tea could reduce risk of circulatory disease

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Tea drinkers take heart. People who drink tea each day significantly reduce their chances of atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, according to a study published this week in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Those who drank one or two cups a day lowered their risk by 46 percent. For those who drank four cups a day, the risk dropped by 69 percent. Women seem to benefit more by drinking tea, the second most consumed beverage in the world after water. And adding milk, honey, lemon or sugar do not diminish the positive health effects, experts said.

"If can be linked directly that consumption of tea prevents development of blockages, then obviously tea would become a very important part of our dietary counseling for patients who have heart trouble or are at risk for heart attack or stroke," said Dr. David Vorchheimer of the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine.

The beneficial effects of tea are probably due to bio-flavanoids, natural substances that act as powerful anti- oxidants, limiting the effects of free radicals in the body.

"Free radicals are very damaging because they can trigger a chain reaction," said Dr. Michael Gaziano of Brigham & Women's Hospital. "One free radical can damage thousands and thousands of lipid molecules. So the reaction, we like to stop it early on in the process."

Most studies supporting the health benefits of tea have concerned black tea, the most widely consumed tea in the world. Green tea also has anti-oxidant properties, but experts say more research is needed.

"If you have 1 or 2 percent of the population drinking one kind of herbal tea, and 1 or 2 percent of the population drinking another kind of herbal tea, it might be very difficult for us to see any kind of association given those small numbers," said Gaziano.

Researchers caution that more studies would be necessary to determine if tea is directly responsible for the health benefits.

"The tea itself might have had nothing to do with the prevention of heart attacks. The tea might have been a marker for patients who live a healthy lifestyle, people who avoid caffeine, who don't smoke, who exercise," said Vorchheimer.

Although tea has caffeine, most doctors see no reason why people should stop drinking it. Caffeine can increase heart rate and blood pressure, but a cup or two a day of tea, which has half the caffeine of coffee, probably will not hurt.