The Health Benefits of Green Tea

Learn how to brew the perfect cup of tea to enjoy the many health benefits of green tea.

| July/August 1999

Green tea. It costs pennies per cup, takes five minutes to brew, and when you drink it on a regular basis, there are many health benefits of green tea: it inhibits cancer, cardiovascular disease, and many other ailments. Add to these qualities its refreshing taste, and it’s no wonder that green tea sales are brisk. The U.S. green tea market grew by more than 8 percent in 1997; experts predict that 1998 will show an even larger ­increase.

Sparked by this attention, tea brokers are bringing many new varieties of green tea to consumers. Our chart in our Image Gallery lists some exceptional varieties and indicates which are most readily available. A few are exquisitely delicate, others are hearty, and some carry the perfume of flowers planted in the tea gardens.

Can you drink too much green tea?

If any herb is a magic elixir, it surely is green tea. Recent research reveals many of its medicinal actions, including its cardiovascular benefits and its ability to fight germs, dental caries and, especially, tumor production. Reasonable amounts of this beverage appear to inhibit several types of cancer, including colorectal, lung, liver, pancreatic, bladder, duodenal, skin, breast, stomach, and esophageal, according to recent studies. It may also inhibit oral leukoplakia (a precursor to mouth cancer), leukemia, and prostate cancer.

Much of green tea’s ability to inhibit production of both benign and malignant tumors is linked to its high concentration of an antioxidant molecule called EGCG (epigallocatechin-3-gallate), but other molecules in the leaves probably possess beneficial properties too. Both chlorophyll and its related compound, pheophytin, suppress the formation of tumors induced by chemicals. Caffeine appears to prevent cancer caused by UVB rays. And lignans, which are strong antioxidants that may inhibit breast cancer and are also present in flax, occur in significant concentrations (for more about flax, see Herbs for Health, September/October 1998).

How much tea represents a protective dose? Epidemiological studies furnish some clues. One Japanese report shows that men who drink ten cups of green tea each day stay cancer-free three years longer than men who drink less than three cups a day; women drinking ten cups daily stay cancer-free for an average of 8.7 years. Two other studies suggest that drinking seven cups of green tea a day decreases the odds of developing stomach, rectal, and pancreatic cancers by about a third. Yet another study suggests that green tea inhibits the recurrence of Stage I and II breast cancer. The study shows that women who drink five cups or more a day have a recurrence rate of 16.7 percent, compared to 24.3 percent of women who drink four or fewer cups per day.

Tea Origins: How is Tea Processed

True teas—what we know as green, oolong, and black—come from dried and processed buds, leaves, and occasionally twigs of the evergreen Camellia sinensis bush. The best specimens grow in regions of high moisture, a temperate climate, and at altitudes of 3,000 to 6,000 feet. India, Sri Lanka, Japan, China, Taiwan, Indonesia and Kenya are the largest producers of high-quality teas.

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