Green Tea & Your Health
To start, green tea...
- Is rich in antioxidants
- Improves mental health
- Reduces stress and anxiety
- Sharpens focus
- Fights heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and more
- Helps weight management
Antioxidants, as can be guessed by the name, fight against oxidative stress in our bodies. Oxidative stress is caused by free radicals which come from an onslaught of the environmental toxicity we are exposed to on a daily basis, including processed foods, chemicals in many common products (e.g. cleaning solutions, skincare, clothing, etc.), pollution, and even plain old mental and emotional stress. The damage caused by oxidative stress is connected to all kinds of malaise and diseases such as fatigue, headaches, susceptibility to infection, memory loss, dementia, rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, cataracts, physical signs of aging (wrinkles, graying hair, hair loss, etc.), diabetes, Parkinson’s, and more.
Polyphenols are an antioxidant-dense compound found in many plant foods and teas. They have been shown to enhance general immune function as well as increase natural killer cell activity, which can play a critical role in fighting cancer. The antioxidants in tea in particular are powerful enough to actually eliminate and even help reverse the oxidative damage we are constantly exposed to every single day.
Of the various polyphenols in green tea is a compound called catechins. Many studies have shown that catechins specifically in tea exhibit antiviral activities by inhibiting viral absorption in the body, suppressing their replication, and enhancing immunity against viral infection. Several studies have shown that gargling with green tea actually reduced the risk of flu infection. These studies have been conducted since decades before the current pandemic, and further studies continue to show much supporting evidence of green tea’s antiviral and immunity enhancing properties today.
While there are four different types of catechins found in green tea, the main catechin is called EGCG. EGCG is not only the most powerful antioxidant in green tea, but it is present in the highest amounts. It has been and continues to be one of the most studied antioxidants due to its impressive abilities to affect human health. One of the main benefits is its anti-inflammatory properties. Oxidative stress leads to inflammation, and a prolonged state of inflammation then leads to a multitude of diseases including asthma, autoimmune diseases, hepatitis, diabetes, and, of course, cancer. EGCG is able to suppress the inflammatory compounds that lead to harm, which is also linked to its ability to support neurological health by reducing oxidation and deterioration of brain cells. It may have therapeutic effects for people with diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. It is also known to improve heart and circulatory health by reducing bad cholesterol and blood pressure. Research suggests it may help control blood sugar levels and decrease insulin resistance.
Another popular benefit is its ability to support weight loss, especially when combined with caffeine, which is also present in green tea. Caffeine has been known to boost metabolism, while EGCG helps break down fat by activating an enzyme that prompts muscle cells to burn fat for fuel, and can even block the formation of new fat cells, especially when combined with exercise. Additionally, because green tea helps to regulate blood sugar levels, it helps reduce unhealthy sugar cravings that lead to weight-gain.
It is important to understand that the general effects of the caffeine in green tea are entirely different from those of the caffeine in coffee or energy drinks. The caffeine in coffee is delivered to the body in such concentrated amounts that it causes your body to react as if it is undergoing extreme stress by releasing high amounts of cortisol (the “fight or flight” stress hormone). Normally your body releases cortisol along with adrenaline as a response to stress, and naturally drops the levels back to normal when the response is no longer necessary. However, when your body is constantly overexposed to cortisol and other stress hormones, you become more susceptible to developing any number of symptoms and conditions such as headaches, weight gain, anxiety, depression, heart disease, and many more. Also, as a result of the caffeine crash, you are likely to reach for quick energy boosts through more coffee or sugar, continuing the cycle and adding further damage.
The caffeine molecules in green tea, on the other hand, are attached to catechin molecules which are larger and therefore cause the caffeine to take longer to break down; in other words, the catechin causes the caffeine to be released in your body more slowly over time. This gradual release allows you to stay alert for a sustained period of time without ever experiencing the sudden crash or anxiety caused by regular caffeine, while a compound called L-theanine simultaneously keeps you calm and anxiety-free.
L-theanine is a major amino acid in green tea that helps to reduce stress and anxiety by inducing alpha waves that are normally achieved through meditation, enabling better calm and focus in moments of stress, thus preventing stress-related damage to cells. Studies showed that consuming caffeine with L-theanine resulted in fewer mistakes when carrying out complex tasks than after consuming caffeine alone. L-theanine has also been shown to have beneficial effects on mental state and sleep quality, and therapeutic effects in psychiatric and depressive disorders.
While these compounds can often be taken separately outside of green tea, there is a critical synergy that takes place in their naturally occurring state within green tea. However, not all green teas are the same. In order to properly reap the health benefits of green tea, it is important to check the source and quality of the green tea you choose. Because green tea is highly absorbent of its surrounding elements, purity and a complete absence of pesticides and chemicals are critical. It is also important to consume enough green tea on a daily basis. Various studies have shown that somewhere between three and ten cups of green tea should be consumed per day in order to experience its effects. See our suggestions on how to make increased daily intake of green tea approachable and easier than you may have thought.