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Tea and health
Study says tea can help body fight illness

A new study finds that tea boosts the body's defenses against infection and contains a substance that might be turned into a drug to protect against disease, researchers say. Coffee does not have the same effect, they say.

A component in tea was found in laboratory experiments to prime the immune system to attack invading bacteria, viruses and fungi, according to a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences released Monday.

A second experiment, using human volunteers, showed that immune system blood cells from tea drinkers responded five times faster to germs than did the blood cells of coffee drinkers.

"We worked out the molecular aspects of this tea component in the test tube and then tested it on a small number of people to see if it actually worked in human beings," said Dr. Jack F. Bukowski, a researcher at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston and Harvard Medical School. The results, he said, gave clear proof that five cups of tea a day sharpened the body's disease defenses.

Penny Kris-Etherton, a nutrition specialist at Penn State University, a nutrition expert, said Bukowski's study adds to a growing body of evidence that tea is an effective disease fighter.

But she said the work needs to be confirmed in a much larger study.

The health effects of tea have been extensively studied. It has been linked to lower heart disease and cancer risk through the action of flavonoids, a type of antioxidant. Other studies have linked tea to helping combat osteoporosis, the brittle bone disease.

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