With the recent rise in interest for healthy foods in the West, perhaps no other item has been discussed and analyzed more than green tea. Its many health benefits – some scientifically supported and others with little backing evidence – have accounted for a huge worldwide increase in green tea consumption over the last few decades.
But in certain parts of the globe, green tea has been a cultural fixture for surprising lengths of time. In China, for instance, the steeping of green tea leaves in hot water is a process that dates back roughly 4,000 years! Ancient cultures didn’t just drink green tea for the taste – they also had colloquial beliefs that the tea was an inherently healthy beverage. These beliefs, as we are still learning today, had a strong medical backing of fact.
The tea itself is not all that different from more traditional black tea. In fact, it even comes from the same plant species: Camellia Sinensis. The key difference is the way in which green tea is produced. It is processed less than its black counterpart, which translates chemically to an increased level of health improving substances – namely antioxidants, polyphenols, and flavonoids. In this article, we’ll explore some of the most widely accepted and scientifically supported health benefits of green tea.
Green tea’s fat-burning capabilities undoubtedly account for its recent rise in popularity in the West. And while other health foods have shown mixed results in regard to weight loss, medical studies seem to uniformly support green tea’s fat burning properties. In fact, several different types of medical studies have been performed in the past decade came up with these conclusions.
In 2004, a study performed in mice was one of the first to analyze green tea’s weight loss effects. A test group of mice were given food that contained an extract of green tea, and their body fat oxidation rate was measured against mice without the green tea in their diet. To clarify, body fat oxidation simply means the rate at which fat is burned. Results showed that the mice saw a 76.8% reduction in abdominal – or so called “visceral” fat. While this data can’t be perfectly extrapolated to humans, it does support the idea that mammals can experience a reduction in abdominal fat by dinking green tea.
Another study, which took place at Birmingham University in the United Kingdom, looked at green tea’s fat burning effects on actual human subjects. In the experiment, healthy patients were divided into two groups – one consumed green tea extract, and the other received a placebo. After ingestion, measurements showed that those who consumed the green tea extract had body fat oxidation rates 17% higher than those who consumed the placebo.
To put it simply, the results of these two studies and others like it are nothing short of impressive. But what is the reason behind this fantastic health benefit of green tea? According to researchers, three compounds present in the plant’s leaves – caffeine, catechins, and theanine – account for its fat-burning properties. These compounds are thought to stimulate enzymes within the body that process substance within body fat, most notably triglycerides and synthetase. In this way, they help to shrink the body’s fat cells and lower overall body fat.
In addition to burning fat, it seems that green tea also helps to build bone density. Those at risk for osteoporosis may stand to benefit quite a bit from green tea consumption. In a simple research study conducted at the University of Tokyo, a questionnaire was given to women over sixty – those most at risk for bone loss. The sample was large, including 655 women altogether. Those who consumed green tea often had a bone density measure of .808, while those who didn’t had a bone density measure of .738. In other words, there was a roughly 9% difference between in bone density between green tea consumers and non-green tea consumers.
The research group at the University of Tokyo concluded that the reason behind this significant difference was a specific flavonoid called catechin. It is hypothesized that these flavonoids stop cells that break down bone, or “osteoclasts” in their tracks.
The same catechins that help prevent bone loss may be effective as protectors against coronary artery disease as well. In a study conducted in Japan, it was found that those who drink green tea more than five times per week were 16% less likely to suffer from this serious ailment. The correlation was so strong, that green tea consumption is considered by some in the medical community to be its own independent factor when judging a person’s risk for heart disease. It is thought that the catechins in green tea help to reduce “free radicals”, or reactive molecules with electrons that are unpaired, in the blood. The presence of these free radicals is a known risk factor for many forms of cardiovascular disease.
So, we’ve established that green tea can help you lose weight, shore up your bone structure, and make your heart healthier. What other health benefits of green tea could possibly exist? According to many medical studies, the real “kicker” of green tea’s consumption is its cancer fighting capabilities. This includes prostate, lung cancer, and breast cancer. You might be wondering just how it could be so effective – the answer lies in green tea’s polyphenols. These compounds are believed to induce apoptosis (or cell death) in cancerous cells, but not normal cells.
Though this isn’t completely proven, several studies seem to support the idea. The Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition found in one of their experiments that men who drank high levels of green tea saw a risk reduction rate of 86% for prostate cancer. Another study, concerned with the risk of lung cancer among smokers, used a benchmark substance called hydroxydeoxyguanosine to measure the amount of cancer-causing “free radicals” in the body. The experiment confirmed that people who smoked but also drank green tea had far lower levels of free radicals than those who just smoked.
With all the evidence to back green tea’s many purported health benefits, it’s no wonder that this warm, soothing drink is gaining such a large following. From theoretical health effects proposed 4,000 years ago to evidence arising from modern medical studies, it seems that there’s almost nothing green tea consumption can’t do for your health. And, as evinced by the rising number of studies that seem to confirm green tea’s benefits for everything from weight loss to cancer prevention, there’s plenty of incentive for just about anyone to make the switch from regular old black tea.
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