Coffee, tea, and your heart — the research is in

I’ve written quite a bit recently about the health effects of coffee, but it’s been a while since I’ve extolled the virtues of tea. But it looks like maybe it’s time I did. According to a new study just published in the American Journal of Medicine, tea may be key in heart disease prevention.

The study found that moderate tea drinking can help to slow progression of coronary artery calcium and reduce the risk of cardiovascular events.

Coronary artery calcium (CAC) is a great way of keeping tabs on your arteries and how healthy they are. The buildup of calcium in the arteries is a very early marker of heart diseases like atherosclerosis, coronary heart disease, or coronary microvascular disease.

The CAC scan is a simple CT test. It’s not covered by insurance (no surprise), but it’s inexpensive and tells you how healthy your coronary arteries are down to the cellular level. If your CAC is low, your risk for having a cardiovascular event is also low. If it’s high, you may already have a fair amount of coronary disease.

In this study, researchers looked at the prevalence of coronary artery calcium in 6,500 people from across different ethnic backgrounds. They found that almost half had no calcium buildup in their coronary arteries. About a quarter had a score of 1 to 99, and the other quarter had scores of 100 or higher.

The researchers then compared the data against answers to questionnaires about coffee and tea consumption. They found that people who drank one or more cups of tea a day were less likely to have coronary artery calcium scores of 100 or higher. The tea drinkers also had reduced progression of calcium in the arteries. And the tea drinkers also had lower incidence of actual cardiovascular disease events like stroke and heart attack.

There is pretty solid evidence that flavonoids found in tea can be beneficial for coronary disease.

Coffee, on the other hand, didn’t have much impact on heart health in this study.

But if you’re a coffee drinker, don’t despair. As I mentioned above, I’ve reported on numerous studies that do show a positive health benefit. Plus, coffee has plenty of antioxidants, so I wouldn’t write it off just yet.

This is far from the first study to look at coffee or tea and cardiovascular disease, but this one stands out in two important ways.

First, it didn’t look at just coffee or tea. It looked at both, while also examining effects on coronary artery calcium, progression, and outcomes. That’s an important distinction because it allowed the researchers to establish more than just a causal relationship. It strengthened the evidence of a direct association.

And perhaps even more importantly, this study looked at a diverse population. Most previous studies have looked at just one ethnic group, and findings in one ethnic group don’t always apply to other groups.

Unfortunately, the study didn’t distinguish between black and green tea. But given the long history of research on the health benefits of both, you really can’t go wrong either way.

So if you’re not already drinking tea, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to add a cup or two of tea to your daily routine.