Science seals the verdict on tea

Millions of us enjoy our daily cup of tea – but while sipping a soothing brew might seem like the most ordinary thing in the world, it could be doing some pretty extraordinary things for your health.

That comforting cuppa isn’t only helping you keep hydrated and unwind for a moment or two, it’s packed full of nutrition – and there’s lots of science backing this up.

Cardiovascular disease accounts for one in four of all deaths in Australia, but new evidence suggests drinking four to five cups of black or green tea a day improves cardiovascular function, lowers blood pressure and reduces the risk of a heart attack or stroke. It also lowers cholesterol and damps down inflammation, which can contribute to heart disease and other serious health problems.

The new Tea Advisory Panel findings are based on a review of more than 40 studies. TAP’s Dr Chris Etheridge, a co-author of the review, says: “There has been a large body of anecdotal and observational evidence suggesting tea protects against heart disease, but our review of the latest studies and trials confirms there is a clear benefit.”

Dietitian Dr Carrie Ruxton explains that high levels of natural polyphenol compounds, plus some fluoride and caffeine, give black tea many health benefits. “We often get lured into buying expensive ‘functional’ foods and drinks, when most of us already have an inexpensive health drink in our kitchen cupboard in the form of a tea bag,” she says.

“Tea has been valued for its special properties for thousands of years. Now backed by a weight of clinical evidence, we can see that tea really does deserve its status as a health promoter – for our hearts, our brains, our waistlines, and even our oral health.”

Here, Dr Ruxton outlines nine of the key health benefits associated with drinking tea.

1. Better blood pressure
According to the new TAP study, drinking three cups of tea a day for six months reduces blood pressure and improves blood flow.

2. Lower cholesterol
Both black and green tea significantly reduce levels of the LDL cholesterol associated with cardiovascular risk, with those at highest risk seeing the greatest reduction. A 12-week study found three cups of black tea lowered levels of dangerous triglycerides by 35.8 per cent, and the ratio of unhealthy LDL cholesterol to protective HDL cholesterol improved by 16.6 per cent. Green tea appears to have the most potent cholesterol-lowering power, delivering significant reductions in both LDL and total cholesterol levels.

3. Reduced stroke and heart attack risk
Drinking one to three cups of green tea a day reduces the risk of stroke by 36 per cent, and the odds of having a heart attack by 19 per cent. Similar effects are also seen for black tea.

4. Less inflammation
Tea also reduces inflammation in the body significantly, according to a 2010 University of Mauritius study, which found that C-reactive protein – a marker for inflammation – was cut by 53.4 per cent in men and 41.1 per cent in women at high risk of heart disease, when they drank three cups of black tea a day for 12 weeks.

5. Healthier teeth
Tea is a natural source of fluoride, which is important for protecting teeth against decay and gum disease.

6. Fresher breath
Black tea has natural anti-bacterial properties, making it useful for reducing the bacteria that cause bad breath.

7. Brain boost
Studies show that people who drink tea regularly tend to have better cognitive function in older age, and experience less cognitive decline.

8. Concentration aid
There’s enough caffeine in two cups of tea to promote mental alertness and concentration, says Dr Ruxton. A 2011 Dutch study, which compared participants who drank ordinary black tea with others who drank a placebo beverage that looked and tasted like tea, found the black tea drinkers had significantly enhanced accuracy in attention tests and higher self-reported alertness. The authors concluded: “Being the second most widely consumed beverage in the world after water, tea is a relevant contributor to our daily cognitive functioning.”

9. Weight loss support
Studies show drinking tea can help support weight loss, possibly because tea has a modest thermic effect, helping us to burn a few extra calories. A 2014 Norwegian study of 111 people found drinking three cups of black tea a day for three months increased weight loss and reduced waist circumference, compared to those drinking a caffeine-matched control beverage. However, there was no evidence that these effects were sustained beyond three months (and we don’t know what the rest of their diet looked like).

It’s thought black tea’s potential weight loss power may be because it’s high in flavonoids, which have antioxidant properties. Green tea has similar properties: In one 2008 Thai study, 60 obese people followed a standard diet for 12 weeks, while regularly drinking either green tea or a placebo. Those who drank green tea lost 7.3 pounds (3.3kg) more weight than the placebo group. Studies have also found that consuming green tea extract can also aid weight loss, possibly because it’s high in catechins, naturally occurring antioxidants that may boost metabolism and increase fat-burning.

Are you a tea or a coffee drinker? Do studies such as these encourage you to incorporate tea into your daily diet?

With PA

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