Regular tea drinkers could be at a lower risk of cognitive decline, according to a recent study conducted by researchers from the National University of Singapore (NUS).

“Tea is one of the most widely consumed beverages in the world,” said Assistant Professor Feng Lei of NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine’s psychological medicine, who led the study.

“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.”

Potential neuroprotective compounds found in tea leaves

The local study was conducted over a seven-year period and involved 957 Chinese participants aged 55 years and above. The team assessed participants’ medical conditions, lifestyles and tea-drinking habits between years 2003 and 2005, and followed up with them every two years from 2006 to 2010.

Researchers found that habitual tea drinkers had a 61% reduced risk of cognitive impairment, compared to individuals who did not drink tea. Those with a gene known as ApoE4 – which increases an individual’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease – also had an 86% reduction in their risk of developing dementia.

Tea leaves contain bioactive compounds such as catechins and theaflavins that exhibit anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, and are protective against neurodegeneration as well as vascular damage to the brain, said researchers – and all that is required is 200ml of tea brewed from tea leaves once a day.

According to Feng, there is no significant difference between green tea, black tea, or oolong tea, however, the benefits are only found in tea brewed with leaves from the tea plant, and not fruit of flower teas. Results also found that adding milk to the tea will reduce the absorption of catechin.

Though the study only involved Chinese participants, results would be consistent across races and ethnic groups, said Feng.

"The biology of how the brain changes during the ageing process and the compounds from tea are all the same, so I don't think there will be a difference," he said.

Singapore sees rising numbers of individuals with dementia

With the rapidly ageing population in Singapore, Feng stressed that the findings of this study will have an important implication in prevention of dementia and neurocognitive disorders.

A 2015 nationwide study estimated that 1 in 10 individuals in Singapore aged 60 and above had dementia, with an approximated 40,000 patients suffering from dementia that year. The numbers are predicted to increase to 53,000 by the year 2020, and up to 187,000 by 2050.

"Despite high-quality drug trials, effective pharmacological therapy for neurocognitive disorders such as dementia remains elusive and current prevention strategies are far from satisfactory,” Feng said. MIMS

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