It's true! In the last few years, research into the chemical makeup of tea has identified a class of powerful antioxidants in the humble tea plant which have shown promise in inhibiting the growth of cancerous tumors, reducing the bacteria which cause dental caries, and helping to lower blood cholesterol. The only “catch" in this elevation of tea to medicinal heights is the type of tea we need to drink to gain these protective health benefits: the Superman of the teacup is Green Tea.
Green Tea differs from Black Teas and from OOlong Teas by virtue of the type of drying process it undergoes. Both Green Tea and Black Tea are the leaves of the tea bush Camellia sinensis. Green Tea, however, is dried quickly and carefully immediately on harvesting and not allowed to ferment. Black Tea is picked, allowed to develop in its own juices and dried (sometimes over-dried in the process), hence its darker "black" color.
OOlong teas, by the way, are still tea bush leaves but only partly fermented and then dried, something of a half-way between the other two processes. The fermentation and over-drying of Black Tea robs it of its valuable antioxidant compounds as these are leached away in processing.
Two major chemical compounds give Green Tea its anti-cancer and antioxidant protective nature.
The first of these constituents belongs to the family of Phenols which are commonly occurring acidic compounds in many plant foods such as broccoli, cabbage and brussel sprouts. Green Tea, like these vegetables, contains phenols which have been demonstrated to work to protect the lining of the gut from developing gastrointestinal tumors.
The main activity of the Phenols is to help prevent damage to the cells of the body through oxidation and they can also neutralize carcinogens, or cancer-causing agents, with the help of naturally occurring enzymes formed in the stomach. Phenols activate the production of an amino acid called glutathione which is believed to be the body's most powerful detoxifier.
The second major chemical component of Green Tea found to be of health benefit is identified as Epigallocatechin-3-gallate (or EGCG for short!) generally categorized as Catechins and truly the star performer where Green Tea is concerned. Catechins are members of the familiar Bioflavonoids ("living color bodies") group of chemical compounds most often associated with Vitamin C when found in our foods. Catechins have been shown to lower blood cholesterol and may help the body retain its Vitamin C levels.
Green tea if you love sweets. There is a traditional use of Green Tea in Japan, especially after eating sweet foods, which has been shown to have scientific validity. Studies from the University of California, Berkeley, USA, found that Green Tea compounds actually kill the bacteria responsible for dental caries. This finding enhances what was already thought to be another of Green Tea's benefits, that of providing the body with protection from invading viruses.
Another study recently conducted at Rutgers University in the USA found that Green Tea extracts inhibited the growth of skin cancers and reduced the effects of UVB radiation induced sunburn lesions. Considering the particular concern about over exposure to UV radiation and sunburn, consuming Green Tea would appear to be a very wise extra precaution along with the sunblock and wide-brimmed hat.