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Tea is hot—figuratively and (sometimes) literally. It’s the second-most consumed beverage in the world, following only water. In the United States, sales of tea reached $11.5 billion in 2015. Green tea is particularly trendy, and with good reason. The benefits of green tea have been well documented and reported in recent years.
How does green tea help us? It’s known for a wide variety of useful effects on our minds and bodies. In July 2017, for example, the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) reported on a new study involving mice that suggested that Epigallocatechin-3-gallate, better known as EGCG, “could alleviate high-fat and high-fructose-induced insulin resistance and cognitive impairment.” EGCG is the most abundant catechin—a subcategory of flavonoids (themselves a subcategory of polyphenols)—and the most biologically active component in green tea.
(The other three catechins in green tea, by the way, are called epicatechin, epigallocatechin, and epicatechin-3-gallate. But it’s the EGCG that’s the most important, having proven to be responsible for most of the health benefits of green tea.)
How important were FASEB’s findings? Science Daily put it like this: “Previous research pointed to the potential of EGCG to treat a variety of human diseases, yet until now, ECGC’s impact on insulin resistance and cognitive deficits triggered in the brain by a Western diet remained unclear.”
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All About Green Tea: Benefits Range from Antioxidant Help to Disease Prevention
Green tea, which is grown in more than 30 nations around the globe, has a long history of medicinal benefits.
“The ancient habit of drinking green tea may be a more acceptable alternative to medicine when it comes to combating obesity, insulin resistance, and memory impairment,” according to Xuebo Liu, PhD, a researcher at the College of Food Science and Engineering, Northwest A & F University, in Yangling, China.
How ancient is tea-drinking? The book Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects provides this quick tour of tea history: “The second emperor of China, Shen Nung, is believed to have discovered tea when the leaf of the plant Camellia sinensis blew into his cup of hot water (2737 BCE). The first European to encounter tea and write about it was the Portuguese Jesuit missionary Father Jasper de Cruz in 1560. Around 1650, the Dutch introduced several teas and tea traditions to New Amsterdam (which later became New York).
“The first tea sold as a health beverage was in London, England, at Garway’s Coffee House in 1657,” the authors of Herbal Medicine continue. “In 1826, John Horniman introduced the first retail tea in sealed, lead-lined packages. In 1870, Twinings of England began to blend tea for uniformity. The Englishman Richard Blechynden created iced tea during a heat wave at the St. Louis World Fair in 1904, and the New York tea importer Thomas Sullivan inadvertently invented tea bags in 1908 when he sent tea to clients in small silk bags and they mistakenly steeped the whole bags. Finally, the world’s first instant tea was introduced in 1953.”
So What Are the Benefits of Green Tea? Let’s Count the Ways
Well before the 2017 FASEB study cited above, most recent study, researchers have been lauding the benefits of green tea. Consider the ways it can make an impact on our health.
- Green tea provides all-important antioxidants. Green tea is full of polyphenols, among them flavonoids and catechins, both of which function as powerful antioxidants. Antioxidants are natural substances (found in such rich sources as fruits and vegetables) or man-made substances (available as dietary supplements) known to delay or even prevent some types of cell damage.
- Green tea may lower LDL cholesterol. As you know, LDL is the “bad” cholesterol. The Journal of the American Dietetic Association reported on a study that revealed that drinking green tea—or even ingesting it in capsule form—may lower LDL cholesterol as well as total cholesterol. The study—conducted at the College of Pharmacy at Western University of Health Sciences in Pomona, Calif.—noted that green tea catechins taken for three to 24 weeks led to significant reductions in total and LDL cholesterol. Doses taken by subjects ranged from 145 to 3,000 mg per day.
- Green tea provides vitamins. That’s right: You’ll get vitamins A, B, C, and E in green tea, which combine to offer such benefits as improved metabolism and improved circulation. (See the No. 1 item in our post “8 Energy-Boosting Foods to Keep You Alert.”)
- Green tea helps fight stress. Green tea’s nutrients include L-theanine, an antioxidant found naturally in only tea and in a rare type of mushroom. L-theanine is known to be an instantly calming nutrient—perfect for getting us through the day.
- Green tea can be a positive factor in weight loss. Epigallocatechin-3-gallate—EGCGs—come into play here. By itself, green tea won’t serve as a magic bullet if you’re trying to lose weight, but as part of a smartly balanced diet combined with exercise, you’ll save a lot of calories by making it a regular beverage. (See our post “Green Tea for Weight Loss.”)
- Green tea helps fight off diseases. As our colleague Jami Cooley, RN, writes in “Top 5 Healthy Beverages,” “Green tea is No. 1 among our healthy beverages because it provides so many positive benefits, including the ability to fight cancer and lower the risk of heart disease. Green tea helps lower cholesterol, boosts metabolism, and aids in weight loss, and also prevents such health problems as diabetes, stroke, osteoporosis, and dementia.”
Originally published in 2017, this post is regularly updated.