Tea Time for Your Bones

By Emily Courtney

A new study shows tea does more than warm you up on a chilly afternoon. According to research published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, women (age 70 to 85) who were regular tea drinkers had a 2.8 percent higher hip bone-mineral density (BMD) than non-tea drinkers. Plus, over four years, tea drinkers lost only 1.6 percent of their total hip BMD, compared to 4 percent for nondrinkers. Scientists believe the benefits come from the potent antioxidants—called catechin polyphenols—found only in tea made from the Camellia sinensis plant.

“Inflammation makes osteoclasts—the cells that break down bone—too active,” explains tea expert Jack Bukowski, MD, PhD, and assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. “The polyphenol antioxidants in tea may decrease inflammation, preserving the balance between bone break-down and bone formation.”

For best results, Bukowski recommends steeping tea in 180- to 190-degree (not boiling) water for three to five minutes. While a cup or two a day will help, you’ll need five to 10 cups (decaffeinated works fine, too) every day to reap the bone-boosting benefits.

Tea Type: White
Processing: Buds and young leaves are steamed or fired, and dried
Polyphenol Content: Highest catechin concentration

Tea Type: Green
Processing: Mature leaves may be withered, steamed/fired, and then dried
Polyphenol Content: High in catechins (30% to 40%)

Tea Type: Oolong
Processing: Leaves are semi-fermented, heated, and dried
Polyphenol Content: Lower catechin content than unfermented; theaflavin and thearubigin polyphenols formed during fermentation

Tea Type: Black
Processing: Leaves are fully fermented and dried
Polyphenol Content: Least amount of catechins (3% to 10%); rich in theaflavin and thearubigin