While we already know that tea is correlated with, and possibly causative of, better health outcomes relative to coffee drinkers and to the population as a whole, but a recently released report got me wondering, how does tea affect longevity?
In that study, released last month at the European Society of Cardiology Congress in Barcelona, researchers looked at correlations between tea drinking, healthy habits and lifestyle choices, and the resulting risk of cardiovascular disease. The results found mostly correlation between increased tea consumption, reduced tendency to smoke, and higher levels of physical activity, all of which resulted in a reduced risk profile for cardiovascular disease.
The Research on Tea and Longevity
While it can be difficult to assess tea’s impact on longevity, and correlative factors often matter more, scientists have begun looking at ways in which tea can slow down or defer the aging process.
In Vitro Research
By determining the actions of tea on cells in a test tube, scientists postulate a similar action in living organisms.
For example, tea catechins seem to offer significant protection to red blood cells against oxidative stress (a mechanism of aging). Therefore, researchers suggest tea catechins would likewise offer an increasingly protective effect in older subjects, thus naming tea catechins anti-aging compounds. (Source)
Research into black tea found that theaflavins and thearubigins (black tea catechins) may act as novel mimics of insulin/IGF-1, thus preventing excess strain on these systems in the body. Through this action, age-related metabolic disease may thus be deferred. (Source)
In Vivo Research
By contrast to in vitro, where the research takes place in isolation, in vivo research looks at the effects of tea on living creatures. Unfortunately, though, for these studies no humans were involved.
Using a nematode as the subject, researchers found that EGCG extended the worm’s longevity under stress. This is due to the free radical-scavenging effects of the green tea catechins and its up-regulating effects on stress-resistance-related proteins. (Source)
More commonly, mice are used as subjects to infer what effects would occur if similar studies were performed on humans. In this study, green tea catechin intake effectively suppressed brain atrophy and cognitive decline in mice by preventing oxidative damage to DNA.
Again, using mice, but this time with pu-erh tea, data from the study indicates pu-erh may restore immune function while decreasing pro-inflammatory cytokines. Thus, the scientists concluded that long term drinking of Pu-erh tea may be beneficial for the aging population as it could increase the body’s resistance to infection and cancer. (Source)
Maybe tea drinking is the real reasons Asians (the largest consumers of tea) look so young!
Looking at these studies, we can’t say conclusively that tea increases longevity in humans, but we can speculate that tea may work through numerous pathways to defer aging and increase the potential for a healthy life.
Photo from Flickr.