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The genes and cells of tea drinkers are biologically younger than non-drinkers according to new research from China. It seems that tea protects our telomeres. Telomeres are expendable caps on the end of our genes. They function as protective gear for our DNA during the replication of cells. Telomeres are actually cannon fodder; they are expendable DNA sequences at the end of chromosomes that naturally shorten as cells replicate and age. If the telomeres werent present then the actual DNA would shorten and the cell would die and not be replaced; enough cells die and you disappear.
The ageing and lifespan of normal, healthy cells are linked to the so-called telomere shortening mechanism, which limits cells to a fixed number of divisions. During cell replication, the telomeres function by ensuring the cell's chromosomes do not fuse with each other or rearrange, which can lead to cancer. Elizabeth Blackburn, a telomere pioneer at the University of California San Francisco, likened telomeres to the ends of shoelaces, without which the lace would unravel. With each replication the telomeres shorten, and when the telomeres are totally consumed, the cells are destroyed (apoptosis). Previous studies have also reported that telomeres are highly susceptible to oxidative stress. Some experts have noted that telomere length may be a marker of biological ageing.
Researchers from the Chinese University of Hong Kong looked at the length of telomeres. They noted that the telomeres of people who drank an average of three cups of tea per day were about 4.6 kilobases longer than people who drank an average of a quarter of a cup a day. This average difference in the telomere length corresponds to “approximately a difference of 5 years of life,” wrote the researchers, led by Dr. Ruth Chan. “The antioxidative properties of tea and its constituent nutrients may protect telomeres from oxidative damage in the normal ageing process,” wrote the authors in the British Journal of Nutrition. Dr Chan stated in an interview that “Chinese tea” in their study refers to both black and green tea, but added: “Our data showed that majority of Chinese tea consumed by our subjects were of green tea.”
The studys findings are based on the telomere lengths of 976 Chinese men and 1,030 Chinese women aged over 65. The participants dietary habits were evaluated using a food frequency questionnaire. Overall, out of all foods, only tea consumption was associated with telomere length. The highest intakes, three cups or 750 millilitres per day, was associated with significantly longer telomere lengths, compared to people who drank 70 millilitres per day or less, said the researchers. The study is published online ahead of print in the British Journal of Nutrition.
Commentary by Jerry Hickey, R.Ph.; Researchers from the US National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences recently reported that telomere length was longer in regular multivitamin users in their cohort of 586 women aged between 35 and 74. Their findings are published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.