Health Benefits of Green Tea; A look at the research

Green tea has long been consumed for its medicinal value and is known as being high in antioxidants. More recently however, the reasons to drink it are growing as more and more is discovered about the health benefits of green tea; including free-radical scavenging, treating skin disease and promoting healthy skin,  lowering cholesterol which helps reduce the risk of heart disease, and even tooth-decay reducing and potential anti-cancer properties.

Green tea for fighting free-radical damage

A major benefit of green tea is its function as a free-radical scavenger. Today, free-radical damage is a widely known health concern. They are a common cause of ailments associated with aging, as well as many chronic diseases. Free radicals occur with normal body function, as a result of oxidation, as well as environmental factors like toxins in the air and food we eat. They are unpaired molecules, which essentially attack healthy cells and damage DNA – mutating previously healthy cells, which then reproduce and continue to spread. The antioxidant effect of catechines found in green tea targets free radicals, and converts unstable, free-radical damaged molecules back to healthy, stable molecules.

Green Tea to treat skin disease and promote healthy skin

A paper published by Stephen Hsu suggests that green tea may be effective as an alternative topical treatment for skin psoriasis and other skin disease, as well as generally promoting healthy skin. While the report emphasizes the need for further research, experiments using mice suggested that topical treatment with green tea (applying green tea to skin) regulates cell growth, restores the skin barrier, helps to heal wounds, and can improve skin conditions. This skin benefit of green tea is due to polyphenols in green tea, which among other things, have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, as well as the ability to inhibit overactive tissue-immune-responses.

Green tea for lowering cholesterol and preventing heart disease

Research suggests that drinking green tea can help balance cholesterol levels, and in turn prevent the risk of health issues such as coronary heart disease. In a study, rats were fed a high fat diet which dramatically increased LDL (bad) cholesterol levels and decreased HDL (good) cholesterol levels. They were then fed the same high fat diet, supplemented with green tea. The second diet showed a dramatic decrease in LDL cholesterol and an increase in HDL cholesterol. Furthermore, supplementation of green tea resulted in a decrease in total liver fat retention, with an increase in the amount of fat excreted.

Preventing Tooth Decay

Historical research suggests that green tea helps in the prevention of tooth decay. A five year study was carried out in China, where childrens’ lunches were supplemented with about 100ml of green tea each day. The study showed a significant reduction in tooth-decay and lesions in the children who drank green tea. This dental benefit of green tea is due to the fact that green tea inhibits a plaque-forming enzyme, strengthens tooth enamel, and suppresses the growth of bacteria that produces lactic acid, which in turn melts tooth enamel. This function can partially be explained by the fact that green tea contains high levels of fluoride, however it is suggested that other non-fluoride components of green tea are also responsible.

Potential anti-cancer health benefit of green tea

While further research is needed, there are indications that green tea may have cancer fighting effects. Green tea polyphenols are known to reduce duplication rates of abnormal and damaged cells; cells that are involved in the development of cancer and other diseases. This includes, but not limited to, free radical damage discussed earlier. Another potential cancer-reducing effect of drinking green tea is that it’s believed to induce enzymes in the liver that detoxify carcinogens, leading to a reduced risk of chemicals which are present in the cancer process.

References:

Hsu, S, D. (2008). Green tea: Skin care and skin diseases. In M. S. Meskin, W. R. Bidlack & R. Keith Randolph (Eds.), Phytochemicals: Aging and health (pp. 119-134). CRC Press.
Hara, Y. (2001). Green tea: Health benefits and applications. CRC Press.

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