A cup of black tea, with an apple and a chunk of chocolate may help protect against heart disease, a recent study suggests. Elderly men who consumed the most of the compounds, called catechins, were 51 per cent less likely to die of ischemic heart disease over 10 years, compared with men who consumed the least. Ischemic heart disease occurs when narrowed arteries reduce the amount of blood and oxygen getting to the heart. Catechins are part of a group of plant compounds called flavonoids that have also been linked to a lower risk of lung disease and certain cancers. Flavonoids are antioxidants, compounds that neutralise disease-causing free radicals in the body. Catechins are major components of tea, accounting for roughly 30 per cent of the dry weight of green tea and 9 per cent of the dry weight of black tea. "Our results suggest that a high catechin intake may help to reduce the risk of dying from ischemic heart disease. However, the results of our study have to be confirmed in other countries and populations before any recommendations can be made," Dr. Ilja C. W. Arts, the study's lead author, told Reuters Health. Although men who consumed the most catechins also tended to exercise more, not smoke, drink less coffee and consume more fibre and vitamin C, these factors did not influence the overall results, the researchers report in the August 1st issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Exactly how these compounds may guard against certain diseases is not clear. Arts, from the National Institute of Public Health and the Environment in Bilthoven, the Netherlands, suggested that they may work by preventing LDL ("bad") cholesterol from damaging cells, by recycling other antioxidants such as vitamin E, or by reducing the risk of inflammation, which is associated with heart disease. The average intake of catechins in the study was 72 milligrams, which can be obtained by eating about four apples a day or drinking two cups of tea with a small piece of chocolate, Arts said. Black tea was the major source of catechins among the 806 men, aged 65 to 84 and living in the Netherlands, in the study.