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The Health Benefits of Green Tea

Fresh Greens

by Sylvie Greil

The regular consumption of green tea may have a role in preventing a variety of cancers

Green tea is the least popular non-alcoholic beverage in the United States, according to information recently released by the American Institute for Cancer Research. Turns out most of us would rather drink bottled water, soft drinks, milk or coffee. Black tea isn’t all that popular either, with just one third of the population enjoying it. (Surprisingly, wine fared worse at a measly 9 percent.)

These statistics are surprising, especially considering how health-conscious American society has become. It seems that people forget (or simply ignore) the health benefits of green tea, which is full of nutrients and antioxidants and has recently been discovered to contain an anti-cancer compound.

According to the AICR, there’s an increasing amount of scientific evidence (including six papers presented at the International Research Conference on Food, Nutrition and Cancer) suggesting that regular consumption of green tea may have a role in preventing a variety of cancers.

“The overwhelming majority of Americans may be cutting themselves off from the very cancer-protective, health-promoting effects that are beginning to show up again and again in the scientific literature,” said Jeffrey R. Prince, AICR Vice President for Education.

People in Asia certainly have a head start, with an average per capita consumption of three to four cups of green tea per day in Japan and China. Unlike the United States, green tea is a diet staple in these east Asian countries. Older populations (70 years and up) drink even more — ten cups a day is not unusual.

According to Dr. Thomas A. Gasiewicz, a professor of environmental medicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center, there’s an active green tea substance called EGCG that targets cancer-causing proteins “with a degree of precision that cancer drugs still aren’t able to match.” Basically, the compound EGCG binds to a protein called HSP90, which helps prevent a chain of cancer-causing events in the body.

“If further research confirms that EGCG’s ability to bind to such a basic and pervasive protein enables it to extend its protective effect throughout our bodies, it explains a scientific mystery,” said Gasiewicz. Dr. Gasiewicz’s EGCG study was presented on July 14, 2005 at the International Research Conference on Food, Nutrition and Cancer in Washington, D.C., a conference hosted annually by the American Institute for Cancer Research and World Cancer Research Fund International.

The exact amount of green tea needed for cancer prevention is currently being studied in clinical trials. In the meantime, researchers say that two to three U.S. teacups per day (a typical Japanese teacup holds four fluid ounces or 120 milliliters of tea, while a typical American teacup holds six fluid ounces or approximately 180 milliliters of tea) has been associated with cancer protection in many studies.

(Updated: 09/24/12 DL)

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