Members of the flavonoid family known as catechins are a major component of black tea. In an article in this month's American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Arts et al. examined the health benefits of long-term consumption of catechins. Their 10-year prospective study of elderly Dutch residents showed a significantly lower death rate from ischemic heart disease (IHD) among subjects who consumed the highest amount of tea.
The 806 male participants, averaging age 71 in 1985, were followed until 1995, with complete dietary and medical examinations in 1985 and 1990. Epidemiological evaluation of the health effects of catechins has previously been difficult due to the lack of information on the exact catechin composition of foods. For this study, the authors measured the catechin content of 120 frequently consumed plant foods, using the data to divide the subjects into low, medium and high quintiles of catechin consumption.
Among the men in the highest quintile, 87% of catechins in the diet came from black tea; whereas those in lower quintiles ate more foods in which catechins were less concentrated. High catechin intake was associated with other practices characteristic of a healthy lifestyle, such as refraining from smoking, eating more fruits and vegetables, and increased activity levels.
After 10 years of follow-up, 374 men had died, with 90 deaths from IHD and 47 from stroke. Men in the highest quintile of catechin consumption were half as likely to die from IHD, even when adjusting for other confounding factors such as age. However, catechin consumption was not associated with incidence or risk of death from stroke. The authors suggest that catechins may protect LDL cholesterol from oxidative damage, thus interfering in the inflammatory process that leads to IHD.
Arts, Ilja CW, et al. Catechin intake might explain the inverse relation between tea consumption and ischemic heart disease: the Zutphen Elderly Study. Am J Clin Nutr 2001;74:227-32.
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