The effects of tea on psychophysiological stress responsivity and post-stress recovery: a randomised double-blind trial

Abstract

Rationale

Tea has anecdotally been associated with stress relief, but this has seldom been tested scientifically.

Objectives

To investigate the effects of 6 weeks of black tea consumption, compared with matched placebo, on subjective, cardiovascular, cortisol and platelet responses to acute stress, in a parallel group double-blind randomised design.

Materials and methods

Seventy-five healthy nonsmoking men were withdrawn from tea, coffee and caffeinated beverages for a 4-week wash-out phase during which they drank four cups per day of a caffeinated placebo. A pretreatment laboratory test session was carried out, followed by either placebo (n = 38) or active tea treatment (n = 37) for 6 weeks, then, a final test session. Cardiovascular measures were obtained before, during and after two challenging behavioural tasks, while cortisol, platelet and subjective measures were assessed before and after tasks.

Results

The tasks induced substantial increases in blood pressure, heart rate and subjective stress ratings, but responses did not differ between tea and placebo treatments. Platelet activation (assessed using flow cytometry) was lower following tea than placebo treatment in both baseline and post-stress samples (P < 0.005). The active tea group also showed lower post-task cortisol levels compared with placebo (P = 0.032), and a relative increase in subjective relaxation during the post-task recovery period (P = 0.036).

Conclusions

Compared with placebo, 6 weeks of tea consumption leads to lower post-stress cortisol and greater subjective relaxation, together with reduced platelet activation. Black tea may have health benefits in part by aiding stress recovery.

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Acknowledgements

We are grateful to Peirluigi Giacobazzi and Kesson Magid for their assistance in data collection and biological assays. Leigh Gibson is now at Roehampton University, London, Raisa Vounonvirta at the Institute of Cancer Research, Sutton, UK, and Jorge Erusalimsky is at the University of Wales Institute, Cardiff.

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Correspondence to Andrew Steptoe.

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Funding: This research was supported by a Link award from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, UK, by Unilever Research Colworth, and by the British Heart Foundation.

An erratum to this article can be found at http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s00213-006-0620-z

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Steptoe, A., Gibson, E.L., Vounonvirta, R. et al. The effects of tea on psychophysiological stress responsivity and post-stress recovery: a randomised double-blind trial. Psychopharmacology 190, 81–89 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00213-006-0573-2

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Keywords

  • Tea
  • Stress
  • Cortisol
  • Heart rate
  • Blood pressure
  • Platelet activation
  • Caffeine
  • Mood