Tea has a rich history, dating back thousands of years in China where it was often consumed for medicinal purposes. Today, varieties of tea purport unique health claims – everything from being digestive aids, metabolism boosters, and cancer fighters to name a few. The most widely known tea for its health benefits is green tea, and some of these claimed benefits include:
- Cancer fighter
- Lowers blood pressure
- Improves heart health
- Weight loss
What separates green tea from others as it relates to health is its higher epigallocatechin gallate or EGCG levels (1). EGCG is a potent antioxidant that according to Singh et al., has the “potential to impact a variety of human diseases”(1).
In 2014, there will be an estimated 1,665,540 new cancer cases diagnosed and 585,720 cancer deaths in the United States (2). Advances in medicine, pharmacology and biotechnology continue, and the inclusion of co-therapies such as diet modification and exercise used in conjunction are widely accepted to improve positive outcomes. Green tea’s role in cancer prevention and treatment has been looked at, but a definitive answer is still in the works. The NIH’s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) report that the laboratory studies suggest green tea may help protect against the growth of certain cancers, however human results are mixed and require further research (3). In their review, Singh et al. adds, “various clinical studies have revealed that treatment by EGCG inhibits tumor incidence and multiplicity in different organ sites such as liver, stomach, skin, lung, mammary gland and colon” (1).
If green tea can play some role in the fight against cancer, which it it seems like it might, it is still unclear as to the extent of that role and at what dosage would prove beneficial. Judith CW Mak, commented on this in her article published in the journal of Clinical and Experimental Pharmacology and Physiology. She writes, “Although most of the studies have shown benefits with two to three cups of green tea per day, the optimal dose has not yet been established to enable any solid conclusions to be drawn regarding the various health benefits of green tea or its constituents in humans” (4).
One of the ways green tea has been promoted is through liquid and capsule extracts, touted as thermogenic aids. A thermogenic aid, commonly known as a fat burning supplement may increase metabolism during exercise, but remember that basal metabolic rate (BMR), your rate of calorie burn at rest is determined by your genetics and to a small degree your exercise habits. It is widely believed that exercise, particularly strength training can improve your BMR, but this notion has been overstated and oversold in the fitness industry. Thermogenic aids can be costly and at best you’re looking at a slightly higher calorie expenditure. If weight loss is the goal, you can take a fat burner that might cause heart palpitations and nausea, or you can eat one less chocolate chip cookie. I don’t advocate their use.
With regard to some of the other claimed health benefits of green tea, the NCCAM states that, “some evidence suggests that the use of green tea preparations improves mental alertness, most likely because of its caffeine content. There are not enough reliable data to determine whether green tea can aid in weight loss, lower blood cholesterol levels, or protect the skin from sun damage” (3).
I have been a tea drinker for years now and enjoy a wide variety including black, oolong, and white. I try to consume at least two cups of green tea daily. To what degree I am deriving health benefits I am not certain, however the psychological effect is also welcomed. For a drink that has been touted for centuries as one of good health, and knowing that a lot of the research is promising, albeit ongoing, I am glad that I have chosen to make it a part of my daily routine along with exercise and healthy eating. Tea I feel to be cleansing after lunch or a long day’s work. It can be a relaxing ritual that can help ease tension and lower stress levels. Brewing tea, especially loose leaf is in my opinion an art form. It is a process, one that should be done slowly and with care, and perhaps we need more things like that in our lives.
1. Singh, B.N., Shankar, S., Srivastava, R.K. Green tea catechin, epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG): mechanism, perspectives and clinical applications. Biochemical Pharmacology 2011 Dec 15;82(12):1807-21. doi: 10.1016/j.bcp.2011.07.093. Epub 2011 Jul 30.
2. American Cancer Society. Retrieved 2014. http://www.cancer.org
3. Green Tea. NIH National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Retrieved 2014. http://www.nih.gov
4. Mak, J.C. Potential role of green tea catechins in various disease therapies: progress and promise. Clinical and Experimental Pharmacology and Physiology. 2012 Mar;39(3):265-73. doi: 10.1111/j.1440-1681.2012.05673.x.