By John Salak –
The Chinese have been drinking tea for over 2,000 years and the residents of Hong Kong boast the world’s greatest longevity. Think there’s a connection? Could be. A flood of recent research claims that drinking tea can help build brain strength, hold off obesity and extend your life expectancy.
Tea, particularly green tea, has been heralded as a health balm for decades. Eatright.org, in fact, reports that the polyphenols or antioxidants in both caffeinated and herbal teas may help promote weight loss and heart health and battle diabetes and cancer, among other chronic diseases. Recent research out of Singapore, China, Europe and the United States only adds to the notion that taking time for black, green and oolong tea is a smart idea.
European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, for example, didn’t mince words when it came to the benefits of green tea. Those that drink it at least three times a week live longer and healthier lives than those who don’t.
“Habitual tea consumption is associated with lower risks of cardiovascular disease and all-cause death,” explained Dr. Xinyan Wang, a member of the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences and the first author of the study. “The favorable health effects are the most robust for green tea and for long-term habitual tea drinkers,” he added.
But how much longer and better could the lives of tea drinkers be? The Chinese study, which compared tea drinkers to non-drinkers, said consuming teas could add at least one to two years to a person’s life while reducing the risk of stroke by 20 percent and heart disease by 22 percent or more depending on their level of consumption.
The National University of Singapore also came in on the side of tea’s positive benefits—black, green or oolong. Its research indicates that regular tea drinkers seem to have better-organized brain regions, which support stronger cognitive function, compared to those who give tea the brush off.
“Our results offer the first evidence of the positive contribution of tea drinking to brain structure and suggest that drinking tea regularly has a protective effect against age-related decline in brain organization,” reported Assistant Professor Feng Lei, the study’s team leader and a member of the university’s Department of Psychological Medicine.
This recent study follows early research in 2017 by Feng that revealed regular tea consumption helps improve a person’s mood and fights cardiovascular disease. That work also indicated that tea can reduce the risk of cognitive decline in those over 60 by as much as 50 percent.
Feng’s new work examined the impact on individuals who drank green, black or oolong tea four times a week for at least 25 years. His team found these individuals had much stronger and cleaner brain network connections than those who didn’t consume the same amount.
“Take the analogy of road traffic as an example,” Feng noted. “When a road system is better organized, the movement of vehicles and passengers is more efficient and uses fewer resources. Similarly, when the connections between brain regions are more structured, information processing can be performed more efficiently.”
Recent US research also underscored tea’s burgeoning benefits. A Penn State University study found that green tea extract and exercise reduced the severity of obesity-related fatty liver disease in mice that had been fed high-fat diets.
While the research to date is limited to the positive impact of green teas and exercise on mice, the potential tea benefits for people could be significant in battling a growing global health problem. Fatty liver disease is expected to afflict 100 million people by 2030 with no validated therapies on hand to battle the disease.
“We think the polyphenols in green tea interact with digestive enzymes secreted in the small intestine and partially inhibit the breakdown of carbohydrates, fat and protein in food,” explained Joshua Lambert, associate professor of food science at Penn State. This allows the fat to pass through a mouse’s digestive tract without absorbing the fat and related calories, opening up possible benefits for people as well.
Tufts University added its research backing tea’s punch by announcing that it found older adults who don’t consume lots of flavonoids, such as berries, apples, pears onions and tea, were twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias than those who did.
The university’s epidemiological study focused on 2,800 people aged 50 and older by examining their 20-year relationship between eating flavonoid-based foods and the risk of contracting Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias (ADRD).
“With no effective drugs currently available for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, preventing disease through a healthy diet is an important consideration,” noted Paul Jacques, the study’s senior author.
Ultimately, it also gives tea time a whole new meaning and importance.