- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Disappointment could be brewing in that teapot. All those big health benefits in tea are destroyed with the addition of a little milk or cream, at least according to German researchers who insist that the traditional comforting cup be spartan — and dairy-free.

In the past decade, researchers around the globe have extolled the virtues of tea. Loaded with antioxidants, tea may reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, osteoporosis and a variety of cancers. It is also said to curb diabetes, dementia and bad breath, while boosting the immune system and aiding weight loss.

Next to water, tea is the most popular beverage in the world. Americans drink 50 billion servings a year — the British 71 billion. And while the proverbial “one lump or two” has not come under fire, that polite tilt of the pitcher is now verboten.

Clear tea is circulation-friendly.

“We found that whereas drinking tea significantly increases the ability of the artery to relax and expand to accommodate blood flow compared with drinking water, the addition of milk completely prevents this biological effect,” said molecular biologist Mario Lorenz, who led the research at the University of Berlin’s Charite Hospital.

His study relied on a select group of volunteers: 16 healthy older women who drank black Darjeeling tea with and without milk, their artery function measured before and after with ultrasound. Clear tea enhanced blood flow; tea with milk did not. The researchers repeated the experiment with heart tissue from lab rats, with similar results — ultimately concluding that milk proteins overwhelmed healthful antioxidants, while caffeine and other substances remained intact.

“This is a controversial area,” said Jeffrey Blumberg, director of the Antioxidants Research Laboratory at Tufts University and a veteran researcher of tea’s health benefits. He also serves as an adviser on the subject for both the Food and Drug Administration and the New York-based Tea Council.

“The findings from the rats are easy to dismiss. Several similar studies have not found any interaction in which the casein in milk binds to the antioxidants known as catechins and inhibits their benefits, however. I wish this study had measured blood levels of catechins in the women as well,” Mr. Blumberg added.

Still, the German team is convinced their research is conclusive.

“Up until now, it’s not been known whether adding milk to tea, as widely practiced in the United Kingdom and some other countries, influences these protective qualities,” said Dr. Verena Stangl, a cardiologist.

It’s all “bad news for tea-drinking nations like the British, who normally add milk,” the researchers noted in their study, published yesterday in the European Heart Journal.

They suggested that the British omit milk at least part of the time, further complicating the 300-year-old debate among those who add milk to the cup before tea, and those who insist it must be added to the tea itself, according to the Times of London yesterday.

The study was “milking tea of its goodness,” according to the Australian, a newspaper in Sydney.

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