June 11/The Express-- Sitting down with a nice cup of tea could soon come on the orders of the doctor.

Drinking four cups a day can slash the risk of a heart attack, according to research.

It can also boost hydration, elevate one's mood and improve alertness. The news provides the best excuse yet for British workers to pop out for their traditional tea break.

According to a review of studies by the British Nutrition Foundation, tea can even strengthen bones.

Plus, despite fears that adding milk might destroy all the good that black tea offers, researchers say this is simply not true.

Dr Carrie Ruxton, a dietician and member of the independent Tea Advisory Panel, reviewed existing scientific literature on black tea, the type found in most of our teabags.

Natural plant antioxidants -- called polyphenols -- found in tea were shown in clinical trials to have beneficial effects on many biochemical processes in the body.

Cutting the risk of heart attack is the chief benefit revealed by Ruxton's study.

The news comes a day after scientists found that an extract of Chinese red yeast rice, which gives Peking duck its color, can also prevent heart attacks.

Dr Ruxton said, "The clearest consistent evidence points to an association between tea consumption, in excess of three cups per day, and a reduced risk of myocardial infarction or a heart attack.

"This is good news for the many avid tea drinkers in Britain.

"My study also found emerging evidence that older women -- those most at risk of brittle bones -- had significant increases in bone density if they drank more than four cups of tea a day.

"It is clear that tea is worthy of further research and, in the meantime, can be enjoyed within the optimal intake range of three to eight cups per day." The TAP-commissioned review also revealed that alertness and mood elevation were improved by the modest amount of caffeine found in tea.

The optimal intake is up to eight cups a day which delivered benefits without adversely affecting sleep quality or hydration. Other emerging health benefits associated with tea drinking include protection against tooth decay.

Earlier this year, a French study showed that women who drink at least three cups a day are less likely to have heart attacks and strokes, but those who drink only one or two cups gained no benefit.

Tea, which has been drunk in Britain for 350 years, is the second most popular drink in the world after water.

Britons drink about 165 million cups of tea a day, more than double the number of cups of coffee.

The average person has three cups a day. Fewer than one in three people do not drink it regularly.

From the June 23, 2008, Prepared Foods e-Flash