Drinking tea combats heart disease by improving the function of artery walls, research published today indicates.

Ther finding adds weight to previous studies which have concluded that antioxidants, called flavonoids, contained in tea may help prevent cholesterol damaging arteries.

In the new study, researchers found that the vital function of artery-wall linings improved in people with artery disease who drank four cups of black tea a day. Professor Joseph Vita, of Boston University, said: "Endothelial dysfunction is a key part of the development of cardiovascular disease. We've shown that black tea may help reverse this dysfunction."

The study, funded by the US National Institutes of Health and the American Heart Association, was commissioned by the Tea Council.

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