New research from the University of Uppsala in Sweden has proven that drinking tea causes epigenetic changes in women. The team published their results in the Human Molecular Genetics medical journal. The study was led by Weronica Ek from the university’s Department of Immunology, Genetics and Pathology.
Epigenetics is the study of bodily changes caused by variations in the way genes express themselves. While the underlying genetic codes stay the same, affected genes act differently when influenced by environmental and lifestyle factors.
Previous studies have conclusively shown that smoking, diet, exposure to chemicals, and levels of physical activity can cause gene functions to mutate. These mutations can contribute to cancer growth, heart disease, and other chronic illnesses.
Beverage Consumption Study
Medical research has confirmed that consuming coffee and tea reduces risks of certain diseases. These drinks are known to halt the growth of tumors, reduce inflammation, and increase the body’s ability to process estrogen. However, the exact chemical mechanism that allows these benefits is not known. Researchers believe these side effects are caused by epigenetic changes caused by substances in the beverages.
In their study, the Uppsala team found that female tea drinkers showed changes in genes that affect cancer and estrogen metabolism. These changes were not found in male participants. This may be because the active compounds in tea only affect estrogen hormones, which is more abundant in the female body. Researchers also theorize that, on average, women seem to consume more tea than men, making the effects more pronounced.
Higher estrogen levels positively correlate with a higher risk of certain cancers. Increasing the body’s ability to process estrogen can significantly lower that risk.
Coffee was not observed to mediate epigenetic changes.
Implications and Future Research
The study’s results prove that pharmacologically active compounds in tea influence cancer production and estrogen metabolism. This is consistent with previous studies that proved a link between tea drinking mothers and in vitro epigenetic changes. However, this study does not show if it is healthy or not to drink tea and further research is needed to better understand how epigenetic changes found in this study affects our health. These results have also been seen in prevous laboratory experiments using cultured cancer cells.
While the effects of tea have been verified, the exact chemical mechanism used to produce changes is not yet understood. To develop these findings into usable therapies, researchers will need to pinpoint the active compounds and how they are used by the body.
Weronica E. Ek, Elmar W. Tobi, Muhammad Ahsan, Erik Lampa, Erica Ponzi, Soterios A. Kyrtopoulos, Panagiotis Georgiadis, L.H Lumey, Bastiaan T. Heijmans, Maria Botsivali, Ingvar A. Bergdahl, Torgny Karlsson, Mathias Rask-Andersen, Domenico Palli, Erik Ingelsson, Åsa K. Hedman, Lena M. Nilsson, Paolo Vineis, Lars Lind, James M. Flanagan, Åsa Johansson. Tea and coffee consumption in relation to DNA methylation in four European cohorts. Human Molecular Genetics, 2017; DOI: 10.1093/hmg/ddx194