Italian Green Tea’s Healing Powers
‘Its liquor is like the sweetest dew from Heaven,’ said Lu Yu in the eighth century classic, ‘The Classic of Tea’ (trans. F. Carpenter.) The Chinese have been using green tea as a medicine for at least four thousand years. Recently the health benefits of this soothing drink have also been heavily promoted in the West. These may include reducing high blood pressure, boosting the immune system, lowering high cholesterol, and even helping to prevent cancer. Although many studies have shown that green tea may have all these benefits, the jury is still out.
The secret of green tea lies in the process of its manufacturing. The leaves of green tea are steamed, and not oxidized like other teas. Although all tea is supposed to be good for health, this process means that the natural ingredients of green tea are preserved.
Green tea contains polyphenols called catechins which are powerful antioxidants that help to destroy free radicals which damage the body at the cellular level. It relaxes the artery walls, which may reduce the risk of high blood pressure, heart attacks and stroke. It also may reduce the clogging of the arteries which increases the ratio of good cholesterol to bad cholesterol. This may be the reason why the incidence of heart disease in Japan is so low even though a large percentage of Japanese people are smokers.
One of these powerful antioxidants is called epigallocatechin gallate or EGCG. This chemical has been shown to inhibit the growth of cancer cells in mice in one study. A study at Rochester University showed that this chemical together with another one found in green tea which is similar to flavenoids help to inhibit a molecule which sticks to cells and activates genes playing an important role in developing cancer. This is yet to be tested properly but there is some crucial evidence that green tea may be partly responsible for the low incidence of cancer in Japan. In Ugi Shizuoka the residents drink more high quality green tea than anyone else in Japan and the incidence of cancer there is amongst the lowest in the world. EGCG has been shown to be 25-100 times more potent than vitamins C and E.
In a study quoted in the International Journal of Cancer 2003 more than 1000 women with an Asian background were tested to see if green tea lowered the risk of breast cancer. Those who drank green tea had 43% less risk of developing breast cancer than those who drank none. Their risk decreased even more if they drank a lot of green tea.
The caffeine in the tea, it has been claimed, may help to prevent skin and lung cancers.
It is also claimed that ECGC also plays a role in preventing viruses. It easily sticks to proteins and blocks bacteria from adhering to cell walls which can cause viruses.
Other important and healthy ingredients in green tea include theanine which counteracts the stimulant effects of the caffeine in the tea and may help protect the nerve cells in the brain thus lengthening the life of the cells; GABA which may suppress high blood pressure; carotene, which is also found in carrot, and promotes better vision; and riboflavin which may help promote the formation of red blood cells and antibody production.
Green tea also contains fluoride which builds in tooth enamel helping to make the teeth resistant against acids in the mouth. One cup contains .03-.05 mg of fluoride which is an optimal amount according to dentists for preventing the growth of plaque. It also prevents bad breath caused by acidic bacteria in the mouth.
Other health benefits of green tea which have been promoted include weight loss and helping prevent arthritis.
Before rushing out and buying a huge amount of this product, remember that the West has, perhaps, gone overboard on green tea. Many different food products and even skin creams now include this famous drink as an ingredient. However, the Food and Drug Administration (US) has stated that it can find ‘no credible evidence’ that it fights cancers of the stomach, lung, colon, esophagus, pancreas or ovary. The evidence that it prevents breast and prostate cancer was somewhat better, it found, but the FDA also stated that this has yet to be proven. It also stated that there was no credible evidence that green tea prevents heart disease in May, this year.
Until further studies are done, we won’t know if green tea really is ‘the sweetest dew from heaven’ as far as health is concerned.
By Lisa-Anne Sanderson