Tea Time: The Worlds Favorite Beverage Helps Build Strong Bones

Healthnotes Newswire (November 21, 2007)—Tea is the most popular beverage in the world, and tea drinking is widely thought to be a healthy habit, linked to lower risks of heart disease and cancer. Now research shows that older women who drink tea have stronger bones that are better preserved over time.

Bone mineral density—the most accurate measure of fracture risk—naturally diminishes in women after menopause, leaving them at risk for hip fracture. Scientists and healthcare providers agree that regular weight-bearing physical activity (such as walking or jogging) and getting enough calcium and vitamin D are the best ways to preserve bone mineral density.

The new study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, is based on data from a previous trial that looked at the effect of calcium supplements on hip fracture risk. The 1,500 healthy women who participated in the original study were over 70 years old and were monitored for hip fracture for five years. Bone mineral density at the hip was measured after one and five years.

At the end of the study, the women were asked about the amount of tea, coffee, and alcohol they drank, and tea drinkers were found to have higher bone mineral density than those who did not drink tea. A smaller group—164 of the women from the study—were included in an analysis of bone mineral density change during the four years between measurements. Although all of the women experienced bone loss, it was less in tea drinkers: their bone mineral density dropped only 1.6% compared with a 4% drop in non-tea drinkers.

These findings are consistent with those from several previous studies which suggest that tea drinking over the long term has a beneficial effect on bone mineral density. Tea is a source of phytoestrogens, plant chemicals that have weak estrogen-like actions, that could stimulate bone-building, especially in postmenopausal women. Tea is also rich in antioxidants that might protect bones.

Tea drinkers should note that caffeine intake (mostly from coffee) has been associated with reduced bone mineral density and increased fracture risk. Although tea has about half the caffeine of coffee, it is possible that green tea, which has between one-fourth and one-tenth as much caffeine as coffee, or decaffeinated black tea could have more bone-protective effect than black tea.

“Overall, our data support the concept that tea intake has beneficial effects on bone structure by reducing bone loss,” the study’s authors conclude, pointing out that the protective effect of tea drinking was comparable to getting regular exercise and taking in adequate calcium.

(Am J Clin Nutr 2007;86:1243–7)

Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice in Quechee, VT, and does extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.

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