Drink tea to good health across the ages

The adage, “drink to good health” apparently should have specified ‘drinking tea.’ A new report, commissioned by the Tea Advisory Panel (TAP), a division of the UK Tea & Infusions Association, shows how a simple cup of tea can “keep us happy and healthy from childhood to old age.”

The report, Tea Health and Wellness Through the Ages, found similar tea-drinking habits across the generations with six in ten young adults and eight in ten older people drinking tea regularly. Among the findings, which was compiled from a nationwide poll of more than 1,000 British adults, traditional black tea was the clear favourite, but herbal and green teas are more popular with young demographics.

While families share a love of tea, the health benefits and consumption habits differ across the generations. More 16–29-year-olds, for example, are trying different teas and using plant-based milks than tea drinkers over 40 years old. Younger adults are also more likely to steep than dunk their teabags to maximise the health benefits from the tea polyphenols (natural plant compounds found in black and green teas).

A significant difference across the generations is the health benefits that regular tea drinking is likely to bring. “The beneficial compounds found naturally in tea seem to deliver different benefits to different age groups, according to the scientific evidence,” said Dr Carrie Ruxton, co-author of the report and registered dietitian from TAP. “Fluoride benefits dental health in children, while the combination of caffeine and L-theanine – an amino acid – help to hone the concentration skills of teenagers sitting exams and young adults in the workplace. Adults trying to manage their weight can benefit from the polyphenols found in green tea which boost fat burning, according to controlled studies.”

She explained that for middle-aged adults, regular tea drinking brings benefits to metabolic and heart health by lowering the risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. “This is believed to be due to tea polyphenols which help to support vascular health and have anti-inflammatory effects. In the oldest adults, drinking tea has been linked with slower cognitive decline – potentially due to antioxidant benefits.”

Professor Robin Seymour, a dental expert, added, “Tea is also a safe, helpful drink in pregnancy. Not only is tea a source of natural fluoride which strengthens tooth enamel, but antibacterial polyphenols in tea suppress harmful oral bacteria which cause cavities. Further down the gut, tea can boost the more friendly species of bacteria – called a prebiotic effect – which is beneficial for digestive comfort.”

However, the TAP poll found that around two thirds of adults were not aware of these clinically proven health benefits of black and green teas, rather, their focus was on the emotional aspects of mood, comfort and wellness.

  • 81% say drinking tea puts them in a good mood
  • 76% drink tea to get them going first thing in the morning
  • 44% say a cuppa makes them feel calm
  • 36% think tea helps them to tackle a busy day
  • 34% say tea helps them to de-stress.

“While it is great that tea is widely recognised as a way to promote wellbeing and positive mood, it would be great to educate people about the distinct health benefits,” shared co-author and general practitioner from TAP, Dr Gill Jenkins. “These are well proven across hundreds of studies showing that tea is an essential part of healthy diets across the ages.”

Looking at optimal tea consumption, the evidence supports an intake of around three to four cups a day. However, the TAP poll found that only 35% of younger adults were achieving this, while half drank only one to two cups day. “In addition, four in ten of younger adults were joining online work meetings without keeping any fluid handy — which can lead to mild dehydration and ‘Zoom fatigue’. Older adults were more likely to achieve ideal intakes – with 70 – 80% enjoying three to four cups a day,” Jenkins said.

Per the new TAP report, tea health-benefits across the generations include:

  • Children – tooth friendly tea: Switching to tea instead of cordials or sugary fizzy drinks could help to protect teeth and lower the risk of obesity.
  • Teenagers – the sugar-free study aid: A mug of tea is a healthier study aid than an energy drink. Tea is the only beverage that naturally contains L-theanine and caffeine which, working in combination, lead to improved alertness and focus while still maintaining a feeling of calm.
  • Young adults – destress and focus: Tea has a unique effect amongst caffeinated beverages of stimulating alertness, focus and memory while, at the same time, instilling feelings of relaxation. EGCG, a polyphenol found in green tea, has been reported to boost brain activity while lowering stress and improving participants’ feelings of calm.
  • Pregnancy & new mothers – hydration: While breastfeeding, it is important to stay hydrated so tea – a maximum of four cups a day – can supply essential fluid. Tea polyphenols are also good for gut bacteria which promotes digestive wellness.
  • Middle-aged adults – tea wellness essentials: Tea is believed to protect metabolic health by enhancing insulin action, protecting against insulin resistance, protecting pancreatic islet cells which make insulin, decreasing systemic inflammation and scavenging free radicals (antioxidant effect). Tea drinking has also been associated with better bone health.
  • Older people – heart and brain benefits: In the UK, tea is one of the top three sources of polyphenols in the diet. In older people, these compounds have been linked with brain and cognitive health due to their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, as well as their positive impact on blood vessel function which also benefits heart health.

So, instead of eating that proverbial apple a day to keep the doctor away, maybe drink a cuppa…

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