Why Green Tea?
By Dr. Simon Barker, ND
What does green tea do?
Green tea has a number of known health benefits such as decreasing heart disease risk, helping with weight loss and improving brain function. Green tea lowers total cholesterol, LDL (AKA bad cholesterol) and blood pressure. It also decreases cancer risk and can help in its treatment. Numerous studies have shown that green tea and its constituents (such as epigallocatechin gallate-3 or EGCG) have preventive and treatment effects against cancer. It appears to work on many levels to reduce the chance of developing cancer, cause cancer cell death and increase the effectiveness of conventional cancer treatments.
What kind of green tea should I drink?
There is a dazzling array of green teas available – not just the 13 types of classic Japanese green tea but Chinese, Indian and African varieties and green tea bags sold with everything from lemon to broccoli along with it.
Most green tea that you buy in a box just says “green tea” on it. If you go to a tea store to buy it loose, you will discover that there are many different kinds that differ a lot in taste and health benefit. People who know their green tea are as particular as people who know their coffee. Be practical in your approach. If you get excited about the process of preparing traditional Japanese tea in a kyusu, etc., do that. If you know you’re never going to make tea if you have to use loose leaves and a pot, buy teabags.
Probably the best choices to start with are sencha (“ordinary” Japanese green tea), Chinese Long Jing (AKA Dragonwell) tea, or Makaibari from India. You should choose organic tea wherever possible.
Shade-grown green tea is higher in theanine but lower in catechins, so gyokuro and matcha may not be the best choices. Partially oxidized green tea will be less potent, so genmaicha and houjicha teas should be avoided.
You should avoid brewed green teas or iced green teas as they have negligible health benefits, as attested by research.
Can I drink black tea instead?
Yes, but… while black and oolong teas do have health benefits, even for cancer patients, they do not contain much, if any of the catechins (like EGCG) that we believe are the main anti-cancer agents in green tea. But as with any herb, the combination of ingredients – EGCG and other catechins, theanine and caffeine probably makes a difference.
Doesn’t green tea contain caffeine?
Yes. If you tolerate caffeine without any trouble, drink regular green tea. If you have any health problems that can be caused or exacerbated by caffeine, such as anxiety, fibrocystic breast disease or insomnia, it’s probably best to stick to decaf. Many decaffeinated green tea products are available. However, there is a big difference between the two main processes used for decaffeination. The solvent ethyl acetate is often used to decaffeinate green tea and it removes most of the beneficial catechins. The carbon dioxide method preserves most (but not all) of the catechins. Unfortunately, the FDA allows either to be called “naturally decaffeinated.” This means that if you are drinking decaf green tea, you need to ask or check the manufacturer’s website. Organic standards are somewhat higher, so all organic decaf tea must use the carbon dioxide method. Easy to find organic manufacturers include Traditional Medicinals, Choice Organics, Yogi Tea, Numi and 365 Organic Green Tea (Whole Foods brand).
How much green tea should I drink?
This is a matter of some controversy. The original study looking at Japanese women found that those who drank 5 or more cups a day had a reduced risk of breast cancer recurrence. (A cup in this instance is about 6 ounces.) As a result, we usually recommend that patients drink 5 cups a day if they have or have had cancer. We understand that this may not always be practical or desirable, so consider supplements if that is the case for you. For other health conditions, 2-3 cups a day should be adequate and even 1 can help.
Can I put milk or sugar in my green tea?
Research suggests that some of the benefits of green tea may be lost if dairy is added to the tea so it is probably best to avoid this. Sugar is best avoided when trying to treat or prevent cancer but stevia may be used as a sweetener.
Can I drink iced green tea?
Yes, if you make it yourself. Brew the tea like any other kind of iced tea and drink throughout the day.
Can I take supplements instead?
Yes, you can. Although we do not know for sure that capsules are as effective, we think so. And a lot of the research is being done with green tea extracts or EGCG alone. Please note that green tea supplements are not necessarily caffeine free. You should check this before purchase. Also, there are a number of brands on the market claiming that their green tea capsules are equivalent to anywhere from 3 to 10 cups per capsule! This is very unlikely. The amount of EGCG that we expect from a good quality cup of green tea averages 127mg, according to research. Few supplements can match that in one capsule. It is important to have a true extract and to get it from a company that is testing their extract. We know that much of the green tea from China is contaminated with lead. If the manufacturer is not testing for lead, you don’t know what you’re getting (and very few companies do test for lead). Talk to your doctor at Paracelsus about which brands they recommend.
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Why Green Tea?