A team of researchers from King's College London examined previously-published studies in search of the health benefits of tea consumption, and found that it contains powerful antioxidants called polyphenols, which prevent cellular damage. The researchers concluded that drinking three to four cups of tea per day reduces the risk of heart attack, protects against cancer, strengthens bones and protects against tooth plaque and decay.
"Drinking tea is actually better for you than drinking water," says Dr. Carrie Ruxton, a public health nutritionist at King's College London and the study's lead author. "Water is essentially replacing fluid. Tea replaces fluids and contains antioxidants, so it's got two things going for it."
Though many consumers believe that tea -- which often contains caffeine -- is dehydrating, Ruxton says such an idea is an urban myth. "Studies on caffeine have found very high doses dehydrate and everyone assumes that caffeine-containing beverages dehydrate," she says. "But even if you had a really, really strong cup of tea or coffee, which is quite hard to make, you would still have a net gain of fluid."
Ruxton's team found that average tea consumption was less than three cups per day in the UK, and that many younger people were replacing tea with sugary soft drinks. The study's findings were backed by the British Nutrition Foundation and the Tea Council, which funded the research.
"These findings help confirm the extraordinary health benefits of drinking tea, a drink that is essentially made of herbs soaked in water," said Mike Adams, a consumer health advocate and holistic nutritionist. "What consumers need to keep in mind, however, is that adding cream or sweeteners to the tea can nullify any potential health benefits and actually make the drink harmful to health. If you're going to use sweeteners," he added, "always use either stevia or agave nectar."