Green tea was first discovered in China and has been associated with good health ever since. But legend has it that in 2737 BC Emperor Shen Nung, who was known as the “Divine Healer”, was boiling his drinking water when some tea leaves accidentally blew into the pot. The Emperor noted a delightful aroma and, upon sipping the beverage, proclaimed it to be good for health and well-being, and so began the drinking of tea.
Fast forward through the centuries, and today standardized green tea extracts can be found in a wide variety of proprietary fat burning supplements, herbal beverages and energy drinks to soothe, refresh, stimulate, calm, enlighten and promote health.
What makes Green Tea so special?
Green tea leaves come from the Camellia Sinensis plant, a bushy shrub native to Asia, and are the common source for black, oolong and green teas. Unlike black tea and oolong tea which are fermented, green tea production does not involve the oxidation of young tea leaves. Green tea is produced from steaming fresh leaves at high temperatures, therby inactivating the oxidizing enzymes and leaving the polyphenols content intact.
What are Polyphenols?
The Polyphenols found in green tea are more commonly known as flavanoids or catechins. One of the main catechins is a rich antioxidant called Epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG). EGCG is 100 times more effective than Vitamin C and 25 times more effective than Vitamin E at protecting cells and DNA from free radical damage linked to many diseases. This antioxidant has twice the benefits of Resveratrol, a polyphenol found in red wine, that is also known to limit the negative effects of smoking and a fatty diet.
Green tea also contains alkaloids including caffeine, theobromine, and theophylline. These alkaloids provide green tea’s stimulant effects.
Benefits of Green Tea for health and well-being
The Chinese and Japanese have known about the medicinal benefits of green tea since ancient times, using it to treat everything from headaches to depression. Green tea has been shown to have many positive health effects, which include anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antimicrobial, cardiovascular, dermatologic, hematologic, metabolic and neurological effects.
Green tea’s antioxidant properties
Oxidation is an essential part of many natural metabolic reactions in our body. It is the oxidation of some compounds, such as fats, that can lead to the creation of “free radicals” which are harmful to the body and can cause damage to our cells.
Excessive build up of these free radicals not only leads to cell damage, but ultimately over time can result in various states of chronic diseases, inflammation, and accelerating the aging process. Some of these conditions include heart disease (resulting from LDL oxidation), renal disease and failure, several types of cancer, skin exposure damage caused by ultraviolet A and B rays, as well as many diseases associated with the onset of aging.
Green tea polyphenols are potent free-radical scavengers due to the hydroxyl group in their chemical structure. These hydroxyl groups can bind with free radicals to neutralize them, preventing reactions between free radicals and DNA, and resulted in mutations that can adversely affect the cell cycle and potentially lead to malignancy and other diseases.
Green tea as cancer prevention/inhibition
Scientific research in both Asia and the west are providing hard evidence that suggest that green tea may help prevent all three phases of tumour development: initiation, promotion and progression. While the studies are not conclusive, green tea polyphenols, particularly EGCG, may be effective in preventing and/or inhibiting various cancers including, prostate, breast, liver, lung skin and lukemia.
Green tea weight loss and obesity control
Due to the ever-growing obesity pandemic, the anti-obesity effects of green tea are being increasingly investigated in cell and human studies. Recent studies on green tea’s thermogenic properties have demonstrated that catechin polyphenols, and epigallocatechin 3 gallate (EGCG), have been demonstrated to prolong the body’s own metabolic rate of burning calories by slowing the rise in blood sugar following a meal.
It does this by slowing the action of a particular digestive enzyme called amylase. This enzyme is pivotal in the breakdown of starches (carbs), that can cause blood sugar levels to soar following a meal.
Recent studies of green tea extract containing 90mg EGCG taken 3 times daily concluded that men taking the extract burned 266 more calories per day and that green tea extract’s thermogenic effects may play a role in controlling fat mass, body weight, fat absorption and obesity. You can find hundreds of detailed research studies of Green Tea by searching PubMed.com