For years different cultures have touted the health benefits of tea, and more specifically, the health benefits of green tea. It is no wonder that researchers are trying to figure out why tea is so good for us. In this article, we explain how green tea is different and highlight the top five health benefits of green tea.
Green Tea 101
Tea comes in just behind water as the most consumed beverage in the world. All tea comes from the dried leaves of the Camellia sinensis bush. Although it is available in many different varieties, non-herbal teas fall into four basic categories: black, green, oolong and white.
Many of the health benefits come from tea’s powerful antioxidants, called flavonoids. There are more than 6,000 types of flavonoids, and one of the most common categories are catechins. Much of the research on tea has focused on green tea because when compared to black tea, green tea contains 3.5 times more catechins.
Green tea is made from mature tea leaves and is less processed than other teas. Since the leaves have not been fermented, but instead are dried and steamed, green tea can keep its high level of catechins. Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) is the most common catechin found in green tea and therefore has been the most researched.
You can consume green tea as a hot or cold beverage. It is also available in a more concentrated form called an extract. A green tea extract means that the active ingredients found in the green tea, such as the catechins, have been removed from the dried green tea leaves to produce a more concentrated form. Extracts are available in liquid, powder, capsule, or tablet forms.
Health Benefits of Green Tea
Green tea has been used in traditional Chinese and Indian medicine for thousands of years. Therefore, it is not surprising that many researchers have turned their interest to green tea. There are many studies supporting its health benefits for heart health, blood sugar control, memory enhancement, and many other conditions. Here are more details on five specific health benefits.
1. Promotes Heart Health
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reminds us that heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. Studies suggest that green tea may lower your bad cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and total cholesterol. Lowering these types of cholesterol can reduce your risk of heart disease.
One large Japanese study found that drinking three or more cups of green tea every day reduced the risk of cardiovascular and all-cause death when compared to drinking less than one cup daily, especially in women. Another study concluded that people who consumed one to three cups of green tea daily had a lower risk of heart attack and stroke, compared to those who drank less than one cup.
2. Supports Healthy Blood Sugar Levels
The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases estimates that 30.3 million adults in the USA have diabetes. Another 7.2 million adults have it but don’t know it yet. It is not surprising that researchers want to find out if there is a relationship between green tea and blood sugar control.
One large analysis reviewed several studies and concluded that the catechins in green tea might help to lower fasting blood sugar levels when taken for three months or longer. Another study also supported that green tea may help improve fasting sugar levels, as well as lower levels of hemoglobin A1C. Hemoglobin A1C is a long-term measure of blood sugar levels. There are also studies that do not show any improvement in blood sugar control in people with diabetes. At this point, there is no clear answer, and more research is needed.
3. Supports a Healthy Brain
We are always looking for a way to help keep our brains sharp as we age. Some research suggests that the antioxidants present in green tea may have beneficial effects on our neurological system. Specifically, epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) may protect brain cells from oxidative stress. Oxidative stress can lead to diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and others. One small study found that individuals who drank a green tea beverage daily had better brain function and improved task performance than those who did not.
4. May Promote a Healthy Weight
Be wary of green tea weight-loss claims. Some advertisements claim that green tea can speed weight loss, but research results are mixed.
Green tea contains catechins, as well as caffeine. Some studies suggest that it is the combination of these two working together that may increase energy metabolism leading to weight loss. One analysis concluded that green tea showed a “small positive effect” on weight loss and weight loss maintenance. A more recent, larger review also found that green tea may provide a small, “non-significant” weight loss, and no benefit for weight loss maintenance.
Although its caffeine and catechins may offer a slight metabolism boost, green tea is not the magic answer for weight loss. However, drinking a few cups of green tea or any non-calorie tea per day may be beneficial in other ways. For example, drinking calorie-free tea may help you decrease your hunger and stay away from other high-calorie foods.
5. May Help Lower Risk of Certain Cancers
Some Important Cautions About Green Tea
You can consume the beneficial nutrients of green tea in many different forms such as teas, capsules, liquid extracts, and powders. It is important to remember that not all green tea products are created equally. Some types may contain only dry green tea leaves, while others may contain concentrated forms of one or more catechins. The number of catechins can vary significantly among green tea products. For example, research presented at the American Chemical Society found that some 16-ounce bottled teas contained fewer polyphenols than one cup of brewed tea.
Also, it is important to note that green tea can contain a substantial amount of caffeine unless you choose decaffeinated green tea products. Too much caffeine may make some people feel shaky, cause headaches, and interfere with sleep. The caffeine contained in one cup of green tea can vary according to the length of infusing time and the amount of tea infused.
The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health reassures us that green tea is safe when consumed in moderation as a beverage. Green tea extract has been used safely for up to 2 years in various research studies in doses between 250–500 mg. There are some reports of mild liver problems by people taking green tea extracts in higher doses over the long term.
The Bottom Line
Thanks to its powerful antioxidants, green tea may have a wide range of health benefits and can be a great addition to a healthy lifestyle. Whether you want to improve your general health or decrease your risk of disease, drinking green tea is an easy and tasty way to add healthy antioxidants to your diet.
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