How drinking TEA can keep your bones strong: Just three cups a day cuts risk of fracture by a third

Drinking three cups of tea a day could slash the risk of hip fractures by almost a third, a new study has found.

Scientists say the humble brew could become a powerful weapon against osteoporosis - a condition where the bones become brittle and fragile.

The study suggests healthy plant chemicals called flavonoids in black tea could help an ageing population ward off the bone-weakening illness.

For years, scientists have suspected these antioxidant chemicals help to reduce the risk of major illnesses like cancer and heart disease.

But the latest breakthrough points to drinking tea as a potent new way to protect the body's bones during the ageing process.

One in three women and one in 12 men in the UK develops osteoporosis at some point in their lives - and it already affects around three million people.

Women who use steroid drugs, smoke, drink heavily and have a family history of the disease are most at risk.

But diet is also crucial and poor eating habits during youth are thought to increase the dangers of the disease later in life.

It progresses when osteoclasts, cells that break down old bone by removing the calcium and phosphorous that gives it strength, start to outnumber osteoblasts, rival cells responsible for making healthy new bone.

Right the way through life old bone is being destroyed by osteoclasts and new bone is formed by osteoblasts.

But after the ages of 30 to 35, there are fewer osteoblasts than osteoclasts.

Osteoporosis develops when the balance tips too far in favour of the osteoclasts.

This dramatically increases the risk of fractures to major joints like the hip.

Around 75,000 hip fractures occur in the UK each year and the annual cost in terms of medical and social care is estimated at around £2 billion.

Hip fractures are more common in women due to their higher incidence of osteoporosis.

Experts from the Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital in Perth, the Royal Perth Hospital and the Flinders University of South Australia in Adelaide, had read reports that tea might improve bone density.

But they wanted to see if drinking more of it lead to fewer fractures in elderly women.

They studied almost 1,200 women in their seventies over a ten-year period.

Each one was quizzed on their tea drinking habits and then closely monitored to see if they suffered a major fracture due to osteoporosis over the next decade.

During that period 288 of the women fell and broke a bone and nearly half involved a hip fracture.

The results showed that those women who drank three or more cups of tea every day were 30 per cent less likely to have suffered a break than those who drank less than one cup of tea a week.

In a report on their findings the researchers aid that every cup of tea the women drank each day appeared to cut the risk of a fracture by around nine per cent.

Researcher Dr Jonathan Hodgson said: 'There is increasing interest in the role of dietary factors in osteoporosis and fracture prevention.

'There is evidence that foods rich in flavonoids – such as fruits, vegetables and tea – may also be related to bone loss and fracture outcomes.

'Flavonoids are a large class of phytochemicals widely distributed in plant foods.

'And tea is the main source in many populations.

'We have shown that a higher intake of black tea and flavonoids was associated with lower risk of fracture in elderly women.

'Our results support the hypothesis that tea and its flavonoids may be protective.

'Further research is needed before these results can be translated to dietary recommendations for osteoporosis prevention.

'But if the 30 per cent reduction in risk is confirmed, it would be a major addition to the dietary prevention of fracture.'

British consumers get through an estimated 165 million cups of tea every day.

Flavonoids are also found in a variety of fruits and vegetables.

They protect plants against disease and some also provide the bright colours found in everyday fresh foods.

Previous studies, for example, have suggested tomatoes – another rich source – can also prevent weakening of the bones.

They contain a phytochemical called lycopene.

Researchers at the University of Toronto found postmenopausal women consuming 30 milligrams of lycopene found in tomatoes - the equivalent of two glasses of tomato juice – had lower risk of fractures due to osteoporosis.

Sarah Leyland, senior nurse at the National Osteoporosis Society, welcomed the findings.

But she stressed there is still no proof that flavonoids from tea are actually responsible for the reduced number of fractures.

'Research so far in this field has both supported and disputed these findings,' she said.

'The association between a high intake of flavonoids and a lower risk of fracture doesn't prove that one causes the other.

'People are always keen to know how they can change their diet to improve their bone health.

'But the general health recommendations remain clear.

'The best way to maintain strong bones is to eat a varied, well balanced, calcium-rich diet with foods from all the main good groups, including plenty of fruit and vegetables.'

The research was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.