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While the production and trade of green tea has been occurring for centuries, green tea research has only been extensively conducted in recent years. Medical and scientific research results have been well-publicized and marketed to the public since the early 1990's. As a result, green tea is a recent phenomenon in the West. Green tea has been prescribed for a number of ailments for hundreds of years. People continue to consume it daily however as a refreshing beverage as well. The result of recent research is scientific evidence of green tea's benefits on human health understood by generations of people around the world. Antioxidants discovered in green tea are its most notable health benefit. At the molecular level, may help prevent cell damage from certain oxidation actions in the body. Chemical substances called polyphenols are found in numerous plants, but some polyphenols are found only in tea leaves and are called tea catechins.
Though catechins have been found in other plant derivatives such as cacao and grapes and pomegranates, those found in tea have been proven to be among the most effective antioxidants known. Bacterial infections and the formation of plaque can also be improved by tea catechins. The catechins act as an antiviral agent and regulator of cholesterol, and have proven useful in the prevention of some of the major causes of death, from diabetes to cancer to heart disease. Green tea and its extractives have become widely used to enrich energy drinks, juices, vitamins, and even beauty products.
Green tea and organic tea have been consumed throughout the ages in India, China, Japan, and Thailand. Green tea has been extensively studied in people, animals, and laboratory experiments. Results from these studies suggest that green tea may be useful for the following health conditions:
Population-based clinical studies indicate that the antioxidant properties of green tea may help prevent atherosclerosis, particularly coronary artery disease. Researchers aren't sure why green tea reduces the risk of heart disease by lowering cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Studies show that black tea has similar beneficial effects. In fact, researchers estimate that the rate of heart attack decreases by 11% with consumption of 3 cups of tea per day. In 2006, however, The U.S. Food and Drug Administration concluded that there is no credible evidence to support qualified health claims for green tea or green tea extract reducing the risk of heart disease.
Research shows that green tea lowers total cholesterol and raises HDL ("good") cholesterol in both animals and people. One population-based clinical study found that men who drink green tea are more likely to have lower total cholesterol than those who do not drink green tea. Results from one animal study suggest that polyphenols in green tea may block the intestinal absorption of cholesterol and promote its excretion from the body. In another small study of male smokers, researchers found that green tea significantly reduced blood levels of harmful LDL cholesterol.
Several population-based clinical studies have shown that both green and black teas help protect against cancer. For example, cancer rates tend to be low in countries such as Japan where people regularly consume green tea. However, it is not possible to determine from these population-based studies whether green tea actually prevents cancer in people. Emerging clinical studies suggest that the polyphenols in tea, especially green tea, may play an important role in the prevention of cancer. Researchers also believe that polyphenols help kill cancerous cells and stop their progression.
Bladder cancer. Only a few clinical studies have examined the relationship between bladder cancer and tea consumption. In one study that compared people with and without bladder cancer, researchers found that women who drank black tea and powdered green tea were less likely to develop bladder cancer. A follow-up clinical study by the same group of researchers revealed that bladder cancer patients (particularly men) who drank green tea had a substantially better 5-year survival rate than those who did not.
Breast cancer. Clinical studies in animals and test tubes suggest that polyphenols in green tea inhibit the growth of breast cancer cells. In one study of 472 women with various stages of breast cancer, researchers found that women who consumed the most green tea experienced the least spread of cancer (particularly premenopausal women in the early stages of breast cancer). They also found that women with early stages of the disease who drank at least 5 cups of tea every day before being diagnosed with cancer were less likely to suffer recurrences of the disease after completion of treatment. However, women with late stages of breast cancer experienced little or no improvement from drinking green tea. In terms of breast cancer prevention, the studies are inconclusive. In one very large study, researchers found that drinking tea, green or any other type was not associated with a reduced risk of breast cancer. However, when the researchers broke down the sample by age, among women under the age of 50, those who consumed 3 or more cups of tea per day were 37% less likely to develop breast cancer compared to women who didn't drink tea.
Ovarian cancer. In a clinical study conducted on ovarian cancer patients in China, researchers found that women who drank at least one cup of green tea per day survived longer with the disease than those who did not drink green tea. In fact, those who drank the most tea lived the longest. Other studies found no beneficial effects.
Colorectal cancer. Clinical studies on the effects of green tea on colon or rectal cancer have produced conflicting results. Some clinical studies show decreased risk in those who drink the tea, while others show increased risk. In one study, women who drank 5 or more cups of green tea per day had a significantly lower risk of colorectal cancer compared to non-tea-drinkers. There was no effect in men, however. Other studies show that regular tea consumption may reduce the risk of colorectal cancer in women. Further research is needed before researchers can recommend green tea for the prevention of colorectal cancer.
Esophageal cancer. Studies in laboratory animals have found that green tea polyphenols inhibit the growth of esophageal cancer cells. However, clinical studies in people have produced conflicting findings. For example, one large-scale population-based clinical study found that green tea offered significant protection against the development of esophageal cancer (particularly among women). Another population-based clinical study revealed just the opposite -- green tea consumption was associated with an increased risk of esophageal cancer. In fact, the stronger and hotter the tea, the greater the risk. Given these conflicting results, further research is needed before scientists can recommend green tea for the prevention of esophageal cancer.
Lung cancer. While green tea polyphenols have been shown to inhibit the growth of human lung cancer cells in test tubes, few clinical studies have investigated the link between green tea consumption and lung cancer in people and even these studies have been conflicting. Pancreatic cancer. In one large-scale clinical study researchers compared green tea drinkers with non-drinkers and found that those who drank the most tea were significantly less likely to develop pancreatic cancer. This was particularly true for women -- those who drank the most green tea were half as likely to develop pancreatic cancer as those who drank less tea. Men who drank the most tea were 37% less likely to develop pancreatic cancer. However, it is not clear from this population-based study whether green tea is solely responsible for reducing pancreatic cancer risk. Further studies in animals and people are needed before researchers can recommend green tea for the prevention of pancreatic cancer.
Prostate cancer. Laboratory studies have found that green tea extracts prevent the growth of prostate cancer cells in test tubes. In a large clinical study conducted in Southeast China researchers found that the risk of prostate cancer declined with increasing frequency, duration and quantity of green tea consumption. However, both green and black tea extracts also stimulated genes that cause cells to be less sensitive to chemotherapy drugs. Given this potential interaction, people should not drink black and green tea (as well as extracts of these teas) while receiving chemotherapy. Skin cancer. The main polyphenol in green tea is epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). Scientific studies suggest that EGCG and green tea polyphenols have anti-inflammatory and anticancer properties that may help prevent the onset and growth of skin tumors.
Stomach cancer. Laboratory studies have found that green tea polyphenols inhibit the growth of stomach cancer cells in test tubes, but clinical studies in people have been less conclusive. In two studies that compared green tea drinkers with non-drinkers, researchers found that people who drank tea were about half as likely to develop stomach cancer and gastritis (inflammation of the stomach) as those who did not drink green tea. However, a clinical study including more than 26,000 men and women in Japan found no association between green tea consumption and stomach cancer risk. Some clinical studies even suggest that green tea may increase the risk of stomach cancer.
Further clinical studies are underway to determine whether green tea helps reduce the risk of stomach cancer. Although green tea is considered safe for people at risk for stomach cancer, it is too soon to tell whether green tea reduces the likelihood of developing this disease. Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD).
Green tea may help reduce inflammation associated with Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, the two types of IBD. If green tea proves to be helpful for preventing colon cancer, this would be an added benefit for those with IBD because they are at risk for colon cancer.
Green tea has been used traditionally to control blood sugar in the body. Animal studies suggest that green tea may help prevent the development of type 1 diabetes and slow the progression once it has developed. People with type 1 diabetes produce little or no insulin, a hormone that converts glucose (sugar), starches, and other foods into energy needed for daily life. Green tea may help regulate glucose in the body.
A few small clinical studies have found that daily supplementation of the diet with green tea extract powder lowered the hemoglobin A1c level in individuals with borderline diabetes.
Population-based clinical studies have shown that men who drink more than 10 cups of green tea per day are less likely to develop disorders of the liver. Green tea also seems to protect the liver from the damaging effects of toxic substances such as alcohol. Animal studies have shown that green tea helps protect against the development of liver tumors in mice.
Results from several animal and human studies suggest that one of the polyphenols present in green tea, known as catechin, may help treat viral hepatitis (inflammation of the liver from a virus). In these studies, catechin was isolated from green tea and used in very high concentrations. It is not clear whether green tea (which contains a lower concentration of catechins) confers these same benefits to people with hepatitis.
Drinking green tea has been found effective in a small clinical study for dental caries, or tooth decay. More studies need to be performed. Green tea may also be useful in inflammatory diseases, such as arthritis. Research indicates that green tea may benefit arthritis by reducing inflammation and slowing cartilage breakdown. Chemicals found in green tea may also be effective in treating genital warts and preventing symptoms of colds and influenza. Studies also show that drinking green tea is associated with reduced risk of all cause mortality.
Clinical studies suggest that green tea extract may boost metabolism and help burn fat. One study confirmed that the combination of green tea and caffeine improved weight loss and maintenance in overweight and moderately obese individuals. Some researchers speculate that substances in green tea known as polyphenols, specifically the catechins, are responsible for the herb's fat-burning effect.
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