemical reactions that go on in the body from the unique combination of caffeine and L-theanine in tea include increases in: the ability to multitask, speed of perception, performance under stress, concentration and the ability to learn, as well as a promotion of relaxation and decreases in anxiety and task related fatigue.
Tisanes are really important to know about as they can be incredibly effective. After all, before modern day medicine our ancestors often turned to natural remedies and most actually worked. Furthermore, tisanes don’t just have one benefit, but a multitude, often being beneficial in a number of areas. Here are some of the best ones to look out for;
Chamomile – Most are aware of chamomile as being a comforting tisane, being widely sold and consumed as a tea that aids sleep. However, this pluckly flower can also help fight depression, anxiety and irritability due to its calming effects on both body and mind; easing nerves, promoting calmness and relaxing muscles. This tends to be a bit of a marmite flower; you either love it or hate it.
Lavender – Often found with chamomile in sleep blends, as the two have very similar properties in aiding sleep and relieving depression and anxiety. However, the smell of lavender has the biggest impact, having an acutely relaxing scent that also helps to steady mood swings and relieve headaches, thus being known as the herb of harmony.
Lemon Balm – A natural anti-depressant that also reduces anxiety and nervousness. This particular herb also aids sleep and can be used as an alternative to chamomile if you decide you’re not a fan. As well as having a calming effect, it can also boost mood. There are also some studies which suggest that lemon balm may have some positive cognitive benefit in relation to memory and problem solving ability, as well as having the ability to protect brain cells from free radicals in the body (whatever that means? I’m no science expert!)
Mint - As with lavender, the mentholated smell in mint is just as important as the taste for relieving headaches and aiding relaxation. However, mint can do so much more, containing essential oils that help to recharge your batteries when you’re feeling run down. Great for fighting both fatigue and depression. Wait, there's more… A study recently found that chewing mint can help reduce stress and improve cognition and alertness. I know chewing mint isn’t the same as drinking mint, but who knows, perhaps future studies will find a connection? And if not, this is a super tasty tea that’s great hot or cold, available nearly everywhere or you can even just grow it yourself to drink fresh!
Passion Flower – Known as the herb of tranquillity, passion flower is a mild relaxant, therefore can help alleviate conditions such as anxiety, agitation and stress.
Rooibos – A South African tisane, often known as red bush in the UK, that is becoming increasingly popular in the west due to containing no caffeine at all. Many often note rooibos as having an earthy, tobacco profile, similar to tea, combined with a honeyed or caramelised flavour. The contrast of flavours is unusual, but definitely grows on you and there are also soooo many blends out there (rooibos and vanilla is a favourite).
Rose - Rose, rosebud and rosehips have been increasing in popularity over the past few years and are now frequently found in many tea blends. In terms of ABI the most notable properties are the positive and relaxing mood improving effects that rose produces, therefore relieving anxiety. The mind soothing properties of rose also means that it is great for aiding sleep.
Yerba Mate - Often just called mate, this is perfect for fighting fatigue with its vast balance of antioxidants that are reported to increase mental clarity and ability to focus. However, yerba mate is also great for reducing stress due to its inclusion of vitamins B and C which are reportedly a power house for anti-stress.
Tisanes to Avoid - Unfortunately, yes there are a few. Herbs such as ginko, st Johns wart, ginseng and rosemary are the ones to watch out for. Despite their known ability to improve brain function, they are also known to increase seizures in those with epilepsy. Unfortunately, many teas marketed for the purposes of improving brain function contain these so please be careful!
Look out for: caffeine, lemon balm, mint and yerba mate.
Sunrise Wellbeing by Bird House Tea Co. A green and yerba mate tea blend that contains a few additional ingredients that should create a sweet lemon profile. A great tea for alertness and concentration.
Yerba Mate by Kent and Sussex Tea & Coffee co. - You can buy most tisanes alone, but they are usually more pleasant in blends. However if you fancy giving it a go, to see if it aids you’re concentration, buying it alone is a slightly cheaper option in comparison to blends.
Anxiety & Depression
Anxiety and depression are known to manifest alongside each other and share various symptoms. Likewise, many tisanes that aid in alleviating depression also help with anxiety and vice versa.
Look out for: lavender, chamomile, lemon balm, passion flower, rose and mint.
Dozy Girl by Bluebird Tea Co. - Dozy Girl is a completely herbal blend, containing no caffeine and lots of the tisanes mentioned above (lavender, rose, chamomile and lemon balm). Even though it is marketed as a sleepy tea it’s super powered to alleviate stress, anxiety and depression.
Dr Jackson's Relax - Another completely herbal, caffeine free tisane, that’s powered towards relaxation, however is specifically targeted at reducing anxiety. This has a completely different flavour profile to Dozy Girl, containing passion flower, lemon balm and peppermint, giving it a menthol profile to awaken the senses, whilst also being calming.
Mood, Temperament and Relaxation
Relaxing, staying calm and generally being in a positive mood can be difficult even for the most level headed of us, but when you suffer from an ABI, moods can be even harder to manage.
Look out for: chamomile, mint, rooibos and rose.
No. 21 by Tea Leaf London – White tea contains one of the lowest amounts of caffeine. This blend is great for a little boost against fatigue, especially for someone who is conscious of, or really effected by caffeine. However, this also has contains those relaxing and calming properties felt from lavender, so should be a great balancing and gentle tea.
Good Morning Tea by Pekoe - A charming green tea blend that contains a lovely little kick of caffeine with the calming abilities of rose. Rose tends to be less pungent than lavender and slightly sweeter so may be a great option if you have a sweet tooth.
Mint Chocolate Rooibos by Jenier Tea - A caffeine free blend that has plenty of sweet flavours as well as ingrediants that promote a calming and relaxed attitude.
If you’re looking for a caffeine fix any tea will do you; white through to black! The world is your teacup, go and explore it! However, if your're after something caffeine free look out for: mint and yerba mate .
Mate Choc Mint by Piacha - A caffeine free blend that fights fatigue and included to added benefit and awakening sensation of mint. Perfect if you are avoiding caffeine.
Moroccan Mint by The Gilded Teapot If caffeine is what you’re looking for this green tea and mint blend from one of my favourite tea shops is sure to help you through the day.
As you will see from this post, what you put into your body is extremely important, everything has an effect. I hope that in highlighting the differences and properties between tea and tisane that I have helped someone, somewhere to fall in love with the benefits of tea and to try and add one or more into their day. Please do let me know if you want any more recommendations or want my opinion on a blend or brand you are thinking of buying. Happy steeping and don't forget to use #ActionforBrainInjuryWeek.