People often tout the health benefits of drinking green tea, but what about other kinds of teas? A team of researchers has now found that drinking black tea may actually help lower one’s mortality risk.
Tea is said to be the “most widely consumed beverage in the world,” second only to water. Even in the U.S., where one might think coffee is the king of beverages, people drank 3.8 billion gallons of tea in 2019 alone, 84% of which was black tea.
For their new study, published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, a team of researchers looked at the association between tea consumption and mortality risk.
“Tea is frequently consumed worldwide, but the association of tea drinking with mortality risk remains inconclusive in populations where black tea is the main type consumed,” they wrote.
To find out, the researchers looked at the U.K. Biobank data of 498,043 men and women aged 40 to 69 years who completed a questionnaire from 2006 to 2010. Among the participants, 85% said they regularly drank tea, the American College of Physicians (ACP) noted in a news release. And 85% of the tea-drinkers said they drank black tea.
The researchers measured the participants’ self-reported tea intake, as well as mortality from all causes and leading causes of death such as cardiovascular disease (CVD), cancer and respiratory disease.
They also looked at factors such as the temperature of the tea, the common additives that people used such as milk and sugar, and the genetic variants that influence people’s caffeine metabolism.
In an 11.2-year follow-up study, the researchers found that those who consumed higher tea intake had lower mortality risks, with those who drank two or more cups of tea per day having a 9-13% lower mortality risk compared to those who didn’t drink tea.
“Inverse associations were seen for mortality from all CVD, ischemic heart disease, and stroke,” the researchers wrote.
They observed this association “regardless” of the genetic variation in caffeine metabolism, their preferred tea temperature, whether they added milk or sugar, and evn if they drank coffee too.
Researchers said this suggests that “tea, even at higher levels of intake, can be part of a healthy diet.”
How much tea are people drinking?
The study sample comprised 498,043 men and women ages 40 to 69. All participants received physical examinations and provided blood, urine, and saliva samples when they enrolled in the study from 2006 to 2010.
They then completed a baseline questionnaire about their tea drinking habits. Participants recorded how many cups of tea—on average—they drank each day and whether they drank their tea very hot, hot, or warm. They were then followed up for a median of 11.2 years.
The researchers also recorded data on all participants’ diet, lifestyle, health, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status. They adjusted mortality data to take these factors into account.
Almost 85% of participants reported drinking tea, with 89% drinking black tea. Most of those who drank tea had between two and five cups per day, with 19% drinking more than six cups daily.
Heavy tea drinkers in the study were more likely to be smokers, have poorer general health and eat more red and processed meat, which may increase mortality.
Do milk and sugar have an effect?
During follow-up, 29,783 people died. Researchers found that the risk of all-cause mortality decreased by around 12% as tea intake increased to three cups per day.
People who drank more than three cups of tea a day did not have a lower mortality risk than those who drank between one and three cups.
Adding milk or sugar had little effect on the observed benefits of black tea. Likewise, the tea’s temperature was drunk and did not affect mortality risk. Those who drank more than two cups of tea daily had a lower mortality risk from cardiovascular disease, ischemic heart disease, and stroke. The researchers did not find any association between cancer and respiratory disease death.
What experts have to say
“This study brings home how beneficial black tea can be to our health and mortality,” says Amy Gorin, MS, RDN, an inclusive plant-based dietitian in Stamford, Connecticut, and owner of “Plant Based with Amy.”
Amy Bragagnini, MS, RD, CSO, an oncology nutrition specialist at Trinity Health Lacks Cancer Center in Michigan and a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, adds that this new research is in line with previous findings.
“Many studies have found that polyphenols found in tea (polyphenols are compounds that we get from certain plant-based foods) can act as antioxidants in our body,” Bragagnini told Healthline.
“These can help reduce oxidative damage in our cells and may help lower the risk of several chronic diseases (cardiovascular diseases and diabetes). The polyphenols may also act as anti-inflammatory agents, which could help lessen joint pain and arthritis,” she said.
Andy De Santis, a registered dietitian with a master’s in public health nutrition, told Healthline that for many people, beverages such as coffee and tea may represent a top contributor of dietary antioxidants.
As such, he said, it makes sense that there’s an association between tea drinking and lower mortality risk given that these compounds generally have protective roles to play against both cancers and cardiovascular diseases.
Tips for tea drinkers
If you are trying to select the perfect black tea, there are a few important points to remember, says Bragagnini.
She offers these tips:
- Determine if you want tea bags, tea sachets, or loose-leaf tea. If you are new to the tea world, Bragagnini recommends starting with tea bags as they are “easy and foolproof to make.”
- Venture into other tea types. “Black tea tastes wonderful, but it is also a good idea to venture out into other flavor categories (white, green, yellow, oolong, and yerba mate) to see what the right fit is for you,” she said.
- Ask yourself when you are likely to drink the tea and choose based on your answer. For example, black tea tends to have more caffeine than green tea, so Bragagnini advises against drinking any caffeinated tea close to your bedtime.
- Consider your storage. “Keep the bags in their original container and store the loose leaf in an air-tight container,” says Bragagnini.
Not sure what you want? Gorin suggests looking for a tea that is made with whole tea leaves.
“Typically, you’ll find this with loose leaf tea, and some brands promote the fact that they use fuller- leaf quality tea in their tea bags,” she told Healthline.
Tips for people who don’t love black tea
If you don’t like black tea, experts note there are other food sources that provide these antioxidants.
Gorin suggests first trying a different type of tea to see if that better suits your preferences. She recommends trying green tea or white tea as these are “both full of antioxidants and very beneficial for health.”
“People who don’t like coffee or tea really don’t need to feel like they are selling their health short,” says De Santis.
He adds there is “a plethora of other food sources containing these beneficial compounds,” including berries and green vegetables.
De Santis says food sources rich in polyphenol compounds include:
“The most important thing to do is try to increase your intake of fruits and vegetables,” says Bragagnini.
“Next time you go to the grocery store, challenge yourself to fill your cart with a rainbow of colored produce,” she suggests.
Easy ways to add antioxidants to the menu, according to Bragagnini:
- Adding mushrooms to your spaghetti sauce
- Snacking on yogurt topped with fresh berries
- Adding broccoli, bell peppers, onions, snow peas, zucchini, and squash to any stir-fry
- Retraining your taste buds away from artificial sugar by choosing whole naturally sweetened foods more often such as any fruit, beets, peas, carrots
Gorin echoes the encouragement of eating more berries, pointing to a 2016 review in Scientific Reports that found people who regularly ate berries had lower “bad” cholesterol levels compared to people who did not regularly eat berries.
“Cholesterol levels influence heart health, which influences mortality. Berries taste wonderful in anything from pancakes to smoothies,” she says.