Aims: Experimental and clinical studies indicate that tea exerts protection against cardiovascular diseases. However, a question of much debate is whether addition of milk modifies the biological activities of tea. We studied the vascular effects of tea, with or without milk, in humans and elucidated the impact of individual milk proteins in cell culture experiments, with isolated rat aortic rings and by HPLC analysis.
Methods and results: A total of 16 healthy female volunteers consumed either 500 mL of freshly brewed black tea, black tea with 10% skimmed milk, or boiled water as control. Flow-mediated dilation (FMD) was measured by high-resolution vascular ultrasound before and 2 h after consumption. Black tea significantly improved FMD in humans compared with water, whereas addition of milk completely blunted the effects of tea. To support these findings, similar experiments were performed in isolated rat aortic rings and endothelial cells. Tea induced vasorelaxation in rat aortic rings and increased the activity of endothelial nitric oxide synthase by phosphorylation of the enzyme in endothelial cells. All effects were completely inhibited by the addition of milk to tea. Of the various kinds of milk proteins, the caseins accounted for these inhibiting effects of milk, probably by formation of complexes with tea catechins.
Conclusion: Milk counteracts the favourable health effects of tea on vascular function. This finding indicates the need for particular awareness in the interpretation and design of studies comprising nutritional flavonoids.