Do tea drinkers have better organised brains?

Heath News — That tea break could be doing more than just giving you and injection of caffeine. A recent study from the National University of Singapore revealed that regular tea drinkers have better organised brain regions – and this is associated with healthy cognitive function – compared to non-tea drinkers.

The discovery was made after examining 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,” explained team leader Assistant Professor Feng Lei, who is from the Department of Psychological Medicine at the National University of Singapore (NUS) Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine.
The research was carried out together with collaborators from the University of Essex and University of Cambridge, and the findings were published in scientific journal Aging.

Effect on brain networks

Past studies have demonstrated that tea intake is beneficial to human health , and the positive effects include mood improvement , reduced risk of glaucoma and cardiovascular disease prevention . In fact, results of a longitudinal study led by Asst Prof Feng which was published in 2017 showed that daily consumption of tea can reduce the risk of cognitive decline in older persons by 50%. Following this discovery, Asst Prof Feng and his team further explored the direct effect of tea on brain networks.

The research team recruited 36 adults aged 60 and above, and gathered data about their health, lifestyle, and psychological well-being. The elderly participants also had to undergo neuropsychological tests and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The study was carried out from 2015 to 2018.

Do your weights workout first. Experts say weight training should be done first, because it's a higher intensity exercise compared to cardio. Your body is better able to handle weight training early in the workout because you're fresh and you have the energy you need to work it. Conversely, cardiovascular exercise should be the last thing you do at the gym, because it helps your body recover by increasing blood flow to the muscles, and flushing out lactic acid, which builds up in the muscles while you're weight training. It’s the lactic acid that makes your muscles feel stiff and sore.

Upon analysing the participants’ cognitive performance and imaging results, the research team found that individuals 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.

Keeping the flow of information going

“Take the analogy of road traffic as an example – consider brain regions as destinations, while the connections between brain regions are roads. When a road system is better organised, the movement of vehicles and passengers is more efficient and uses less resources. Similarly, when the connections between brain regions are more structured, information processing can be performed more efficiently,” explained Asst Prof Feng.

He added, “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.”

This small but interesting study needs to be repeated on a larger scale. The team next plans to examine the effects of tea, as well as the bioactive compounds in tea that can have on cognitive decline.

Reach your goals. Earn Presidential recognition for reaching your healthy eating and physical activity goals. Log on to the President's Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition website to sign up for the Presidential Active Lifestyle Award (PALA+).