Senior Health: Tea Linked to Heart Health

A new study links tea drinking to longer survival rates after heart attack. According to a study in the May 7, 2002 issue of Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association, drinking tea on a regular basis may help protect patients with existing cardiovascular disease. “The health benefits of tea have been reported in numerous studies in recent years” notes the study’s lead author Kenneth J. Mukamal, MD, MPH, of the Division of General Medicine and Primary Care at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

The greatest benefits of tea consumption have been found among patients who already have cardiovascular disease.” Mukamal and his co-authors found that among individuals who had suffered heart attacks, those who reported being heavy tea drinkers had a 44 percent lower death rate than non-tea drinkers in the three-and-a-half years following their heart attacks, while moderate tea drinkers had a 28 percent lower rate of dying when compared with non-tea drinkers. The key to this protective quality of tea points to a group of antioxidants known as flavonoids, which are plentiful in both black and green tea.

Flavonoids, which are also found in certain fruits and vegetables, including apples, onions and broccoli, could be working to help the heart in one of several ways according to the researchers. “It’s pretty clear that flavonoids can prevent LDL [low density lipoprotein] cholesterol from becoming oxidized,” Mukamal says, explaining that oxidized LDL can lead to the development of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). In addition, a recent study found that drinking black tea improved endothelial function — the ability of the blood vessels to relax — in cardiac patients. Finally, he adds, flavonoids may have an anti-clotting effect.

This study looked at over 100 people over a four year time span. While about one third of those in the study died during the span of the study they found that the significant factor in those who survived appeared to be that they were tea drinkers for the most part. The heaviest tea drinkers had a significantly lower mortality rate than non tea-drinkers. Mukamal does caution, however, that although these findings strongly suggest that tea consumption reduces the risk of death following a heart attack, controlled clinical studies will need to be conducted to firmly establish the link. Among healthy individuals the health benefits of tea have not been established.

Enjoy that glass of tea as not only refreshment but as a possible weapon in the battle against heart disease and second heart attack. (By, July 2005)

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