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Adding milk takes the benefits out of tea

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Milk Takes Good Out of Daily `Cuppa,' Study Shows (Update2)
By Angela Cullen

Jan. 9 (Bloomberg) -- Adding milk to tea takes all the good out of a daily ``cuppa,'' spelling bad news for nations such as the U.K. where the two usually go together, according to a report in the European Heart Journal published today.

Pigments found in tea are known to protect the heart by improving the ability of arteries to expand and relax. Proteins in milk known as caseins interact with these pigments, dulling the effects and wiping out all the health benefits, scientists and heart specialists at the University of Berlin's Charite Hospital said in the report.

Tea is second only to water as the world's most common drink, the researchers said. Tests comparing the health benefits of black tea with green tea, which isn't usually consumed with milk, may shed more light on why some tea-drinking nations show more heart benefits than others. The findings may have implications in cancer, since some research has suggested that tea may also have tumor-fighting properties.

``The well-established benefits of tea have been described in many studies,'' said Verena Stangl, professor of cardiology at the hospital, in the report. ``Our results thus provide a possible explanation for the lack of beneficial effects of tea on the risk of heart disease in the U.K., a country where milk is usually added.''

Four Cups a Day

The researchers, on three separate occasions, gave a group of 16 healthy women either half a liter of freshly brewed black tea or black tea with milk, or boiled water as a control. Using ultrasound, they measured artery expansion and relaxation in the forearm before and after.

They found that, while drinking tea helped to increase the blood flow compared with drinking water, adding milk wiped out the biological effect. Tests on rats gave similar results. Tea drinkers who customarily add milk may want to consider omitting it sometimes, the researchers said.

``We certainly don't want to dismiss the consumption of black tea,'' said Mario Lorenz, a researcher who worked with Stangl on the study. ``The results of our study merely attempt to encourage people to consider that, while the addition of milk may improve its taste, it may also lower its health-protective properties.''

People in the U.K. drink 165 million cups of tea a day, according to the London-based United Kingdom Tea Council, a not- for-profit organization that promotes the beverage. It recommends drinking four cups every day.

Milk's Nutrients

Tea is a natural source of fluoride and can protect against tooth decay and gum disease. Its antioxidant powers can ease the effects of aging by protecting against cell damage, the council said on its Web site.

``The best cup of tea in the world is the one that somebody makes for you,'' said William Gorman, the council's chairman, in a telephone interview. He disputed the study, saying milk also provides valuable nutrients, including calcium.

British and Irish people are the world's biggest tea drinkers, Gorman said. Almost 40 percent of those nations' daily fluid intake comes from tea, he said.

``Tea makes a terrific contribution,'' Gorman said. ``Heavens above, don't change your tea-drinking habits.''

Last Updated: January 9, 2007 09:03 EST

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