The green revolution
Mar 31 2014
The healing compounds found in green tea promote longevity and help prevent, and treat, a host of diseases and disorders
In today’s world, this would not have been a dramatic act. But, Shen Nung, who vouched his admiration for the brew, ages ago, affirmed that it gave him “vigour of body, contentment of mind, and determination of purpose”. The fact is: it took thousands of years thereafter for scientists to ‘do’ a Shen Nung — with their research tools and affirm why there was something special that gave green tea not just its special flavour, but also treasure. Now research estimates that the healing compounds found in green tea promote healthy longevity and also help prevent and treat heart and liver disease, arthritis, cancer and a host of other disorders.
Green tea’s active plant constituents are called polyphenols; they are evidenced to be responsible for its medicinal action. Polyphenols are four in number. They are called catechins — epicatechin, epicatechin gallate, epigallocatechin and epigallocatechin gallate. The polyphenols are, again, best known for their powerful preventative, therapeutic or healing attributes. Research suggests that antioxidants (chemical compounds or substances that inhibit oxidation, such as vitamin C and E) and anti-inflammatory elements in green tea inhibit the cyclooxygenase-2 gene, or enzyme, that triggers inflammation. In a study conducted at the department of orthopedics, Case Western Reserve University, US, researchers gave arthritis-prone mice either green tea, or water. The human equivalent of four cups of green tea daily halved the mice’s risk of developing arthritis. The implication? Green tea suppresses the cox-2 gene that triggers inflammation. This is also the way conventional ‘coxib’ drugs like celebrex work. In another study at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), 600 Chinese men and women, drinking green tea, halved the risk of chronic stomach inflammation, which can sometimes lead to cancer.
Millions of people all over the world suffer from pain — both acute and chronic. In spite of its pervasiveness, treating pain is often exasperating for physicians and therapists, because there are far few effective conventional therapies, and even if benefits accrue, they are riddled with adverse side-effects. Green tea contains salicylic acid, from which aspirin is synthesised. But, unlike aspirin, green tea has a huge advantage — long-term use of green tea actually prevents the formation of ulcers. This, experts suggest, is because it contains at least 15 different anti-ulcer agents (Ginger is the only herb other than green tea to have this effect).
Green tea contains theanine too — L-theanine — an amino acid. Theanine is believed to reduce blood pressure; it has also been found to be effective in increasing the anti-tumour activity of cancer drugs. Call it the ‘synergistic herbal aspirin’ effect, or what you may. In addition, the amino acid elevates serotonin (the feel-good-chemical) and dopamine (a neurohormone) levels in some areas of the brain. The result — green tea promotes a state of ‘attentive relaxation’, by opposing the stimulation and anxiety-causing effects of caffeine. This, researchers explain, may be responsible for the calming — even if it is ironic — effect of green tea, despite its caffeine content, which is, of course, relatively low in comparison to coffee.
Green tea’s list of healing properties is long. It is more than useful in the ‘treatment’ of high cholesterol and high triglyceride levels. It also stimulates immune function. While it has earned a reputation to lower the risk of arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries, which can lead to heart attacks), research shows that green tea provides an additional advantage: it improves the ratio of high-density lipoprotein, or HDL (‘good’) cholesterol vis-à-vis low-density lipoprotein, or LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol. It also helps in reducing platelet aggregation, or what is called as clumping or clotting of blood cells. Most important — green tea, as studies testify, prevents or reduces the risk of heart disease.
Green tea is suggested to be a popular weight-loss remedy. This is due to its potent appetite suppressing properties. Scientists report that green tea increases thermogenesis — the production of heat to burn fat. Green tea is reported to be as effective as prescription medications in the treatment of tubbiness. Besides, it has an additional advantage — it does not cause adverse effects on heart rate and blood pressure, or nervous stimulation, unlike conventional diet pills, or ‘anti-obesity’ drugs.
In addition, the polyphenols in green tea have been known to elevate cholecystokinin (CCK) levels. CCK is a hormone that lowers food intake. This is just one of the hypotheses that researchers have put forward on green tea’s anti-obesity effects. What also clinches the issue in favour of green tea is its natural antioxidant potency — which gives the herb its lipolytic effect.
Green tea also enhances healthy longevity. According to results published in Ageing Research Reviews, which measured 90 lifestyle factors in a Japanese population of 8,552 individuals, over 40 years of age, consumption of ten cups a day of green tea, when compared to less than three cups, was correlated with increased lifespan of 4.3 and 3.8 years, in men and women, respectively.
In a study it was found that green tea decreases the risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer. In another, green tea was reported to thwart the progression of colon, cervical, prostate, blood, brain, neck and gut cancer. Results also showed that smokers who drank green tea had reduced occurrence of lung cancer — although this does not mean that a ‘prescription’ of green tea would be one’s best ‘shield’ against the disease and/or ‘insurance cover’ for longevity.
Green tea is reported to protect against the development of brain tumours. It is said to reduce oxidative damage in the brain and improve brain recovery from ischaemia (narrowing of blood vessels) and reperfusion injury (restoration of blood flow to an organ, or tissue, that has had its blood supply cut off; e.g., following a heart attack). Some researchers, therefore, propose that green tea may also be useful in preventing Parkinson’s disease through the same mechanism.
Drinking green tea, it is reported, may also delay death from heart disease by 1-2 years. In a study on 14,000 Japanese workers adjusted for dietary factors, age, basal metabolic index, or BMI (utilisation of oxygen in the body), alcohol consumption, tobacco use, coffee intake, and type of work, researchers found that green tea drinkers had remarkably lower cholesterol levels. New research also suggests that green tea may prevent insulin resistance and type-2 diabetes, which is often found in conjunction with heart disease. It is suggested to prevent liver damage and reverse intestinal destruction too by inhibiting Helicobacter pylori — bacteria responsible for a majority of tummy ulcers.
Studies have also corroborated the fact that green tea may have a strong anti-viral activity. It has been tested successfully against influenza A and B, aside from HIV (AIDS) infection. Researchers are optimistic that green tea holds enormous promise in the area — as a great, natural healing agent with relatively less, or minimal, side-effects in comparison to conventional medications, or drugs.
Green tea can relieve anxiety and mental fatigue. It can also relieve migraine headaches and prevent plaque build-up on the teeth, besides cataracts. Well, you may have seen some people using green tea bags, or leaves, as a cold compress for baggy and weary eyes. You may also have seen green tea infusion used externally to calm sunburn, or ease the distress of insect bites. It all works. It has been corroborated, no less, that green tea may ease diarrhoea, skin disorders, hair loss, alcohol indulgence, or hangovers, hyperacidity or gas, cholera and diphtheria. Research has, so far, ‘brewed’ over 500 studies and identified and validated the beverage’s health benefits
Experts recommend 6-10 cups of green tea daily — without sugar and milk. A cup of green tea contains about 50 mg of caffeine, which is just one-third of the caffeine in a cup of coffee. While it is agreed that most people can tolerate 3-4 cups without side-effects from excessive caffeine — insomnia, anxiety, headaches, nervousness, or accelerated heart rate, and frequent visits to the toilet to relieve the bladder, thanks to the beverage’s diuretic effects — clinicians recommend that it would do us all a world of good, if we used decaffeinated versions, or opted for green tea extracts. These extracts are standardised to contain 80 per cent total polyphenols and 55 per cent epigallocatechin. They are available as dietary or food supplements — in capsule, or tablet, form.
The popularity of green tea and its health benefits are being disseminated far and wide, and it is no surprise that most of us are also ‘spreading’ our food with green tea seasoning and using various green tea soaps and salves. While it is agreed that not all of us understand the concept of antioxidants, from the inside out, everybody seems to know that green tea is good for them. The only hurdle, if at all there’s any, is the flavour — the strong, bitter taste of green tea. However, once you develop a ‘taste’ for it, you will not only begin to love, but also relish it — for optimal health and well-being.
There is nothing to lose, but everything to gain from increased green tea consumption. So, what better than a refreshing cup of green tea, followed by another mug of the revitalising brew… to quash the pangs of arthritic pain, or migraine — to cull just one of its therapeutic benefits? You got it. Hail the ‘green revolution,’ sip your fill of green tea, or ‘go green’ to your heart’s content — and, your health will be the better for it.
(The writer is a wellness physician and author)