Bold headlines in newspapers and magazines globally amplified results of a massive, long-term study that reveals habitual tea drinkers live longer than those who rarely or never drink tea.
The threshold is three cups per week, as reported in the European Journal of Preventative Cardiology. The 20-year study of 100,902 Chinese residents in 15 provinces found that a male 50-year-old habitual tea drinker can be expected to live an average 1.26 years longer and will be free from heart disease for an average 1.41 more years than a comparable non-tea drinker.
Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of premature death worldwide, the authors write, and “tea consumption could reduce the risk for both cardiovascular disease morbidity and mortality as well as all-cause mortality.”
“Habitual tea consumption is associated with lower risks of cardiovascular disease and all-cause death,” said first author Dr. Xinyan Wang, Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, Beijing. “The favorable health effects are the most robust for green tea and for long-term habitual tea drinkers.”
Newsweek reported that “regular tea drinkers appeared to have a 20% lower risk of having heart disease or stroke and were 22% less likely to die of those conditions. They also appeared to have a 15% lower risk of all-cause mortality; the term used to describe deaths attributable to any condition.”
A sub-analysis of those exclusively drinking green tea showed a 25% decrease in heart disease or stroke, and all-cause death, compared to non-tea drinkers.
“And sticking to the habit of drinking tea appeared to boost health. Participants who often drank tea for at least eight years appeared to benefit from a 29% decreased risk of dying, a 39% reduction in the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and stroke, and a 56% lower chance of dying from those diseases,” reported Newsweek.
In the Society of Cardiology article, senior author Dongfeng Gu of the Academy of Medical Sciences, wrote that population-based studies in the past had inconsistent results. “The most exciting finding for us was that adherence to the tea-drinking habit for a long term could strengthen the health benefits of tea,” he said.
Green tea drinkers experienced the biggest drops in dying from heart disease and stroke. The study found 49% of habitual tea drinkers preferred green tea and that 43% drank scented tea with 8% drinking black tea. Researchers did not find a statistically significant link and health benefits for black tea drinkers, reported Gu.
“Our findings hint at a differential effect between tea types,” he said.
Researchers noted black tea is fully fermented and during this process polyphenols are oxidized into pigments and may lose their antioxidant effects. Second, black tea is often served with milk, which previous research has shown may counteract the favorable health effects of tea on vascular function.
The study did not uncover the precise mechanism that results in longer life, but Gu said flavonoids in green tea can protect against inflammation, oxidative stress and helps cells in the blood vessels and heart, lowering blood pressure and reducing build-up of cholesterol.
“Polyphenols are not stored in the body long-term. Thus, frequent tea intake over an extended period may be necessary for the cardioprotective effect,” said Gu. Male participants of all ages showed the greatest benefit, according to Dr. Wang.
“One reason might be that 48% of men were habitual tea consumers compared to just 20% of women. Secondly, women had much lower incidence of, and mortality from, heart disease and stroke. These differences made it more likely to find statistically significant results among men,” he wrote.
Gu told Newsweek “For those who don’t drink tea, we advise that they may have a try and find out whether they would like to pick up the habit. However, for people who don’t drink tea, other food or dietary supplements with high content of flavonoids could also be alternatives.”