Drinking three or more cups of tea a day is as good for
you as drinking plenty of water and may even have extra health
benefits, say researchers.
The work in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition dispels
the common belief that tea dehydrates.
Tea not only rehydrates as well as water does, but it can also
protect against heart disease and some cancers, UK nutritionists
Experts believe flavonoids are the key ingredient in tea that
These polyphenol antioxidants are found in many foods and
plants, including tea leaves, and have been shown to help prevent
Public health nutritionist Dr Carrie Ruxton, and colleagues at
Kings College London, looked at published studies on the health
effects of tea consumption.
They found clear evidence that drinking three to four cups of
tea a day can cut the chances of having a heart attack.
Some studies suggested tea consumption protected against cancer,
although this effect was less clear-cut.
Other health benefits seen included protection against tooth
plaque and potentially tooth decay, plus bone strengthening.
Dr Ruxton said: "Drinking tea is actually better for you than
drinking water. Water is essentially replacing fluid. Tea replaces
fluids and contains antioxidants so it's got two things going for
She said it was an urban myth that tea is dehydrating.
"Studies on caffeine have found very high doses dehydrate and
everyone assumes that caffeine-containing beverages dehydrate. 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
"Also, a cup of tea contains fluoride, which is good for the
teeth," she added.
There was no evidence that tea consumption was harmful to
health. However, research suggests that tea can impair the body's
ability to absorb iron from food, meaning people at risk of anaemia
should avoid drinking tea around mealtimes.
Dr Ruxton's team found average tea consumption was just under
three cups per day.
She said the increasing popularity of soft drinks meant many
people were not drinking as much tea as before.
"Tea drinking is most common in older people, the 40 plus age
range. In older people, tea sometimes made up about 70% of fluid
intake so it is a really important contributor," she said.
Claire Williamson of the British Nutrition Foundation said:
"Studies in the laboratory have shown potential health
"The evidence in humans is not as strong and more studies need
to be done. But there are definite potential health benefits from
the polyphenols in terms of reducing the risk of diseases such as
heart disease and cancers.
"In terms of fluid intake, we recommend 1.5-2 litres per day and
that can include tea. Tea is not dehydrating. It is a healthy
The Tea Council provided funding for the work. Dr Ruxton
stressed that the work was independent.