Coffee and tea are not just simple beverages. According to Rob van Dam, assistant professor in the Harvard School of Public Health Department of Nutrition, coffee contains hundreds of different substances. Tea also has a variety of different substances such as theobromine, amino acids and antioxidants.
Caffeine and Health
Caffeine is present in both tea and coffee and does have health effects. The Linus Pauling Institute reports that an 8-ounce cup of coffee normally contains 72 to 130 mg of caffeine; black tea has 42 to 72 milligrams; and green tea 9 to 50 milligrams. Drugs.com notes caffeine can cause heartburn, sleep problems and anxiety, and increase blood pressure. People who are particularly sensitive to caffeine may react to relatively small amounts.
Coffee vs. Tea
Melinda Beck reported in the “Wall Street Journal” in December 2009 that coffee can decrease the risk of developing diabetes, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease and prostate cancer, but increase the risk of gallstones. The amount of coffee in each of these situations varied from three to six cups of coffee per day. On the other hand, the Linus Pauling Institute notes that tea protects against heart disease – both green and black tea are effective – while green tea protects against stroke and black tea protects against osteoporosis. The Institute notes that teas have been found to inhibit the growth of bacteria that cause tooth decay. Green tea can also interact with some medications, notably the blood thinner Coumadin, and tea may inhibit the absorption of iron from non-meat sources. The University of Maryland reports that green tea reduces inflammation in Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, may help to regulate blood glucose, and seems to protect the liver from damage. However, the university says that while green tea in particular has a reputation as a cancer preventative, the data at this time is inconclusive.
When Neither Drink Shows an Advantage
Sometimes neither coffee nor tea has a particular benefit. G. Fagherazzi noted in the April 2011 “Public Health and Nutrition,” that coffee, tea and caffeine intake had no relationship to breast cancer risk. Sometimes coffee and tea have similar benefits; a study led by K. Tanaka reported in the April 2011 issue of “Parkinsonism and Related Disorders” that coffee, black tea, Japanese and Chinese teas decreased the risk of Parkinson’s disease.
Considerations and Warnings
While a cup or two of coffee or tea is not likely to cause problems for most people, there is one exception. Dr. van Dam recommends pregnant women should not drink more than one cup of coffee per day. He feels the potential for miscarriage and effects on the fetus make coffee risky if taken in higher amounts. Neither coffee nor tea should be considered a panacea for any health problem and which beverage would be most advantageous depends on your particular health issues; if you have questions or concerns, discuss them with a health care professional.
- Drugs.com; Caffeine in the Diet; David C. Dugdale, III, M.D, et. al.; May 2009
- Harvard School of Public Health; The Nutrition Source; Ask the Expert: Coffee and Health; Rob van Dam, M.D.
- Linus Pauling Institute; Tea and Chronic Disease Prevention; Jane Higdon, Ph.D.; November 2002
- “Public Health Nutrition”; No Association Between Coffee, Tea Or Caffeine Consumption And Breast Cancer Risk In A Prospective Cohort Study. G.Fagherazzi, et. al.; April 2011
- “Parkinsonism And Related Disorders”; Intake Of Japanese And Chinese Teas Reduces Risk Of Parkinson's Disease. K. Tanaka, et. al. March 2011
- Linus Pauling Institute; Micronutrient Information Center: Tea; Jane Higdon, Ph.D., et. al.; July 2009