Researchers conducting a study on brain activity report that those who consume tea at least four times a week showed structural changes in brain regions, an indication of more efficient connections, according to the National University of Singapore (NUS). The study is the first to demonstrate structural benefits to the brain from drinking tea.
“Our results offer the first compelling evidence that tea drinking positively contributes to brain structure making network organization more efficient,” said lead author Dr. Feng Lei, a researcher in the Department of Psychological Medicine, the NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine. Lei was assisted by teams in the UK at both the University of Essex and the University of Cambridge.
The study, first published in the journal Aging, “comprehensively investigated the effects of tea drinking on brain connectivity at both global and regional scales using multi-modal imaging data (i.e., functional and structural imaging),” he said.
Thirty-six healthy adults, aged 60 and older and divided into two groups, underwent neuropsychological tests and magnetic resonance imaging (MRi) exams during the period 2015 to 2018.
Subjects consuming either green tea, black tea or oolong tea weekly for 25 or more years showed the greatest benefit. Professor Lei, who led the research team, said the results suggest that drinking tea regularly can protect the brain from age-related decline.
In a press release he used the analogy of road traffic: “Consider brain regions as destinations, while the connections between brain regions are roads. When a road system is better organised, the movement of vehicles and passengers is more efficient and uses less resources,” said Feng. “Similarly, when the connections between brain regions are more structured, information processing can be performed more efficiently,” said Feng, an assistant professor at NUS.
“We have shown in our previous studies that tea drinkers had better cognitive function as compared to non-tea drinkers. Our current results relating to brain network indirectly support our previous findings by showing that the positive effects of regular tea drinking are the result of improved brain organisation brought about by preventing disruption to interregional connections,” said Feng.
The research abstract notes coffee consumption was not significantly different between the tea drinking and non-tea drinking groups, nor were gender, years of education, left or right-handedness or age factors.
Researchers say they focused on interregional connectivity within the brain because previous studies have suggested that it is predominately involved in cognitive disease and normal aging.
The authors hypothesize: (1) habitual tea drinking has positive effects on brain organization and gives rise to greater efficiency in functional and structural connectivity; (2) tea intake leads to less leftward asymmetry in structural connectivity; (3) tea drinking is associated with connective strength alterations of functional and structural connectivity in the default mode network (DMN).
Past studies have demonstrated that tea benefits brain health in several ways, improving cognitive function, mood and circulation. Feng said his team will next investigate bioactive compounds in tea that impact cognitive decline.
*Li J, Romero-Garcia R, Suckling J, Feng L. Habitual tea drinking modulates brain efficiency: evidence from brain connectivity evaluation. Aging (Albany NY). 2019; 11:3876-3890.