Coffee, tea or … well, both have their fans. But only one of them is traditionally drunk with crumpets at teatime, so, hey, tea definitely has that in its favor.
What’s more, a new study suggests that drinking tea, especially for women, could actually affect us at a genetic level and modulate our risk for certain diseases, especially cancer. The results were somewhat different for coffee. Big ups for tea then.
“Previous studies have reported health benefits of tea and the aim of our study was to investigate if tea consumption lead to epigenetic changes on the DNA, which might be one of the mechanisms behind these health effects,” the study’s lead author, Weronica Ek, a researcher at department of immunology, genetics and pathology in the Science for Life Laboratory at Uppsala University, in Sweden, tells Healthy Eats. “We did find epigenetic changes in women, but not in men, drinking tea.”
Ek says the study suggests that the changes may be one of the factors behind tea’s health benefits, but adds that it’s too soon to tell precisely how or even whether the changes affect our health. It’s also not clear why, exactly, or again, even whether, tea may affect men and women differently, how the kind of tea people drink may factor in, whether it’s simply a matter of healthy people choosing to drink tea over coffee, and the role that other elements, such as whether or not people added milk to their tea, may play. “Further research is needed to confirm how (or if) these changes affect our health,” she cautions.
As for whether people should choose tea over coffee, Ek won’t say. “I would suggest that people drink the beverage that they enjoy,” she demurs. So there you have it, coffee fans. You’re good to go.
Nevertheless, Ek’s study provides yet another piece of evidence pointing to potential health benefits from drinking tea.
“Tea, specifically green tea, has been reported to have a host of health benefits, including protection against cancer, heart health, diabetes and metabolic syndrome,” Elizabeth Ann Shaw, MS, RDN, CLT, nutrition communications consultant @ShawSimpleSwaps, tells Healthy Eats, citing a National Institute of Health literature review on the topic. “Although further research is needed on larger sample sizes and populations, it’s exciting to see there are other benefits outside of a great, refreshing beverage.”
Shaw also notes that both black and green tea contain antioxidants, which are key to ridding our bodies of the free radicals that can “wreak havoc” on our health. “Just like fruits and vegetables, tea is another great addition to increase your antioxidant intake to help boost your immunity, too,” she says.
Still, Shaw warns, although drinking tea may be beneficial, it’s important to be mindful of the caffeine you may be taking in as you sip it — unless it’s decaffeinated — and any added sugar.
“Most bottled teas on the market contain added sugar that can easily add up,” she says. “Choose natural brewed teas and add flavor, if desired, with lemon wedges.”
Amy Reiter is a writer and editor based in New York. Her work has appeared in publications including The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Daily Beast, Glamour and Marie Claire, as well as Salon, where she was a longtime editor and senior writer. In addition to contributing to Healthy Eats, she blogs for Food Network’s FN Dish.
*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.