Study: The benefits of drinking tea

Copyright 1998 United Press International
September 12, 1998

Dozens of scientists, who not only drink tea but study the health benefits of one of the world's most popular beverages, have come to Washington from around the globe to attend the Second International Scientific Symposium on Tea and Human Health, which starts Monday. Researchers plan to present studies showing that tea contains important chemicals that may be useful in fighting heart disease and some forms of cancer. The meeting is being sponsored by the American Cancer Society, the American Health Foundation, the Nutrition Committee of the American Heart Association and the Tea Council of the USA. Among many studies, Wong-Ho Chow of the National Cancer Institute in Rockville, Md., will present findings indicating that tea and tea compounds inhibit carcinogenic processes in animals. This raises the possibility, Chow said, that tea drinking may lower the risk of cancer in humans. Beverly Clevidence, a scientist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said she plans to discuss studies suggesting tea can have beneficial health effects. However, she stressed in a statement that "it is critical that well-controlled scientific studies be conducted to identify how much of which classes of foods are needed to provide protection from chronic diseases." According to a study published in the journal Carcinogenesis, both black and green teas may inhibit the spontaneous formation of lung tumors in mice. Dr. Chung Yang of Rutgers University said both black and green teas contain important phytochemicals that may reduce cancer risk. Phytochemicals known as flavonoids and polyphenols function as antioxidants to neutralize free radicals -- agents that damage the body's cell membranes and genetic material. According to research to be presented by Jeffrey Blumberg and colleagues from Tufts University near Boston, some studies have suggested, though not proven, that agents in tea may provide "protective action against certain types of cancer." In another study, researchers from the Netherlands will contend that green and black tea beverages may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. Other presentations will be made by Dr. John Weisburger of the American Health Foundation, who will offer evidence that tea may rival some vegetables in antioxidant power; Dr. Junshi Chen of the Chinese Academy of Preventive Medicine, plans to discuss animal studies that have shown tea's positive effects, and Dr. Gary Beecher of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, will discuss flavonoids and their possible beneficial effects. Flavonoids are believed to be partially responsible for the health benefits attributed to oranges, broccoli, wines and a number of other food plants in the human diet. Tea is grown in more than 30 countries, and there are three basic types -- black tea, green tea and oolong tea. Black tea accounts for 77 percent of the world's tea manufacture, while green tea approximately 21 percent and oolong tea about 2 percent. Americans drink more than 50 million servings of tea annually, or 2.2 billion gallons -- enough to fill about 160,000 backyard swimming pools. Ninety-four percent of tea consumed in the United States is black, 4 percent green, 1 percent oolong and 1 percent flavored. About 130 million Americans have at least a glass of tea a day.

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