Your daily cuppa could improve brain health

Thursday, 26 September, 2019

Your daily cuppa could improve brain health

A collaboration between researchers from the National University of Singapore (NUS), the University of Essex and the University of Cambridge revealed that regular tea drinkers have better organised brain regions — associated with healthy cognitive brain function — compared to non-tea drinkers. The discovery was made after examining the neuroimaging data of 36 older adults.

“Our results offer the first evidence of positive contribution of tea drinking to brain structure, and suggest that drinking tea regularly has a protective effect against age-related decline in brain organisation,” said team leader Assistant Professor Feng Lei, who is from the Department of Psychological Medicine at the NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine.

The findings of the research were published in the scientific journal Aging in June 2019. Past studies have illustrated the benefits of tea intake to human health, such as mood improvement and cardiovascular disease prevention. A longitudinal study published in 2017 by Assistant Professor Feng revealed that daily consumption of tea can reduce the risk of cognitive decline in older persons by 50%.

Following this discovery, Feng and his team further analysed the effect of tea on brain networks, by recruiting 36 adults aged over 60 and gathering data about their health, lifestyle and psychological wellbeing. The researchers then performed neuropsychological tests and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to analyse the effects of tea consumption on brain activity in their participants. The study was carried out from 2015 to 2018.

Analysis of the participants’ cognitive performance and imaging results revealed that those who consumed either green tea, oolong tea or black tea at least four times a week for about 25 years had brain regions that were interconnected in a more efficient way. The results were presented as analogous to road traffic, with brain regions described as destinations and the connections between brain regions as roads. Better organised road systems facilitates efficient vehicle and passenger movement, using fewer resources. Similarly, when connections between brain regions are more structured, information can be processed more efficiently.

“We have shown in our previous studies that tea drinkers had better cognitive function as compared to non-tea drinkers. Our current results relating to brain network indirectly support our previous findings by showing that the positive effects of regular tea drinking are the result of improved brain organisation brought about by preventing disruption to interregional connections,” Feng said.

Due to the intricate connection between cognitive performance and brain organisation, more research is required to understand how functions like memory emerge from brain circuits, and how certain interventions better preserve cognition during the ageing process. Feng and his team now have plans to study the effects of tea, alongside its bioactive compounds, on cognitive decline.

Image credit: © STUDIOS

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