A study by the National University of Singapore (NUS) revealed drinking tea regularly could lower the risk of cognitive decline among the elderly by 50 percent, published in the Journal of Nutrition, Health & Ageing. For those at risk for Alzheimer’s, it could reduce their risk by up to 86 percent.
The study, led by Dr Feng Lei of NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine’s psychological medicine department, ran over several years with participation by 957 Chinese senior citizens aged 55 and above. The researchers said results would be consistent across races, and the benefits of tea consumption would be the same for the elderly from different races.
Asia has a rapidly ageing population—health systems, businesses and families across Asia-Pacific will come under huge pressure as around 200 million people will pass the age of 65 by 2030. Dr Feng said that the study’s findings are of significant importance to the prevention of dementia, given that such neurocognitive disorders have no known cures and prevention strategies are currently far from adequate.
"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,” said Dr Feng. “These compounds exhibit anti-inflammatory and antioxidant potential and other bioactive properties that may protect the brain from vascular damage and neurodegeneration.”
“Tea is one of the most widely consumed beverages in the world. The data from our study suggests that an inexpensive lifestyle measure such as daily tea drinking can reduce a person’s risk of developing neurocognitive disorders in late life,” Dr Feng added. As long as the beverage is brewed from tea leaves—be it green, black, or oolong,—elderly tea drinkers will still reap benefits from consuming it.
Some risk factors for dementia, such as age and genetics, cannot be altered. However, researchers continue to explore the impact of other risk factors on brain health and prevention of dementia.
Dr Feng has conducted previous studies on the impacts of tea consumption and he explained that recent research which explored genetics—specifically the APOE gene—has different variants and the E4 allele which is present in about 20 percent of the population, increases risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
In the latest study, participants were split into two groups, depending on whether they carried the E4 allele. Findings demonstrated that gene carriers could see a reduction in cognitive impairment risk by up to 86 per cent, whereas those without the gene were likely to see a risk reduction of around 40 per cent.
This opens opportunities for tea manufacturers to produce tea products—such as green, oolong or black tea—which cater to the needs of the elderly, especially in the rapidly increasing ageing population in Asia.