Next to water, tea is the most widely consumed beverage on the planet, but a new study suggests that tea could have a greater effect on your health than hydration. The report found that tea may be able to change how certain genes are expressed in women, a process known as epigenetic changes. Tea appears to affect genes associated with cancer risk, but it's still not clear if drinking more tea has a positive or negative effect on these cancer-associated genes.

The study, published online in the journal Human Molecular Genetics, found that tea also brought about epigenetic changes in certain genes associated with estrogen metabolism. The changes in genes were found only in women. Researchers are still investigating what these changes could mean for our health, though reams of previous research have found tea to benefit our general health and reduce cancer risk.

Read: Green Tea Polyphenol Helps Kill Oral Cancer Cells By Destroying Mitochondria

“Previous studies have shown that tea consumption reduces estrogen levels which highlights a potential difference between the biological response to tea in men and women. Women also drink higher amounts of tea compared to men, which increases our power to find association in women," said lead study researcher Weronica Ek, in a statement.

While tea’s effect on our genome may not be clear, past research has shown that many of the active ingredients in tea help to prevent cancer on a molecular level. For example, according to, the predominant polyphenols in green tea, EGCG, EGC, ECG, and EC, along with theaflavins and thearubigins in black teas, have antioxidant activity. These components of tea help to search out cancer-causing free radicals in the body and may also protect cells from DNA damage. In addition, reported that tea polyphenols have been shown to inhibit tumor cell growth and limit tumor cell invasiveness.

In addition to cancer prevention, tea may also be helpful in cancer treatment. One study from 2015 found that the main antioxidant, EGCG, in green tea helps to kill cancer cells just as effectively as chemotherapy, but without the harmful side effects. The study found that EGCG had the capacity to kill cancer cells' mitochondria, which would lead to cell death, Futurity reported. Of course, this research still remains in the lab and doctors do not recommend patients rely on green tea as a treatment for their cancer. Still, there are so many other non-cancer related health benefits of drinking tea that everyone has a reason to enjoy this beverage.

The majority of research on links between drinking tea and cancer risk shows tea reduces the risk of a number of cancers, including colon, breast, ovary, prostate and lung, reported. Past research has also shown components in tea, known as tea catechins, lead to epigenetic changes in vitro and in cultured cancer cells. This suggests that some of the health effects of tea are actually brought about by epigenetic changes, a statement on the study reported.

Source: Ek WE, Tobi EW, Ahsan M, et al.Tea and coffee consumption in relation to DNA methylation in four European cohorts. Human Molecular Genetics . 2017

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