Thursday, March 13, 2008

How English tea could help fight terrorism

How English tea could help fight terrorism

From an article in The Telegraph [UK]:

English breakfast tea could be the latest bioterror countermeasure to protect the public against an anthrax attack, according to a study published today.

As well as protective suits and anthrax injections, a humble cup of black tea could well be added to national defences against the bacterium Bacillus anthracis - more commonly know as anthrax.

A joint American/British study has concluded that a cup of tea has more to offer than coffee as an antidote. The team led by Prof Les Baillie of the Welsh School of Pharmacy at Cardiff University and Dr Theresa Gallagher, Biodefense Institute, University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute, Baltimore, reports in the journal Microbiologist that English Breakfast tea has the potential to inhibit the activity of anthrax, so long as it is taken black.

The research sought to determine if English Breakfast tea was more effective than a commercially available American medium roast coffee at killing anthrax.

"Tea works", said Prof Baillie, who bought his antibioterror materials from the local supermarket. "You can drink enough to have an effect."

A serious and rapidly progressing form of the disease occurs when the bacterial spores are inhaled making anthrax a potent threat when used as a biological warfare agent.

"The tea works against the bug when it is has germinated and is causing an infection," he says.

"We found that special components in tea such as polyphenols have the ability to inhibit the activity of anthrax quite considerably.

Other work shows that tea inhibits Botulinum toxin, the most potent natural occurring toxin. The team is now testing the effects of tea on antibiotic resistant superbugs too.

The research shows that the addition of whole milk to a standard cup of tea inhibited its activity against anthrax.

Prof Baillie continues: "I would suggest that in the event that we are faced with a potential bio-terror attack, individuals may want to forgo their dash of milk at least until the situation is under control.

"What's more, given the ability of tea to bring solace and steady the mind, and to inactivate Bacillus anthracis and its toxin, perhaps the Boston Tea Party was not such a good idea after all," adds Prof Baillie, who is also a Director of the Biodefence Initiative, Medical Biotechnology Centre, University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute in Baltimore, and has worked for the UK Ministry of Defence and the US Navy.

"It has caused a few chuckles among my American friends, who have a $5 billion programme of research on medical countermeasures and I just like the idea that all we Brits have to do is drink a cup of tea."

As a nation, Brits currently drink some 165 million cups of tea, and the healing benefits of the nation's favourite beverage have long been acknowledged.

The active constituents of tea, called polyphenols, are recognized antioxidants - chemicals that mop up damaging free radicals - and studies have claimed effects in countering cancer, Alzheimer's, diabetes and in boosting the activity of the immune system.

All varieties of tea come from the leaves of a single evergreen plant, Camellia sinensis. With the additional process of allowing the leaves to dry and oxidize, black tea is produced, the kind drunk in the UK.

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