What’s green, ancient, helps prevent cavities, AND lowers blood pressure? Why green tea, of course! For centuries, traditional Chinese medicine has acknowledged the health benefits of green tea. It’s been used as a stimulant, diuretic, astringent; an aid to digestion, mental health, and blood sugar regulation; and more. So, let’s take a closer look at green tea to understand more about its health implications.
What Makes Green Tea Different
All true teas (meaning black, green, white, and oolong — not herbal) come from just one plant called Camellia sinensis. The differences in these teas come down to their harvesting and processing:
- White tea is made from very young tea leaves or buds;
- Green tea is made from mature unfermented leaves;
- Oolong tea is made from partially fermented leaves; and
- Black tea is made from fully fermented leaves.
Due to being unfermented, green tea offers a different nutritional profile than its counterparts. It contains proteins, carbohydrates, minerals, vitamins and polyphenols. Most notably, it contains high levels of a catechin called EGCG.
Health Benefits of Green Tea
When we talk about the health benefits of green tea, researchers believe they’re mainly due to this standout component of green tea, EGCG. EGCG stands for epigallocatechin-3-gallate and is part of a group of compounds known for its potent antioxidant activity.
Green tea also contains minerals (like potassium, calcium, and phosphorus) and vitamins (like A, C, E, and some B vitamins) that play important roles in health. Notably, it also contains amino acids like theanine, as well as caffeine, that also come into play.
So let’s take a look at four ways green tea can benefit your health.
1. Green Tea is a Powerful Therapeutic Agent
- The big claim to fame of the EGCG found in green tea is its role as an antioxidant, neutralizing free radical activity that damages cells. EGCG is 25 to 100 times more potent than vitamins C and E in terms of antioxidant activity.
- Due to this, it naturally exhibits strong anti-inflammatory properties throughout the body and potentially has broad disease-preventing and anti-aging applications. Diseases marked by chronic inflammation include diabetes, cancer, asthma, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Animal and in vitro studies have shown promise in using EGCG to treat cancer and rheumatoid arthritis.
- EGCG has exhibited antibacterial qualities against a variety of bacteria, including E. coli, salmonella, and Streptococcus mutans (the bacteria that causes dental cavities). It damages bacterial membranes, preventing the bacteria from binding to host cells. One study showed that adding EGCG to an antibiotic even restored its ability to kill a drug-resistant superbug.
- Numerous in vitro experiments have proven the antiviral qualities of EGCG, and it continues to be studied against viruses like influenza, hepatitis, Epstein–Barr, herpes, HIV, and COVID-19 with positive implications.
2. Green Tea Promotes Brain Health
- The caffeine and L-theanine in green tea help to boost brain function, improving alertness, performance, memory, and focus, while at the same time reducing stress.
- Green tea has been shown to lower dementia and cognitive decline in older populations.
- Some research links green tea with a reduced risk of neurodegenerative diseases, like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
- At least one animal study showed EGCG even helped to regenerate neural cells after a brain injury, and another showed positive neural recovery for mice with autism.
3. Green Tea Promotes Cardiovascular Health
- Green tea has repeatedly demonstrated its ability to regulate cholesterol levels. In one study, daily supplementation with green tea extract was shown to lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and increase HDL (good) cholesterol in overweight patients.
- EGCG helps prevent atherosclerosis and plaque buildup in the arteries, helping to reduce blood pressure and improve heart health.
4. Green Tea Enhances Metabolic Health
- Green tea extract has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance in healthy young men as well as in obese patients.
- In one animal study, EGCG was shown to dramatically lower the blood sugar spike that occurs after eating starchy food. Researchers suggest drinking a cup of green tea along with refined carbohydrates like rice and potatoes would have a similar effect in humans.
- Green tea can raise your metabolic rate so you burn more fat and calories. This is likely due to a combination of the caffeine and EGCG in green tea. The effect is particularly apparent in those who exercise regularly along with consuming the green tea.
What type of green tea should I drink?
Dried green tea leaves or bags are convenient to purchase and store. However, to optimize the amount of EGCG, opt for fresh tea leaves. As tea ages, it loses EGCG. Fresh green tea can contain as much as 15 times the amount of EGCG as its dried counterpart.
And if you really want to maximize the level of EGCG, try matcha green tea. One study that compared EGCG levels between matcha and other green teas found matcha contained at least 3 times the amount of EGCG, and in one case, 137 times the amount!
With matcha, the tea leaves are ground into a powder, which you then dissolve in water to drink. You’re consuming the entire leaf and all of its nutrients in a more potent form, as opposed to simply steeping the leaves and then discarding them.
Notably, matcha also contains the antioxidant quercetin, which exhibits antiviral and anticarcinogenic activity, and supports brain health.
Should I Take Green Tea Extract?
The actual health benefits of green tea could vary wildly depending on where the tea was grown, how it was processed, how old it is, and even how you brew each cup you drink (water temperature, how long it steeps, etc). Because of all of these unknown factors, many people turn to supplementing with green tea extract, so they can feel more confident in what they are consuming.
If you want to take green tea extract as a supplement, you’ll find it readily available at any supermarket, drugstore, health food market, or online. This is both a pro and a con. Because the market is flooded with countless brands, it’s convenient to find the supplement. However, you’ll need to do your research to find a high quality supplement from a trusted brand. You want to make sure you are receiving all the health benefits of green tea extract, and no low quality ingredients, fillers, or harmful additives.
A Word of Warning About Green Tea Extract
While drinking green tea in moderation is healthy and generally safe, it is easy to go overboard with supplements. There are some people who should avoid supplementation, or at least proceed with caution and only with the approval of their doctor.
- Very high doses of EGCG may contribute to liver damage. People with liver disease should avoid supplementation of green tea extract.
- Those diagnosed with anemia, bleeding disorders, or osteoporosis should avoid excessive amounts of green tea extract.
- Pregnant women should discuss green tea extract supplementation with their doctor, as it could interfere with the body’s ability to absorb folate, a vitamin essential to fetal health.
- Green tea extract can negatively interact with certain drugs, including aspirin and warfarin.
- Green tea contains much less caffeine than black tea or coffee. However, if you are sensitive to caffeine, the higher amounts in matcha or green tea extract may still affect you.
If you fall into any of those categories, this doesn’t mean you can’t reap the health benefits of green tea! Generally, the risk comes with consuming unusually large amounts, either more than 8 cups of green tea per day or high dose supplementation.
Regardless, it’s generally safer to skip the supplements and instead drink a few cups of green tea each day. Drinking green tea in normal amounts provides around 90-300 mg of EGCG and 30-90 mg of caffeine per day.
But, if you decide to start supplementing with green tea extract, please discuss it with your doctor to determine if it’s right for you and to determine a safe amount.
Drink Green Tea as Part of A Healthy Lifestyle
There is not one magic bullet when it comes to health. You can’t be a couch potato with a diet of fast food and soda and expect an occasional cup of green tea to save the day! However, moving toward a healthier lifestyle is often only manageable by making small changes over time. Starting to drink green tea daily could be an easy habit to get into. Ready to give it a try?
The potential health benefits of green tea are worth it!
Still have questions? If you’re looking for a primary care doctor in Hampton Roads, VA, In and Out Express Care has four convenient locations in the area and we accept walk-ins. Our friendly doctors are more than happy to discuss your nutritional concerns and health goals, and help you find a way to get there! We’re here when you need us!