Tea Up For Your Heart

Did you start drinking tea for its ability to fend off cancer? Or because it could prevent rheumatoid arthritis? Now you have one more reason to light the fire under the kettle: improved heart health. In two recent studies, researchers found that tea helps heart-attack survivors live longer and may also prevent heart disease in healthy individuals.

Herbal... tea?
Herbal teas really aren't teas at all; instead, they're infusions made from the leaves, flowers, and roots of plants other than the tea plant (Camellia sinensis). Although these caffeine-free "teas" may contain some antioxidants, they have fewer than their true tea cousins and thus may not offer the same heart healthy advantages.

—E.R.

In a study that included 1,900 heart-attack survivors in their 60s, Harvard researchers found that those who drank moderate and heavy amounts of caffeinated tea had lower death rates than those who did not drink tea at all (Circulation, 2002, vol. 105, no. 21). Participants were divided into three categories: non-tea drinkers, moderate tea drinkers (fewer than 14 cups per week), and heavy tea drinkers (14 or more cups per week). The researchers followed up with participants for nearly four years and concluded that moderate and heavy tea drinkers had, respectively, 28 percent and 44 percent lower mortality rates than non-tea drinkers.

In a separate study, Dutch researchers found that green and black tea may help prevent heart disease in healthy individuals (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2002, vol. 75, no. 5). Researchers interviewed 4,807 participants who were 55 years or older and who had no history of heart attacks. After nearly six years, the researchers discovered that subjects who drank more than 375 ml (about 3 cups) of green or black tea per day were 43 percent less likely to have a heart attack and 70 percent less likely to die from one than non-tea drinkers.

What makes tea such a valiant guardian of the heart? Scientists theorize that the flavonoids in green, black, and oolong tea are responsible for its protective properties. With their strong antioxidant potential, flavonoids may prevent LDL (bad) cholesterol from becoming oxidized, thereby preventing hardening of the arteries. Flavonoids may also help to relax blood vessels and ward off clots.

To take advantage of tea's healing properties, drink black, green, or oolong varieties. Black tea, prepared from fermented green tea leaves, is the most common tea in the world. Green tea is unfermented and dried, and oolong tea is a lightly fermented variety, intermediate between the other two. Each of these contain heart-healthy antioxidants and deliver similar benefits. So pick a flavor and enjoy a healthy cup.

—Emily Rosenblum