July 9, 1999

Daily tea cuts heart attack risk, research says

The Associated Press

LONDON - Drinking at least one cup of tea a day could cut the risk of heart attack by 44 percent, according to new research presented Thursday.

The beneficial results probably result from the powerful amounts of natural substances in tea known as flavonoids, vitamin like nutrients that make blood cells less prone to clotting, researchers say.

Flavonoid also are one of the most powerful antioxidants, or substances that offset the damaging effects of oxygen in the body. Scientists recently have become excited about the potential benefits of flavonoid, which also are found in fruits and vegetables and are famously connected to the heart-healthy effect of red wine.

While earlier studies have suggested the tea-drinking could be good for the heart, the latest findings are the most comprehensive and indicate the most dramatic effect.

"This is, in my view, quite an astonishing outcome," said Dr. Catherine Rice-Evans, an antioxidant researcher at King's College, London, who was not connected with the study. "These are very exciting results."

The study by Dr. Michael Gaziano, a heart specialist at the Harvard Medical School-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, was presented at a Royal Society of Medicine conference in London.

It examined 340 men and women who had suffered heart attacks and matched them by age, sex and neighborhood with people, who had never had heart attacks. It then investigated their coffee and tea-drinking habits during the course of a year.

The study involved regular tea from black tea leaves, as opposed to green or herbal teas. Black tea contains more powerful flavonoid than green tea, while herbal teas are not known to contain any flavonoid, scientist say.

Other studies have shown that adding milk, sugar or lemon to the tea does not diminish the effect of the flavonoid. There also is no difference between drinking it hot or cold, or preparing with loose tea leaves, tea bags or granulated crystals, said Dr. Paul Quinlan, a biochemist who heads the Brook Bond tea company's health research unit.

The study was adjusted for factors that could have skewed the results, such as smoking, exercise, alcohol intake and family history of heart trouble.

Total calories consumed, intake of fatty foods and body mass index - which compares the girth of people of different heights to determine obesity - was about the same across the board.

Few of the study subjects drank one beverage exclusively, so they were categorized by their strong preferences.

Gaziano found that those who drank one or more cups of tea a day slashed their risk of heart attack by 44 percent, compared with those who did not drink tea. The study did not compare the benefits of one cup versus two, three or four.

However, the question of how much tea to drink, and how strong it needs to be brewed to get the greatest heart benefits, is still open to debate.
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