Tea could soon join fruit and vegetables on the list of must-have health foods.
Recent studies have suggested the traditional cuppa protects against a range of conditions including cancer, heart disease and Parkinson’s.
But scientists in the United States now believe that the health benefits are so great that everyone should be urged to drink tea.
Experts believe antioxidants in tea help to repair cells in the body which have been damaged by sunlight, chemicals, stress and many foods.
Damaged cells can lead to cancer and heart disease as well as a host of other serious conditions.
Scientists made their case at a meeting in Washington organised by the US Department of Agriculture, the American Cancer Society and the Tea Council.
Officials from the Department of Agriculture outlined findings from a study which suggested tea reduces the risk of heart disease by lowering cholesterol.
Joseph Judd, acting director of the department’s Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center in Maryland, tested eight men and eight women who agreed, for a period of three weeks at a time, to eat and drink only what they were given at the Beltsville lab.
“We gave them a beverage that mimicked tea – water flavoured like tea,” he said.
For a second three-week period the same volunteers got five cups a day of tea to drink.
“We found that their blood lipids, when they drank tea compared to the placebo beverage, had up to 10 % lowering of low density lipoprotein, the ‘bad’ cholesterol,” Mr Judd said.
Overall, total cholesterol was lowered 6 % on average over the three weeks, his team found.
“There was no effect on ‘good’ cholesterol,” he added. “HDL remained constant.”
Help for smokers
In another study, researchers at the University of Arizona tested 140 smokers to see if drinking tea reduces the risks of cancer.
They examined whether tea repaired damage to cells caused by smoking. In particular, they looked at the affects on a chemical called 8-OhDG, which is found in urine and is believe to cause cell damage.
For four months, volunteers drank either green tea, black tea or water.
“They were asked to eat whatever they were eating and just add tea to their diet,” said Dr Iman Hakim, who headed the study.
Researchers tested the participants’ urine for levels of 8-OHdG.
“What we found was a 25% decrease in the green tea group,” she said.
However, no changes were seen in the people who drank black tea or water.
“We think green tea, in our group of smokers, is associated with a reduction of oxidative stress in their urine,” Dr Hakim said.
The meeting was told that efforts should be made to encourage Americans to drink more tea.
More than 135 million cups of tea are drunk in Britain every day but so far Americans have failed to convert from their beloved coffee.
William Gorman, executive director of the UK’s Tea Council which represents the tea industry, is at the Washington meeting.
He said the research being presented there was “very interesting”.
“The body of evidence has been growing substantially. There is a lot of strong scientific information being presented here,” he told BBC News Online.
Mr Gorman added: “The tea industry has always been very cautious about presenting the science around tea but certainly the organisations behind this meeting are very confident in the data.”
(BBC News, Sept 2002)