Saturday, June 19, 2010

Health Benefits of Green Tea

by: Victoria Dolby Toews, M.P.H.
Go Green Tea!
Research shows that sipping green tea throughout the day can reduce your risk of heart attack, stroke and even certain cancers.
“From time immemorial, green tea has been associated with health benefits, and modern research continues to uncover the ways in which tea does, in fact, contribute to positive health,” says Lester Mitscher, Ph.D., co-author of The Green Tea Book. A big part of green tea’s secret is the fact that tea contains high levels of antioxidants, higher even than many fruits and vegetables.

“An antioxidant called EGCG is found abundantly in tea; EGCG deactivates harmful free radicals before they can damage the body,” explains Mitscher. “Green and white teas contain the highest levels of EGCG, although oolong tea and black tea also contain this antioxidant.” When you drink tea, these antioxidants enter your body, where they then subdue free radicals that would otherwise contribute to any number of harmful disease processes, including cancer, heart disease and even premature aging of the skin.

While coffee outranks tea as the morning beverage of choice for Americans, tea is no slouch. Almost 80% of all U.S. households have at least some tea on their cupboard shelves. And on any given day, approximately half of Americans drink tea—about 87% of it black tea, 12.5% green tea, and the rest oolong or white tea. In all, in one recent year, Americans consumed more than 2.25 billion gallons of tea. This year, you might be smart to think about pouring yourself even more tea, especially if it’s green tea.

“Research shows that drinking three to six cups of green tea daily lowers the risk of everything from heart attack and stroke to skin and breast cancers,” notes Mitscher, who—as University Distinguished Professor in the Department of Medicinal Chemistry at the University of Kansas—has been researching the chemistry of green tea and other herbal medicines for many decades. “But keep in mind that there is not a threshold effect; that is, drinking less than three cups will not be without merit. Any amount of tea you drink conveys health benefits,” he adds. Here’s a look at what the latest research reveals about this small, but mighty leaf.
Sip Your Way to Weight Loss.
Green tea might help with weight control, in part because the caffeine in tea boosts the body’s rate of burning calories. The modest bump of energy expenditure caused by tea does not make it a miracle weight-loss pill, but it does give dieters an extra boost that can get them over a plateau or keep them motivated. Plus, green tea seems to make an exercise-based weight-loss plan more successful. The Journal of Nutrition published a study finding that participants who got a combination of exercise and a daily beverage supplying caffeine plus 625 mg of catechins (the antioxidants found in green tea) for 12 weeks had a greater loss of belly fat than a control group who got caffeine and exercise but not the green tea catechins.

Fight Cancer With a Cup.
Keeping cancer at bay seems to be another area in which tea excels. Research presented in January shows that smokers and nonsmokers who consume a minimum of one cup of green tea a day have a significantly lower risk for developing lung cancer—13 times lower for smokers, and five times lower for nonsmokers.
For women, green tea might be especially beneficial. When researchers took a close look at the beverage choices in a group of 3,454 women with breast cancer and a control group of about the same size, they found that women who regularly drank green tea had a slightly lower risk for developing breast cancer. Women who drank green tea most often and for the most number of years appeared to have the strongest protection from breast cancer. 

Protect Your Heart.
The heart protection from green tea is backed by an impressive amount of research. People who drink a cup or two of tea a day halve their risk of heart disease and atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), while drinking any amount of tea regularly makes it 40% more likely that a person will survive a heart attack (if they have one). A double-blind study of more than 100 adults found that taking green tea extract twice a day lowered blood pressure, LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and other risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

Really Relax at Tea Time.
A compound found exclusively in tea, called theanine, has been catching researchers’ attention. Theanine counteracts some of the stimulant effects of caffeine and keeps blood pressure in check. Certain neurotransmitters (namely serotonin and dopa?mine) are altered after ingesting theanine, and it’s these changes in the brain that trigger relaxation without a loss of clear thinking. In other words, theanine relaxes the mind without causing drowsiness. When university students took 200 mg of theanine, they reported less anxiety, and brain scans showed increased alpha waves (the type associated with relaxation).

Drinking any type of tea is good for the body, so feel free to pour a cup that suits your taste. However, if health goals top your list when choosing a beverage, then keep in mind that the greatest amounts of the health-enhancing antioxidants are found in green and white teas, with lesser—but still beneficial—amounts in oolong and black teas.
Article from June 2010 issue

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