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New Research: Tea Improves Brain Connectivity

Nicholas Noble | October 27, 2019

They say two heads are better than one, but what about the brains of tea drinkers??

Straight from the cutting edge of neuroscience, this recently published study compared the brain health of groups both tea drinkers, and not. The research was the first of its kind to use neuroscientific graph theory to measure functional and structural changes in the brains of habitual tea drinkers.

This imaging technique allowed the researchers to dive into previously unsubstantiated cognitive changes elicited from tea, suggesting that common consumption improves structural and functional connectivity in the brain. 

As a jumping point, these findings go beyond in support of growing reports, which similarly suggest tea as a preventative tactic against neurodegenerative diseases, not limited to Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and generally in staving age-related cognitive decline. [1] 

The Importance of Connectivity

Although novel for its methods and focus, this research is predicated on well-established neuroscience, especially regarding the importance of connectivity and structure in the brain. From a broad perspective, these key findings included consumption of tea to elevate regional symmetry, activity, and organization. 

Although independently measured, each of these cognitive indicators are known to be partly dependent on one another and taken together, they're useful in evaluating age related cognitive decline, and even stages of neurological disorders such as schizophrenia.[2] 

So far so good, but neuroscience goes further in telling us how brain health is reliant on proper balance between (and within) each of these forms of measure. So, for these tea-enthused researchers, the full dive into tea’s ‘brain-boost’ included changes in the types of connectivity, too.

Their data analyzed for improvements of ‘structural connectivity’ (most basically as the brain’s anatomical hardwiring), and also ‘functional connectivity,’ which focuses more on the real outcomes of communication across the brain (influenced by, but not bound to structure). 

The research directly adds to a growing model for tea’s reported cognitive benefits, showcasing its influences within each of these systems of connection. Future research may thus better identify tea (like matcha green tea) in the prevention and treatment of neurological diseases. That’s because tea affects these systems each in varying degrees. 

One example being Alzheimer’s disease which can result more dominantly in losses of structural connectivity, yet where greater stability of functional connections can slow the disease progression. [3]

Key Findings

As the study highlighted, some measurements of cognitive improvements were not as conclusive as others. Some of tea’s positive correlations were found to include each, the suppression of hemispheric asymmetry (which is an important marker of brain disease[4]), improved structural organization, and elevated functional connectivity particularly within the Default Mode Network (DMN). 

On the other hand, changes in global structural organization were not observed, as some would have expected in cases of elevated functional connections in the DMN  specifically given its dual role within the brain (functionally and structurally), and therein its association with global structure. [5] 

Granted, the interactions of these systems are still being understood, where this inconclusivity is instead one of the more inviting details of future research especially given the hypothesis that functional changes elicit structural ones. [6] 

The Bottom Line

Even if the technical findings throw most of us for a tailspin, something we all should keep in mind is that tea, especially matcha green tea is host to a long history of reports, and now vast modern research that reveal a surplus of cognitive benefits.

At least one of these many examples mention habitual tea drinking as a profound influence against age-related cognitive decline. [7] 

As this recent study helped illuminate, the features of healthy brain organization are closely related to cognitive health and clarity of mind. Furthermore, it’s clear that future research will find it motivation to more deeply explore the mechanisms that tea’s bioactive compounds work through.

That includes uncovering more about their positive roles in memory and learning, as possible interventions and prevention of disease, and much more in the name of optimal health. 

We’ll keep you updated on all future research! For now a good bet is to jump on the matcha wagon!

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