Scientists with the U.S. Department of Agriculture said they found consumers who drank black tea for three weeks experienced a decrease of between 7 and 11% in their low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or so-called bad cholesterol.
Exactly what caused the LDL cholesterol level to drop in those who consumed tea was unknown, but tests are being conducted to determine if the beverage slows the body's ability to absorb LDL cholesterol.
There was no effect on the level of HDL, or the good type of cholesterol, according to the study of a small group of individuals. Cholesterol is distributed in the body attached to proteins called lipoproteins. Studies suggest that high levels of HDL cholesterol reduce the risk of a heart attack, while high levels of LDL cholesterol increase the risk.
In the small six-week study, 15 participants were given either 5 cups of black tea per day for three weeks or coloured water that tasted like tea. The two groups then switched what they were given to drink after three weeks. LDL levels dropped by an average of 7.5% during the three weeks when the individuals consumed tea rather than the coloured water blend.
The scientists also tested another group to rule out the effect of caffeine. In that group, 12 of the original 15 individuals were given water-flavored-like tea with caffeine levels similar to what is found in tea. Those who had regular tea saw their LDL levels drop about 11% compared with the caffeinated placebo.
Scientists are studying the bioactivity of tea compounds for use in treating a wide-range of diseases. Research is currently being conducted on the effect tea has on blood glucose levels, the body's metabolism and cancer.
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