Tea for the Mind

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There is already convincing evidence that people who drink more tea suffer fewer heart attacks and strokes. Some of the phytochemicals found in tea might help prevent and/or slow the progression of at least several types of cancer. Epidemiological data have fairly consistently found that people who drink more tea are less likely to lose cognitive function over time. A recent study in China has added yet more evidence that tea is good for the heart and mind.

Dr. Ng and colleagues examined about 2,500 Chinese adults age 55 years and older. They collected data on their diet and tea and coffee drinking habits and administered the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE) to determine their cognitive abilities.1 The researchers found that tea drinkers tended to eat more fruits and vegetables and have higher levels of physical activity than people who drank little or no tea did. They also found that tea drinkers had more social contacts than did those who drank less tea. Healthier diets, more physical activity and greater social activity have all been previously shown to be associated with a lower risk of cognitive impairment or senility. Even after correcting for these confounding variables the results of this study showed the people who drank 6 or more cups of tea daily were only 37% as likely to be cognitively impaired as the people who rarely drank any tea. Most of the tea drinkers in this study drank fermented (black or oolong) tea and the correlation between better cognitive function was stronger for these types of tea.

In the second part of the study Dr. Ng followed about 1,400 subjects whose initial MMSE scores indicated normal mental function. Over the next year or two the researchers found that those who drank the most tea saw significantly less loss of cognitive function compared to those who drank little or no tea. The researchers also noted that coffee intake was not associated with either cognitive impairment or decline.

Bottom Line: Regular tea consumption will almost certainly cut one?s risk of cardiovascular disease and help preserve cognitive function into old age and may very well cut the risk of some types of cancer to boot. Cheers!

By James J. Kenney, PhD, RD, FACN

1. Am J Clin Nutr 2008;88:224-31

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