If you’re a devout tea drinker, take heart: a new study finds that drinking at least three cups of tea per day is linked to a significantly reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. Coffee drinking – and only moderate consumption – was linked to a slightly lower risk of heart disease. The findings were published in the June 18, 2010 issue of Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology: Journal of the American Heart Association.

The authors found that for tea drinkers who drank between three and six cups per day, the reduction in risk was 45%, compared to people who drank less than one cup of tea per day.

Yvonne T. van der Schouw and colleagues at the Julius Center for Health Sciences and Primary Care, University Medical Center Utrecht in The Netherlands followed over 37,000 participants for 13 years. They surveyed them about their food, coffee and tea consumption, and tracked how many developed or died from coronary heart disease (CHD) or stroke over the years. By the end of the study, 1,950 people had suffered from CHD or stroke. Just over 1,400 people died over the course of the study, and of these, 123 were caused by CHD and 70 were from stroke.

The authors found that tea drinkers who drank between three and six cups per day, the reduction in risk was 45%, compared to people who drank less than one cup of tea per day. For those drinking over six cups per day, the reduction in the risk of heart disease was 36%.

Only modest coffee drinking was associated with a lower CHD risk: people who drank between two and four cups per day were at a 20% reduced risk of CHD, but this finding was not statistically significant.

Neither coffee nor tea consumption at any level was linked to lowered risk of stroke.

The authors did find some interesting trends among coffee and tea drinkers in their demographics, health, and lifestyle habits. They write that “[h]igh coffee consumption was associated with a lower educational level, the prevalence of diabetes and smoking, a higher waist circumference, hypercholesterolemia, and a less healthy diet....High tea consumption was associated with a higher educational level, higher physical activity, a healthier diet, lower waist circumference, and a lower prevalence of smoking, hypercholesterolemia, and diabetes.”

Van der Schouw says in the American Heart Association release: “While previous studies have shown that coffee and tea seem to reduce the risk of heart disease, evidence on stroke risk and the risk of death from heart disease was not conclusive. Our results found the benefits of drinking coffee and tea occur without increasing risk of stroke or death from all causes.”

Another recent study, in the June 22, 2010 online issue of Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, found that drinking at least four cups of coffee per day was associated with a 39% reduced risk of oral and pharyngeal cancers. According to the American Association for Cancer Research press release, head and neck cancers like these are fairly common and the prognosis is often poor. Clearly more research will be needed to understand just how coffee and tea may affect health, and which compounds in them are responsible for some of these effects.