Coffee vs. tea – the health benefits and risks

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If the first thing you do when you wake up every morning is head for the kitchen and switch on the kettle, you’re not alone. In the UK, we drink around 70 million cups of coffee a day, and 165 million cups of tea. But are our favourite drinks really doing us any good? We take a balanced look at the health benefits and risks of coffee versus tea.

Coffee benefits

Studies have shown that coffee can have some unexpected health benefits, such as helping to prevent type 2 diabetes, protecting the liver against diseases such as cirrhosis (damage typically caused by alcohol) and cancer.

For men over the age of 40, it can decrease the risk of developing gout, a very painful condition caused by a decreased ability to metabolise uric acid.

It can also reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, improve reaction times and short term recall and help protect the heart against disease.

100mg of coffee ( a standard sized mug) taken in conjunction with common over-the-counter painkillers such as paracetamol can increase the efficiency of the pain relief.

Scientists are investigating the chemicals found in coffee as a new way to to treat heart disease and insomnia.

(The health benefits of coffee are mainly related to caffeine, and may not apply to decaffeinated coffee.)

Coffee risks

As every coffee drinker knows, coffee and in particular black coffee can cause tooth staining. Help to mitigate the effect by cleaning your teeth afterwards, drinking black coffee through a straw and visiting your dentist regularly for checkups.

A Danish study found that drinking over eight cups of coffee a day can increase the risk of stillbirths, so limit your intake during pregnancy.

A small 2010 study concluded that coffee may reduce the blood flow to the heart, although the National Health Service subsequently commented that ‘actual effect was modest and unlikely to have any adverse health effects. It is normal for arteries to dilate and constrict throughout the day, for example, with exercise.’

Tea benefits

Drinking three or four cups of tea every day can decrease your chances of a heart attack. Tea also helps prevent and management type 1 diabetes.

Different types of tea carry different health benefits. Green tea, made from unfermented leaves with a pale colour and slightly bitter flavour, can help prevent liver diseases in men who drink more than 10 cups a day. It can also cut the risk of oesophageal (cancer of the gullet) in women by more than half, and may help protect against lung cancer.

The anti-oxidants in both green and white tea (a lightly oxidized tea mainly from China) may have an anti-aging effect, while white tea is used as a slimming aid.

A study showed that tea drinkers who drank black tea (fully fermented, ‘normal’ tea) four times a day for six weeks were found to have reduced levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

All tea contains fluoride which protects teeth, and is hydrating.

Dr Duane Mellor, assistant professor of dietetics at the university of Nottingham, speaking in an article in the Daily Mail, 14 November 2014, said that he doesn’t advise his clients to give up tea or coffee as both are healthier than sugary soft drinks. He did warn, though, against adding too much sugar to your tea or coffee.

He added, “Both have benefits, and people should go for what they prefer.”

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