Tea has long held mystical appeal for its health benefits. Now science agrees. A new study in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that drinking tea is a healthier choice than almost any beverage, including pure water.

"Water is essentially replacing fluid," saiod Dr. Carrie Ruxton, the lead author of the study. "Tea replaces fluids and contains antioxidants, so it's got two things going for it."

The antioxidants in tea are called polyphenols and they prevent damage to cells.

The research team concluded that drinking three to four cups of tea per day reduces the risk of heart attack, protects against cancer, strengthens bones and even protects against tooth plaque and decay.

The study says caffeine in tea is not a health detriment. Despite the widespread belief that the caffeine in tea is dehydrating, Ruxton says that's not the case.

The British study comes at a time when demographic shifts have knocked tea from its perch as Britain's traditional drink. Younger people in recent years have abandoned tea for sugar-laden soft drinks.