Study of the Week: High Tea Consumption Brings Down Rheumatoid Arthritis Disease Activity

Welcome to Study of the Week from Patient Worthy. In this segment, we select a study we posted about from the previous week that we think is of particular interest or importance and go more in-depth. In this story we will talk about the details of the study and explain why it’s important, who will be impacted, and more.

If you read our short form research stories and find yourself wanting to learn more, you’ve come to the right place.


This week’s study is…

Tea consumption is associated with decreased disease activity of rheumatoid arthritis in a real-world, large-scale study

We previously published about this research in a story titled “Could Tea Reduce RA Symptoms?” which can be found here. The study was originally published in the scientific research journal Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism. You can view the abstract of the study here.

What Happened?

Tea is the most widely consumed beverage on the planet aside from water. Most tea drinkers enjoy consuming it for the calm yet alert state that it can produce. While tea itself has never been demonstrated in a clinical setting to be an effective treatment for a specific disease, there are many unverified claims about the health benefits of tea consumption. Findings from this study demonstrate the possibility that drinking tea may have a beneficial effect on disease activity in people living with rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

Prior studies of the effect of tea use on this disease have been inconclusive because they were either small in size or were conducted in the in-vitro (laboratory) setting. The goal of this study was to investigate the effect of tea use in patients with rheumatoid arthritis in a real-world, large-scale context. A total of 733 patients participated in this study. These patients were monitored from June to December 2016. The patients recorded the amount and type of tea using questionnaires. Rheumatoid arthritis disease activity was measured using a 28-erythrocyte sedimentation rate.

The scientists identified an inverse association between disease activity and tea consumption. The data revealed that high levels of tea consumption (more than 750 mL/day) were linked to lower rheumatoid arthritis disease activity in comparison to people that weren’t drinking tea. There was no significant difference in people who drank smaller amounts of tea (less than 750 mL/day). As a whole, the more tea a patient consumed, the greater the effect.

The inverse association was primarily found on patients that were female, non-smokers, or of older age. Overall, the findings from this study indicate that high tea consumption could have a beneficial effect on rheumatoid arthritis disease activity for certain patients.

About Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic autoimmune disease that affects the joints. The cause of this inflammatory disease remains unclear and is believed to result from a variety of environmental and genetic factors; however, the autoimmune mechanism is the result of the immune system attacking the joints. Risk factors include family history, silica exposure, and smoking. The joints of the wrists and hands are most frequently affected, and this most typically occurs on both sides of the body. Symptoms include warm, swollen, stiff, and painful joints. In more serious cases other body systems may be affected and can inflict symptoms such as rheumatoid nodules on the skin, vasculitis, lung fibrosis, osteoporosis, infections, fatigue, depression, anemia, and heart disease. Treatments may include medications to manage pain, rituximab, methotrexate, TNF inhibitors, and leflunomide. To learn more about rheumatoid arthritis, click here.

Why Does it Matter?

These research findings give greater weight to the possible health benefits of tea consumption. However, the specifics of this study matter a lot for rheumatoid arthritis patients and are important for them to understand. After all, the effect was primarily only significant in patients who drank a lot of tea every day, and females and the elderly saw the greatest benefit. Furthermore, it should also be noted that the figure used to measure disease activity (28-erythrocyte sedimentation rate) is a blood test that can reliably indicate inflammation in the body; however, the study did not report on specific disease symptoms.

Therefore, while these results suggest that tea consumption could help improve symptoms, symptoms were not being directly measured in the study. So this study did not directly demonstrate that tea drinking would make patients feel better or improve symptoms. 

That tea could benefit an inflammatory illness like rheumatoid arthritis is not wholly surprising. Tea is high in polyphenols, which are known to have robust anti-inflammatory effects. White and green teas have the highest levels, and many drinkers regard green tea as having the greatest health benefit.

In any case, the findings from this study are definitely newsworthy for rheumatoid arthritis patients, and adding a hefty serving of tea into the daily routine could indeed have beneficial impacts.

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