Tea drinkers are healthier; now the question is, Why? A French study of more than 130,000 people found that drinking tea reduced the risk of non-cardiovascular (non-CV) mortality by 24 percent.

The study, presented at the annual European Society of Cardiology meeting, revealed that tea's antioxidants may provide survival benefits. But tea drinkers also have healthier lifestyles, according to Nicolas Danchin, one of the investigators, making it unclear exactly what tea's health effects may be.

Tea drinkers had the reverse profile of coffee drinkers when it came to smoking.

“Does tea drinking reflect a particular person profile or is it tea, per se, that improves outcomes? For me that remains an open question,” he said in a press release. He then added that pending an answer to that question, he could honestly recommend drinking tea rather than coffee or even nothing at all.

The investigators looked at data from approximately 130,000 people aged 18 to 95 who had had a health check-up at a preventive medicine center between 2001 and 2008. Study participants had filled out a questionnaire about their level of coffee or tea consumption, indicating whether they had none, one to four cups, or more than four cups of coffee or tea per day.

During the three and a half year follow-up, 95 people in the study group died from cardiovascular (CV) causes; 632 died from non-CV causes.

Coffee drinkers had a higher cardiovascular risk profile than non-drinkers, in large part because they were more likely to smoke. Among those who drank one to four cups of coffee per day, 31 percent were smokers, and 57 percent of those who drank more than four cups of coffee per day lit up.

Only 17 percent of those who didn't drink coffee reported they were smokers, and they were also likely to be somewhat more physically active, with 45 percent physically active compared to 41 percent of the heavy coffee drinkers.

Tea drinkers had the reverse profile of coffee drinkers when it came to smoking. They also had better CV risk profiles than non-drinkers. About one-third (34 percent) of non-tea drinkers were current smokers; only 24 percent of those who drank one to four cups of tea per day and 29 percent of those who drank more than four cups smoked.

Physical activity was also higher among tea drinkers. Among moderate tea drinkers, 43 percent said they were physically active and 46 percent of heavy drinkers said they exercised.

Tea had a more beneficial effect on blood pressure (BP) than coffee, lowering Systolic pressure by 4 to 5 mm Hg and Diastolic pressure by 3 mm Hg among heavy tea drinkers, compared to non-drinkers.

The investigators also found that men tend to drink coffee more than women, while women tend to drink more tea than men.

“Based on this study, and the totality of evidence we have about tea and coffee, I’d say the take home message is drink more tea,” Jeffrey Blumberg, director of the antioxidants research laboratory at Tufts University in Boston, told TheDoctor.

However that does not mean you should never drink coffee, said Blumberg, who was not involved in the French study.

And drinking tea is only part of the picture. “If you smoke and don’t exercise, drinking tea will not be of any benefit to you,” Blumberg said.

Danchin’s presentation was part of the session, “Novel insights into lifestyle and cardiovascular prevention.”