9 July 1999

Drinking Tea Can Reduce Heart Attack Risk

Drinking a simple cup of tea once a day can significantly reduce the risk of having a heart attack, British researchers have claimed. The favorite brew of millions around the world contains natural compounds called flavonoids that can neutralize chemicals that are harmful to cells and can lead to heart attacks, stroke and cancer.

At a conference on flavonoids, researchers said a U.S. study comparing tea, coffee and decaffeinated coffee consumption showed that people who had a cup or more of tea a day had a 44 percent reduction in heart attack risk compared to non-tea drinkers.

"Tea was the beneficial component," Professor Catherine Rice-Evans, who chaired the meeting, told a news conference.

Dr. Michael Gaziano and colleagues at the Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard medical School in Boston conducted the U.S. study. The results were published in The American Journal of Epidemiology.

Flavonoids are among the most powerful antioxidants -- compounds that protect against chemicals in the body called free radicals that damage cells.

Dr Paul Quinlan, of the research arm of British tea maker Brooke Bond, said cells take about 10,000 hits from free radicals resulting from sunlight, radiation, pollution, smoking and inflammation each day. So they more protection they can get from that damage the better.

"Tea is a very powerful source of flavonoids," he said, adding they "prevent that damage from leading to heart disease, cancer and from blood clotting.''

He said a growing body of research has shown the benefits of tea and flavonoids.

There are 4,000 flavonoids in nature and five major types of dietary flavonoid. Onions, apples, tea and red wine are particularly rich sources of flavonoid.

According to research presented at the meeting, two cups of tea have the antioxidant activity equivalent to four apples, five onions, seven oranges or two glasses of red wine.

When asked it adding milk to tea diluted its beneficial effects Quinlan said, "Adding milk does not prevent the absorption of flavonoids.''

The U.S. study was limited to black tea. Earlier research by scientists at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm showed that green tea helps to prevent cancer by blocking the growth of blood vessels that tumors need to survive and grow.