Green Tea Gulpers May Have a Reduced Risk of Early Death

For thousands of years, people have enjoyed drinking daily doses of green tea, claiming the drink not only soothes but is full of healthy antioxidants, too.

Now there is one more reason to put the kettle on: New research suggests that drinking green tea may help you live longer.

A study published in this week's Journal of the American Medical Association has associated drinking lots of green tea with decreased early death, from all causes, including cardiovascular disease. This effect was found to be stronger in women.

During an 11-year period, scientists with the Tohoku University Graduate School of Medicine in Japan followed more than 40,000 healthy Japanese adults. They found that those who drank five or more cups of green tea a day had decreased risk their risk of early death by 12 percent for men and 23 percent for women.

Interestingly, these results were not linked with other types of tea, like oolong or black tea, indicating the antioxidants specific to green tea could be the cause.

"This study serves as a tentative corroboration of what we thought -- and hoped -- we knew about green tea," said Dr. David Katz, a public health professor at Yale University School of Medicine and an ABC News contributor.

Our bodies depend on oxygen to make the energy that is required for cells to carry out day-to-day functions. This process results in a leftover byproduct called a free radical. If free radicals are not removed from the body by antioxidants, they can cause oxidative stress. Over time, oxidative stress can cause the deterioration of cells seen in aging and degenerative diseases.

Katz explained that the antioxidants in green tea likely "sop up" the free radicals, allowing for a reduction in LDL ("bad" cholesterol) and an increase in HDL ("good" cholesterol).

Antioxidants can also reduce arterial plaque buildup and help improve blood vessel function -- all of which would help explain the reduced risk of early death from cardiovascular disease.

Some experts, however, are a bit more cautious.

The study "shows an association but not causation," said Dr. Keith-Thomas Ayoob, associate professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, noting the results could be "showing significance by chance."

While more research needs to be done to determine the extent of green tea's effect on mortality, Dr. James Anderson, professor of medicine and clinical nutrition at the University of Kentucky notes, "These important observations may explain, in part, the longevity and cardiovascular health of Japanese residents."