July 2, 2008 -- Drinking green tea rapidly improves the health of the delicate cells lining the blood vessels and helps lower one's risk of heart disease.
Researchers writing in the latest issue of the European Journal of Cardiovascular Prevention and Rehabilitation have found that people who drink green tea have better blood vessel function just 30 minutes later. Specifically, green tea improves the function of endothelial cells. Endothelial cell dysfunction plays a key role in the development of clogged arteries, a process called atherosclerosis.
The finding adds to a growing body of evidence that suggests that powerful antioxidants in green tea called flavonoids may protect the heart. Other flavonoid-rich foods include red grapes, red wine, and dark chocolate. The study authors say their results are the first to show that green tea offers a short-term improvement in the health of arteries. Black tea has previously been linked to short- and long-term improvements in endothelial function.
For the study, Nikolaos Alexopoulos and colleagues at the Athens Medical School in Greece randomly assigned 14 healthy volunteers approximately 30 years of age to a cup of green tea, a beverage containing the same amount of caffeine as green tea, or hot water on three separate occasions.
The researchers used a technique called flow-mediated dilation (FMD) to measure blood flow in each participant's arm at 30, 90, and 120 minutes after they drank their beverage. FMD is a noninvasive test that uses a blood pressure cuff and ultrasound to see how blood flows in the brachial artery when the arm is gently squeezed. The brachial artery runs from the shoulder to the elbow. The artery should get wider when blood flow in the area increases, but diseases such as atherosclerosis hamper this effect. FMD is an independent predictor of endothelial function and heart disease risk.
After drinking green tea, the subjects experienced significantly increased artery widening (dilation), with the highest increase noted at 30 minutes. The caffeinated beverage and hot water did not produce any significant changes in the same individuals.