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The surprising truth about green tea

In a previous post, we said that there are 2.25 billion cups of coffee drunk every day. Which is not a bad effort when you consider that 36% of the world's population lives in China or India, where the favored beverage is not coffee, but tea.

In this post, we'll be having a look not at regular tea, but at green tea. You might have heard that it's good for you, but there is something really quite remarkable about it. But first...

Is Green tea excellent - fact or fiction?

Green tea has many purported benefits, such as being able to aid in weight loss, stabilise blood sugars and reduce type II diabetes, protect against ultra-violet radiation, increase concentration, protect against Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease, slow down the aging process, reduce your risk of heart disease, lower cholesterol, and even reduce your risk of cancer. Are these claims accurate? The bulk of the evidence is that they are, although some more than others. So what is it that gives green tea these superpowers, and how does it work?

What makes green great?

Unlike black tea, green tea has not been fermented, and as a result, it contains much higher levels of antioxidants. To be a bit more specific and scientific, it is high in polyphenols, including flavonoids such as catechins. The catechin that attracts the most attention is epigallocatechin gallate or EGCG for short. The catechins, especially EGCG, are what is mostly responsible for the antioxidant effect, as well as having anti-inflammatory properties.

Without going into the physiological processes, antioxidants help to protect your body's tissues against damage, and therefore disease, and thus aging! The Japanese, who are the undefeated champions of green tea consumption, are also renowned for their longevity. No doubt green tea plays a role in their lifespan, but it is likely to be one of many factors that contribute to a healthy lifestyle. (The younger generations of Japanese that adopt more Westernised dietary and lifestyle habits are less likely to live as long as their grandparents. There's food for thought).

The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects of the catechins help to protect the lining of your blood vessels from damage, therefore decreasing your chances of cardiovascular disease. Not only that, but green tea has also been shown to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, so it packs a pretty healthy punch in the face of cardiovascular disease, which is what kills most of us these days.

Several studies have linked green tea consumption to a decreased risk of cancer. Most of this is likely due to the antioxidant effect again, as well as the anti-inflammatory properties. Green tea is also thought to be able to inhibit the growth of existing tumours.

The link between green tea and weight loss appears to exist but is not quite as strong. There are, of course, much stronger influences on weight (e.g. calorie intake and activity levels), so green tea could be considered just one more little bonus in this particular picture.

How much do you need?

Many of the studies on green tea have shown a correlation between the amount of drunk and its effects. In other words, the more green tea you drink, the more likely you are to experience the benefits, up to a point. A typical quantity stated is five cups/day. Note though that green tea is traditionally served in much smaller cups than we are used to consuming in the West (a la muggachino!) We don't know what size cup the studies are referring to, so we're going to suggest approximately two Western sized cups each day would have a therapeutic dose.

Is some green tea better than others?

There are many ways to imbibe this green elixir of life. It can be purchased in bottles rather like bottled water or a soft drink. This ranks at the bottom of the list. It's not fresh, it may be sweetened, it may contain preservatives, and it comes in a plastic bottle. We wouldn't bother.

Next, we have tea bags. These are slightly better, but the quality typically isn't that great, and there may have been further processing involved, removing some of the benefits.

Loose-leaf gets you a lot closer. It's just a bit of a hassle! To get the best results, you want to brew the leaves in a pot, but not for long! Anywhere from about 30 seconds to 2 minutes is best.

Finally, we have matcha.

Matcha? You betcha!

What is matcha? It is the loose leaves that have been ground into a fine powder. You only need about a quarter of a teaspoon per cup, so it is very economical. Swallow this fine powder in your cuppa, and you'll be maximising your polyphenol consumption.

Important note - green tea is not black tea. Any British person will tell you that to make a proper cuppa black tea, the water has to be boiling. Not just hot. Really hot. Otherwise, it's just not cricket. Green tea is different. Adding boiling water may destroy some of the beneficial components, as well as giving your tea a slightly more bitter taste. So, hot, but not too hot!

Oh, and while we're here, don't add milk or sugar. It's a faux pas. Worse than ordering an 'expresso'.

Are there any adverse effects of drinking green tea?

Green tea, like black tea, contains tannins. These can have quite a beneficial effect on the lining of your gut, but they can also hinder the absorption of nutrients, especially if you're consuming in high doses. We, therefore, recommend you drink your green tea separately to your meals or any supplements or medication.

The surprising truth about green tea

Green tea also contains caffeine. Although it contains less than black tea, and about half as much as coffee, if you are sensitive to caffeine, you may react to it. But here's where green tea gets really interesting. It can be stimulating yet, at the same time, soothing and relaxing. How is that even possible?

Green tea contains a compound called L-theanine, which helps to counteract the effects of the caffeine.

"Wait," I hear you say, "isn't that a bit like driving with the brakes on?"

It appears that the opposite is true and that the L-theanine and the caffeine work synergistically together to improve brain function. The caffeine helps to sharpen concentration, while the L-theanine helps you to stay relaxed as well as focus, without the same yo-yo effect that coffee drinkers often experience. In our books, that makes green tea a wonder drug! (Superfood might be a better term).

Another edge that green tea has over coffee is that it doesn't cause coffee breath! In fact, studies show that green tea can help to inhibit the growth of bacteria in the mouth and reduce bad breath.

How to get the benefits of green tea without even drinking it

If you're one of those people that just don't like the flavour of green tea, the good news is that you can also take it in a capsule. Green tea extract sometimes standardised to contain a specific level of catechins such as ECGC, is often found in Nutritional and Herbal supplements. So, if you see it on the label of a product you are taking, now you know what it does!

Green tea IS excellent, but by itself is not the answer. There are many foods, herbal medicines, and homeopathic remedies that together can help you to achieve optimum health.

Want to learn more about natural medicine?

If you want to learn more about complementary medicine, Switch on Health has several short courses and accredited qualifications that you will love, including Advanced Diplomas in Nutrition, Herbal Medicine, Naturopathy and Homeopathy. Browse the short courses or learn more about their accredited Advanced Diploma programs.


Go green!

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