Will Drinking Tea Help Me Live Longer?
There’s been a certain amount of media coverage recently, suggesting that people who are habitual tea drinkers are likely to live longer, and be less at risk of cardiovascular disease than those who never drink tea, or not so often. These assertions were predominantly based on a study published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, where a questionnaire was used to look into the tea-drinking habits of 100,902 Chinese adults from 15 provinces in China. After a median follow-up of 7.3 years, it was concluded that habitual tea drinkers at the age of 50, had 1.26 years longer of life expectancy, and 1.41 years longer of being free of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease than those who rarely drank tea, or not at all.
Such results sound like interesting findings, and encouraging to those who drink tea on a regular basis. However, bearing in mind the survey focussed on people in China, a nation of green tea drinkers, it doesn’t really represent a true picture for tea drinkers in general, and it’s unlikely that similar results would be seen in the UK or other Western countries, where the majority of tea drinkers consume black tea.
Although all tea leaves come from the same plant, Camellia sinensis, it depends on how the leaves are processed as to whether the tea becomes a green, white, yellow, oolong or black tea. In the case of green teas, the leaves are not oxidised at all, whereas black teas are fully oxidised. Tea is rich in flavonoids, plant metabolites with antioxidant effects that may be beneficial for a number of chronic health diseases, and polyphenols, that are thought to protect against cardiovascular disease. The antioxidant properties of tea are believed to help prevent certain types of cancer. All teas contain compounds to offer potential health benefits, but when tea is oxidised, the polyphenol properties change, and in black teas are diminished. Because green tea leaves are not oxidised, they retain higher levels of polyphenols. Green tea also contains more health-enhancing vitamins and minerals.
Green teas are becoming increasing popular in the UK, not only because of their reputed health benefits, but also because there is now a multitude of green tea varieties and green tea blends to choose from, including traditional Matcha and Sencha teas from Japan, another country with a tea drinking culture that has been associated with a long life expectancy.
When it comes to longevity, most of us are aware of the kind of lifestyle choices that may affect our health and chances of living to a ripe old age, such as diet, exercise, smoking and alcohol, and the health benefits gained from the type of tea we drink are unlikely to contribute much if other aspects of our lives need to change. However, drinking tea for the pure enjoyment itself can make us feel good, which may be another factor key to having a long and happy life.