There’s a running joke on the hit television show Ted Lasso where Jason Sudeikis’s character, an American football coach transplanted to London, adamantly refuses the frequent cups of tea offered to him. Calling tea “garbage water,” and “horrible,” he’s baffled by why the British love it so much. As a former tea-hater myself, I can identify — but according to researchers, we should all be pouring ourselves a freshly brewed cup every day.
Drinking a daily “cuppa,” as the British call it, can cut the risk of developing dementia by 50 percent, a study published in The Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging in 2016 says. And for people who carry a gene that puts them at higher risk for Alzheimer’s disease (the APOE e4 gene), enjoying the beverage is even more important: Daily tea consumption could reduce their risk of cognitive decline by up to 86 percent.
The reason? It seems the bioactive compounds in tea leaves — catechins, theaflavins, thearubigins, and L-theanine, to name a few — have anti-inflammatory properties and antioxidants that help protect our brains from vascular damage and neurodegeneration.
Scientists conducted their research using data from 957 study participants from China (another tea-loving culture). The subjects, aged 55 and up, who drank green, black, and oolong tea every day, were found to be at lower risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s, prompting the study’s lead author, Feng Lei, to issue a statement urging people to drink more tea.
“Tea is one of the most widely consumed beverages in the world,” said Lei, who is an assistant professor at the Department of Psychological Medicine at the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine. “The data from our study suggests 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.”
Dementia, which affects more than 55 million people worldwide, is on the rise. The World Health Organization (WHO) says the number of people suffering from dementia is expected to reach 78 million over the next decade — and by 2050, it could skyrocket to 139 million.
Could warding off dementia and Alzheimer’s really be as simple as sipping some tea? “Our understanding of the detailed biological mechanisms [behind tea’s protective effect] is still very limited, so we do need more research to find out definitive answers,” said Lei. Still, it seems worth a try — especially since tea is readily available, inexpensive, and (despite Ted Lasso’s opinion) can be quite tasty!
Not a tea lover? Here’s how I came around to appreciating it: Find a flavored tea (like Tazo’s Organic Chai, $5.60 from iHerb.com) and add a splash of almond milk along with a generous squeeze of honey. Voilà, you’ve got dessert! (Bonus: It’s a low-calorie treat, as well.)
However you take your tea, learning to love this popular beverage could be one of the best things you can do to keep your brain sharp as you age.