Objective: To consider whether consumption of black tea has a positive or negative impact on health.
Design: Databases were searched for relevant epidemiological and clinical studies published between 1990 and 2004.
Results: Clear evidence was found for coronary heart disease (CHD), where an intake of > or = 3 cups per day related to risk reduction. The mechanism could involve the antioxidant action of tea polyphenols. While experimental models have suggested that flavonoids attenuated cancer risk, epidemiological studies failed to demonstrate a clear effect for tea, although there is moderate evidence for a slightly positive or no effect of black tea consumption on colorectal cancer. Studies on cancer were limited by sample sizes and insufficient control of confounders. There is moderate evidence suggestive of a positive effect of black tea consumption on bone mineral density although studies were few. There is little evidence to support the effect of tea on dental plaque inhibition but evidence to support the contribution of tea to fluoride intakes and thus theoretical protection against caries. There was no credible evidence that black tea (in amounts typically consumed) was harmful. Normal hydration was consistent with tea consumption when the caffeine content was < 250 mg per cup. A moderate caffeine intake from tea appeared to improve mental performance, although sample sizes were small. There was no evidence that iron status could be harmed by tea drinking unless populations were already at risk from anaemia.
Conclusions: There was sufficient evidence to show risk reduction for CHD at intakes of > or = 3 cups per day and for improved antioxidant status at intakes of one to six cups per day. A maximum intake of eight cups per day would minimise any risk relating to excess caffeine consumption. Black tea generally had a positive effect on health.