UCLA’s Lenore Arab, PhD and colleagues used data on more than 4,800 men and women ages 65 and older from the Cardiovascular Health Study to examine the relationship between drinking tea and coffee and changes in cognitive function over time. Study participants were followed for up to 14 years for naturally-occurring cognitive decline using the Mini-Mental State Examination administered at the start of the study and annually up to 8 times. Tea and coffee drinking was recorded with a food frequency questionnaire. The researchers found that people who consumed tea at a variety of levels had significantly less cognitive decline—anywhere from 17 to 37 percent— than non-tea drinkers. More specifically, study participants who drank tea 5-10 times/year, 1-3 times/month, 1-4 times/week and 5+ times/week had average annual rates of decline 17 percent, 32 percent, 37 percent and 26 percent lower respectively than non-tea drinkers. According to the scientists, coffee consumption did not show any effect except at the very highest level of consumption, where it was associated with a significantly decreased decline of 20 percent. "The suggestion of a positive effect of tea consumption in slowing cognitive decline requires further investigation," Dr. Arab said. "Interestingly, the observed associations are unlikely to be related to caffeine, which is present in coffee at levels 2-3 times higher than in tea." Editor’s note: To understand why tea might have this beneficial effect, separate studies continue to look at the role of antioxidants in tea for their possible ability to prevent cognitive decline.
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