This new study reveals that regular tea drinkers have better organized brain regions — which are associated with healthier cognitive function — compared to non-tea drinkers.
For the study, the research team recruited 36 adults aged 60 and above, and collected data on their health, lifestyle, and psychological well-being. The elderly participants also had to undergo neuropsychological tests and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The study was carried out from 2015 to 2018.
Upon analyzing the participants' cognitive performance and imaging results, the research team found that individuals who consumed either green tea, oolong tea, or black tea at least four times a week for about 25 years had brain regions that were interconnected in a more efficient way. .
“Take the analogy of road traffic as an example — consider brain regions as destinations, while connections between brain regions are roads. When a road system is better organized, the movement of vehicles and passengers is more efficient and uses less resources. Similarly, when the connections between brain regions are more structured, information processing can be performed more efficiently, ”explained Assistant Professor Feng Lei from the National University of Singapore.
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"Our results offer the first evidence of positive contribution of tea drinking to brain structure, and suggest that drinking tea regularly has a protective effect against age-related decline in brain organization," he added.
The research was led by Lei from the NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine's Department of Psychological Medicine in collaboration with the University of Essex and the University of Cambridge. The findings were published in a scientific journal Messaging.
Past studies have demonstrated that tea intake is beneficial to human health, and the positive effects include mood improvement and cardiovascular disease prevention. In fact, results of a 2017 longitudinal study conducted by Feng examined the cognitive health of 957 Chinese seniors and found that daily consumption of tea was associated with a 50% reduced risk of cognitive decline in older persons — and for some patients who were genetically at risk of Alzheimer's, there was an 86% reduction in risk.
Furthermore, a 2004 study from the University of Newcastle also linked green and black tea consumption with reduced risks of dementia.
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"While the study was conducted on Chinese elderly, the results could apply to other races as well," Feng said. “Our findings have important implications for dementia prevention. Despite high quality drug trials, effective pharmacological therapy for neurocognitive disorders such as dementia remains elusive and current prevention strategies are far from satisfactory. Tea is one of the most widely consumed beverages in the world. The data from our study suggest that a simple and inexpensive lifestyle measure such as daily tea drinking can reduce a person's risk of developing neurocognitive disorders in late life.
“Based on current knowledge, this long-term benefit of tea consumption is due to the bioactive compounds in tea leaves, such as catechins, theaflavins, thearubigins and L-theanine. These compounds exhibit anti-inflammatory and antioxidant potential and other bioactive properties that may protect the brain from vascular damage and neurodegeneration. ”
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Following this discovery, Feng and his team further explored the direct effect of tea on brain networks.
"We have shown in our previous studies that tea drinkers had better cognitive function as compared to non-tea drinkers," Feng said. "Our current brain network results indirectly support our previous findings by showing that the positive effects of regular tea drinking are the result of improved brain organization brought about by preventing disruption to inter-regional connections."
As cognitive performance and brain organization are intricately related, more research is needed to better understand how functions like memory emerge from brain circuits, and the possible interventions to better preserve cognition during the aging process. Feng and his team plan to examine the effects of tea as well as the bioactive compounds in tea can have on cognitive decline.
Reprinted from the National University of Singapore
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