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“Focus on Health” - Going Green For Health

by the Social Diary Health Columnist Ruth S. Jacobowitz
Column #6, March 6th, 2006

“God didn’t make little green apples; It don’t rain in Indianapolis in the summertime……” That’s undoubtedly true, but God surely may have made green tea. We’ve long heard about the medicinal value of green tea and yet did you ever really delve into what makes green tea so special? I did and gave up my coffee habit, albeit decaf, because what I learned really amazed me.

Since this is the month of the ‘wearing of the green’ I thought I’d share what I’ve learned about green tea in time for St. Patrick’s Day and maybe you’ll trade in your green beer for green tea. We’re told that green tea has been used in Asia for more than 4,000 years and today scientific evidence in both Asia and the west continues to provide hard evidence for green tea’s health benefits. I first became fascinated with green tea in the early 1990s when I learned of a study reported in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute in 1994 detailing the results of an epidemiological study which showed that drinking green tea reduced the risk of esophageal cancer in Chinese individuals by sixty percent.

More recently University of Purdue researchers concluded that a compound in green tea inhibits the growth of cancer cells. Other research shows that drinking green tea lowers total cholesterol levels and improves the ratio of good cholesterol to bad. Just some of the medical conditions that green tea is reputed to be helpful include cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol levels, infection, impaired immune function, preventing tooth decay, and help for dieters. Wow!

So what is the secret of green tea? Its magic lies in the fact that it is rich in catechin polyphenols, particularly epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), a powerful anti-oxidant. EGCG not only inhibits the growth of cancer cells, but also kills them without harming healthy tissue. Further, as mentioned EGCG lowers cholesterol levels and inhibits the formation of blood clots, the leading cause of heart attack and stroke.

Why don’t other Chinese teas offer the same benefits? It’s interesting that green, oolong and black tea all come from the from the leaves of the Carmellia sinensis plant, but only green tea leaves are processed by steaming, thereby preventing the EGCG compound from being oxidized. Oolong and black tea are made from fermented leaves in which the EGCG is converted into other compounds, negating their health benefits to a great extent. The only negative to imbibing green tea is the fact that it contains caffeine.

Other research continues to support the healthful benefits of green tea. From the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, researchers report that women who drank two cups of green tea a day had a 46 percent reduced risk of ovarian cancer. Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota reported that patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia who began drinking green tea showed general improvements in their condition such as a higher white blood cell counts and regression of their cancer. Researchers there also found that EGCG was able to kill cancer cells in a test tube. Research conducted at the University of Florida suggests that EGCG may protect the brain from Alzheimer’s Disease.

So how much green tea should you drink each day? I’ve read everything from two cups to ten cups per day. A cup of green tea may provide 10-40millligrams of polyphenols and has antioxidant activity greater than a serving of spinach, broccoli, carrots, or strawberries, those anti-oxidant rich choices. Further that EGCG tea in green tea has antioxidant activity between 25-100 times more potent than Vitamins E and C.

There are as many answers to how much to consume as there are researchers investigating the natural properties of green tea. For example, Herbs for Health magazine cites a Japanese report stating that men who drank ten cups of green tea per day stayed cancer-free for three years longer than men who drank less than three cups a day. A study by Cleveland's Case Western Reserve University concluded that drinking four or more cups of green tea per day could help prevent rheumatoid arthritis, or reduce symptoms in individuals already suffering from the disease. And Japanese scientists at the Saitama Cancer Research Institute discovered that there were fewer recurrences of breast cancer, and the disease spread less quickly, in women with a history of drinking five cups or more of green tea daily.

So this March 17th if you’re offered a choice of green beer, green tea, or green apples, choose green tea.

* Ruth S. Jacobowitz is a health advocate, lecturer, and the author of five consumer health books. Her newest book is Final Acts—a novel. Visit Ruth at her web site www.ruthjacobowitz.com .

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