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Cup of tea brightens the day and the mind

If you are enjoying a cup of tea, you may be refreshing more than your palate, as research shows a good brew improves the attention span in those over 85-years-old.

In a study from Newcastle University, tea drinkers who enjoyed more than five cups a day were shown to have more focus and sustained attention span. They also demonstrated better psychomotor skills – those linking brain and movement. In tests, they showed better accuracy and speed of reaction which could help in daily activities such as completing a jigsaw, sewing or driving a car.

The researchers studied the tea-drinking habits of those over 85 living in their own homes or in assisted accommodation and found that those who drank more than five cups of tea a day – with or without milk – performed better at certain cognitive tests.

Dr Edward Okello, Principal Investigator, Human Nutrition Research Centre at Newcastle University led the research. He said: “The skills we see maintained in this group of very old may not only be due to the compounds present in tea, but it may also be the rituals of making a pot of tea or sharing a chat over a cup of tea are just as important.”

The research used data from the flagship Newcastle 85+ Study involving more than one thousand 85-year-olds from Newcastle and North Tyneside. Started in 2006, studies are still continuing to this day with around 200 participants as they become centenarians.

Research nurses gather information by visiting participants in their own homes to complete a health assessment made up of questionnaires, measurements, function tests and a fasting blood test.

Examining the consumption of black tea, Camellia sinensis, the researchers were looking for evidence that it protected against memory loss (cognitive decline). They found that higher tea consumption was associated with significantly better attention (focused and sustained attention), and psychomotor speed (complex tasks only) over the five years but there was no association between tea consumption and overall measures of memory (global cognitive function) or performance on simple speed tasks.

The researchers suggest the findings mean that black tea should be considered for the very old in any diet which aims to improve attention and psychomotor speed.

“We now know that enjoying a cup of tea quenches your thirst and has benefits for over 85s attention span,” adds Dr Okello, “What better excuse do we need for enjoying a cup together?”

Tea facts

  • Tea, the hot water infusion from the leaves of the plant Camellia sinensis, is the most consumed beverage in the world after water.
  • Black tea is the most commonly consumed tea and accounts for 76–78% of world tea consumption.

Reference

Tea consumption and measures of attention and psychomotor speed in the very old: the Newcastle 85+ longitudinal study. Edward Jonathan Okello, Nuno Mendonça, Blossom Stephan, Graciela Muniz-Terrera, Keith Wesnes and Mario Siervo. BMC Nutr. doi: 10.1186/s40795-020-00361-8.

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