Tea: 6 Brilliant Effects on the Brain

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It’s about more than just caffeine: two other components of tea may provide important benefits to the brain.

The British are rightly famous for their tea drinking.

They–I should say ‘we’, as, yes, your humble author is a Brit–manage to down 165 million cups every day, and there are only 62 million of us.

Only the Irish drink more tea than us per person.

We all know about the effects of caffeine on the brain, but research has found two more ingredients of tea with important effects…

1. Green tea may help fight Alzheimer’s

Scientists have found that a natural component of green tea may eventually provide a way of curing Alzheimer’s disease (Rushworth et al., 2013).

Early-stage research has found that a component of green tea–epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG)–can disrupt the build up of plaques in the brain, which is what causes the cells to die.

Eventually this may help lead to a cure for the crippling disease.

2. Old brains love tea

While we’ll have to wait for the Alzheimer’s research to progress, tea has been shown to have more immediate effects.

A study of 2,031 people aged between 70 and 74 found that those who drank tea–which contain micronutrient polyphenols, like EGCG–had better cognitive performance (Nurk et al., 2009).

Polyphenols are also contained in red wine, cocoa and coffee.

3. Improved cognition

You hardly need me to tell you that tea makes you feel alert, but it’s down to more than just the caffeine…

Tea also contains theanine, a psychoactive amino acid almost unique to tea.

Although we know much less about the effects of theanine than we do caffeine, there are multiple studies connecting it with enhanced cognitive performance (Einother & Martens, 2013).

4. That famous calming effect

Not only is theanine responsible for improving cognition, it also provides the famous calming effect of tea.

When theanine is given to people, their brains exhibit more α-waves, which are indicative of relaxation without drowsiness (Juneja et al., 1999)

5. Tea boosts memory

Theanine, along with EGCG, has also been implicated in improvements to memory.

Korean research by Chung et al. (2011) has found that green tea extract and L-theanine can produce memory improvements in people suffering from mild cognitive impairments.

Mouse studies on EGCG suggest that it helps memory by increasing the production of new brain cells (Wang et al., 2012)

6. Better mental health

All the benefits of drinking tea mean it could be a factor in improved overall mental health.

Hozawa et al. (2009) tested this in a population study of 42,093 Japanese. This study found that drinking green tea was associated with less psychological distress.

The same positive effect of drinking tea has been found in 1,058 elderly Japanese people (Niu et al., 2009).

Theanine has even been tested in the treatment of schizophrenia with some success in reducing anxiety and other symptoms (Ritsner et al., 2011).

Tea for me

Of course tea is a relatively benign substance and most of the effects described here are small.

But when you add these potential benefits to its other pleasures, tea becomes just that little bit more enjoyable.

And, as Henry James said:

“…there are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.”

I’ll raise a cup to that.

→ Also, check out What Caffeine Does to Your Brain.

Image credit: Thomas Abbs

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About the author


Dr Jeremy Dean is a psychologist and the author of PsyBlog. His latest book is "Making Habits, Breaking Habits: How to Make Changes That Stick". You can follow PsyBlog by email, by RSS feed, on Twitter and Google+.

Published: 22 November 2013

Text: © All rights reserved.

Images: Creative Commons License