Saturday, March 13, 2010

Antioxidant in a Cup: Green Tea

A natural way to fight cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol or infections is with a cup of tea ...

Green tea is the dried leaves of the same tea plant that gives us the popular black tea. The difference is that black tea is fermented to produce the characteristic flavour and this process destroys most of its medicinal benefits. Green tea’s polyphenols have been well studied for their pharmacological activity.

Green tea has many benefits for cardiovascular health. Green tea intake is shown to decrease levels of LDL cholesterol, the cholesterol responsible for cholesterol plaques and the storage of fat, and triglycerides.Green tea also increases levels of HDL cholesterol, which is responsible for moving stored fat to the liver for processing and excretion from the body. HDL cholesterol protects against plaque formation. It also improves blood circulation and decreases inflammation in vessels. Thus green tea can be used to prevent stroke and heart attack. The polyphenols are also antioxidants, protecting cells from oxidative damage. Free radicals are unstable molecules that in their bid to become more stable must bump into healthy cells and cause damage.

Green tea’s antioxidant properties neutralize free radicals and therefore reduce damage to tissue. Green tea’s epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) has been shown to inhibit the growth of cancer cells and prevent the spread of tumours to other areas of the body. It may also increase the effectiveness of some anti-cancer medication while protecting the body’s normal cells from cancer therapies like radiation and chemotherapy. Natural health practitioners for low immune functioning, age-related diseases, cardiovascular disease and cancer may recommend green tea.

Green tea is a medicinal food because the active ingredients are present in a cup of tea in sufficient quantities to have some medicinal effects. However, by adding milk to green tea the antioxidant status of the tea can be significantly lowered. There are many types of green tea beverages, bagged or loose leaves, organic and non-organic, caffeinated and decaffeinated products. Green tea may also be combined with other herbs or flavours (i.e. lemon, peach, jasmine).

Green tea supplements are found as encapsulated herb or tablets. Green tea supplements should be standardized as an assurance of the amount of polyphenols they contain. It can be found in combination products for cholesterol control, heart health and anti-aging. Decaffeinated green tea and green tea supplements have less contraindications and side effects associated with their use. However one must consider that the decaffeinating process may add chemical residues into the leaves. Green tea should not be used with blood thinners, by individuals with blood disorders or a decreased ability to clot. Green tea should be discontinued 2 weeks prior to surgery or dental work.

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