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The truth about tea
Experts are keen to point out that we shouldn't read too much into this study, and that other studies have suggested increased consumption of tea can actually lower the risk of certain types of cancer. "'We're lacking the complete picture because we don't know what other dietary factors were involved," points out Dr Carrie Ruxton of the Tea Advisory Panel. "Other research suggests tea has a protective or neutral effect on prostate cancer, and the authors acknowledge there is no known ingredient in tea that is cancer-causing."
The age issue
The study in question, conducted by Dr Kashif Shafique, began in 1970 and spanned 37 years. Participants were aged between 21 and 75. Just under a quarter of the 6,016 men were heavy tea drinkers, consuming seven or more cups a day. Of these, 6.4% developed prostate cancer over the next 37 years. However, researchers also discovered that the men who drank the most tea were more likely to be teetotal and lead exceptionally healthy lifestyles. Scientists have pointed out that these men would naturally be more likely to get prostate cancer because the fact that they were at a lower risk of other conditions such as heart disease effectively gave them more time to develop the cancer.
Additionally, critics point out that several other key factors were ignored. "Whilst it does appear that, out of the 6,000 men who took part in this study, those who drank seven or more cups of tea each day had an increased risk of developing prostate cancer, this did not take into consideration family history or any other dietary elements other than tea, coffee and alcohol intake," says Dr Kate Holmes, head of research at the Prostate Cancer Charity.
It's also worth noting that several other studies found that the type of flavonoids found in tea can inhibit the development of stomach, colon, skin, breast and prostate cancer in animals. "Tea contains a number of antioxidants, such as flavonoids, which have been proven to reduce inflammation and risk of cancer," says Sean Farrell, renowned tea expert and founder of www.chateaurougetea.com. "It must be noted that any research is always done in isolation and there are a number of contributing factors to overall health that also need to be considered."
Back to black
Indeed, Sean Farrell points out that the health benefits of black tea, which is what the men who took part in this study drank, are often underestimated. "Black tea, like green tea, has been associated with a reduction in your risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke and diabetes," points out Sean. "Other benefits of the powerful phytochemicals found in tea include stronger bones, teeth and connective tissue, as well as healthier hair and digestive tracts."
Sean emphasises that by not looking at the bigger picture it's easy to jump to the wrong conclusions. "An example is that black tea has, in the past, been linked to an increase in throat cancers in Iran," says Sean. "But recent research showed that the population included in the study drank a large quantity of boiling hot tea all day long, and it was the hot liquid which was linked to the higher risk of cancer, not the tea itself."
The caffeine conundrum
Sean adds that we're actually better off getting our caffeine fix from a cup of tea rather than a double espresso. "The caffeine in a cup of tea is absorbed differently than that in coffee, so you get less of that 'sudden hit' followed by the downer after it wears off," he points out. "Also remember that because tea has less caffeine than coffee, you can drink more cups of tea, which helps to quench your thirst or warm you up in the winter. Less caffeine also means you have less chance of palpitations and anxiety if you are caffeine-sensitive."
Green or black?
While green tea is often thought of as the healthier tea, it's generally weaker than black tea, which means we have to drink more to enjoy those health benefits. "Green tea has always been touted as good for health, as it contains less caffeine than black tea (per cup) and is produced in a manner that preserves more of the natural oils and health properties," says Sean. "But remember that because black tea is denser (more dried) than green tea, you use more black tea leaves per cup than green tea. Weight per weight green tea and black tea are very similar."
In summary, there's no need to ditch your morning cuppa just yet. "We don't yet know which lifestyle factors increase men's risk of prostate cancer, and this study doesn't really help clarify what they are," says Henry Scowcroft, science information manager at Cancer Research UK. "Although it suggests a weak statistical link between prostate cancer risk and drinking a lot of tea it doesn't say whether this is a cause-and-effect relationship, nor does it suggest how tea could potentially increase the risk of the disease. Until we know more, the British love affair with a nice cuppa can continue uninterrupted."