Goodness Gracious Great Cups of Green Tea!

While green tea actually does the complete *opposite* of “shakin’ nerves” and “rattlin’ brains,” my enthusiasm for this tasty little cup of joy is still perfectly expressed by Jerry Lee Lewis’ classic . . .

Today I’m thankful for my morning ritual of green tea, soy or nut milk, and a touch of maple syrup.  It’s just the right brew to get me out of bed as the days get colder . . .

There was a time when the very words, “green tea,” would elicit visions of fresh emerald leaves, dew-kissed from the morning’s mist.  Somewhere atop a mountain, in a land far from impatient car horns and sneering bagel dealers, a strong country mama, wearing a straw hat under the gentle sun, picks baskets full of these leaves.  Somehow, by train or donkey, burlap sacks full of green tea cuttings would find their way to our American shores and those “in the know” would soak them, for just the right amount of time, as medicine, as comfort, as an alternative to the common cuppa joe.

Exotic no more, green tea’s received so much press in the last several years, you might call it the poster beverage of the modern health movement.

. . . or, not-so-healthy- movement . . .

Personally, I love the flavor.  Put it in a soy shake, a pudding, a mochi ice cream, a cupcake – put it in a kit-kat, why don’t ya?  After living in Japan, I’m open to green tea just about anything, and can’t say I’ve ever had a bad green tea fusion failure.  Not once.

Caffeinated beverages hold a special place in the hearts of morning risers, and as much as I do love the butt-kicking effects of coffee, my stomach doesn’t always agree.  If I don’t line my belly in some kind of food before I drink coffee, I tend to get nauseous and shaky.  Green tea, on the other hand, that’s a drink I can put down any time of day.  I get the same boost of clarity without any of the cracked out side-effects.

But just how healthy is green tea?  Advertisements featuring svelte green tea drinkers adorn glossy mags, articles on their antioxidant content in all manner of newspapers and books abound.  Claims of green tea’s benefits seem to hit on just about every health anxiety you could imagine these days: stress relief, improved focus, smoother digestion, weight loss, brighter skin, and a possible answer to heart disease and cancer.

Caffeine in green tea: keeps you awake *and* free from wrinkles! (?)

To examine that question, let’s define our terms:

Healthy: in terms of food and drink, healthy means (according to Webster himself) “conducive to health.”  OK, then what does “health” mean?

  1. The condition of being sound in body, mind, or spirit;
  2. A flourishing condition (well-being)

And green tea?  Well, green tea comes in at least 44 known varieties, some loose leaf, some in powdered form, and each containing different levels of minerals, catechins, caffeine, etc.  The Japanese, historical refiners of Indian and Chinese genius, were the first to make powdered green tea (gotta love ancestral pride ;o)).

While journeying the Taoist mountains of China in 2009, I was blessed to sample an array of green teas, some said to ease digestive issues, others specific for reproductive health.  All I know is they were delectable tipples in the chill of March, and yes, I did feel healthy afterward.

Wudang Shan (Mountain) ~ where the Wutang Clan got their name ;o)

Did someone say WuTang?

Enough Storytime, Gimme Some Facts!

Proving beyond a reasonable doubt the health benefits of this ancient elixir is no easy task, especially when there isn’t nearly the same funding behind clinical trials on green tea as there would be for pharmaceuticals, for example.

This article from Spark People does a great job of laying out what the research proves, might prove, and definitely does not prove so far.

Most studies on green tea as a drink have been inconclusive as to its potential health benefits.  More randomized controlled studies would need to be conducted before conclusive evidence could prove what healthcare practitioners in Asia have been saying for thousands of years: Drink it.  It’s good for you.  (I say it’s just a matter of time before we can back that up with some reductionist scientific method-style proof …)

A promising study done by the Mayo Clinic on the value of treating leukemia with green tea *extract*, however, was published in 2009 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.  I can’t read the full text to see if it was randomized/controlled, but this isn’t the first or last trial of its kind boasting similar results.

Green Tea Extract Shows Promise in Leukemia Trials

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

ROCHESTER, Minn. — Mayo Clinic researchers are reporting positive results in early leukemia clinical trials using the chemical epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), an active ingredient in green tea. The trial determined that patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) can tolerate the chemical fairly well when high doses are administered in capsule form and that lymphocyte count was reduced in one-third of participants. The findings appear today online in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

VIDEO ALERT: Additional audio and video resources, including comments by Dr. Shanafelt describing the research, are available on the Mayo Clinic News Blog.

“We found not only that patients tolerated the green tea extract at very high doses, but that many of them saw regression to some degree of their chronic lymphocytic leukemia,” says Tait Shanafelt, M.D., Mayo Clinic hematologist and lead author of the study. “The majority of individuals who entered the study with enlarged lymph nodes saw a 50 percent or greater decline in their lymph node size.”

CLL is the most common subtype of leukemia in the United States. Currently it has no cure. Blood tests have enabled early diagnosis in many instances; however, treatment consists of watchful waiting until the disease progresses. Statistics show that about half of patients with early stage diseases have an aggressive form of CLL that leads to early death. Researchers hope that EGCG can stabilize CLL for early stage patients or perhaps improve the effectiveness of treatment when combined with other therapies.

The research has moved to the second phase of clinical testing in a follow-up trial — already fully enrolled — involving roughly the same number of patients. All will receive the highest dose administered from the previous trial.

These clinical studies are the latest steps in a multiyear bench-to-bedside project that began with tests of the green tea extract on cancer cells in the laboratory of Mayo hematologist Neil Kay, M.D., a co-author on this article. After laboratory research showed dramatic effectiveness in killing leukemia cells, the findings were applied to studies on animal tissues and then on human cells in the lab.

In the first clinical trial, 33 patients received variations of eight different oral doses of Polyphenon E, a proprietary compound whose primary active ingredient is EGCG. Doses ranged from 400 milligrams (mg) to 2,000 mg administered twice a day. Researchers determined that they had not reached a maximum tolerated dose, even at 2,000 mg twice per day.

The study was sponsored by Mayo Clinic, the CLL Global Research Foundation, CLL Topics (including contributions by individual CLL patients) and the Commonwealth Foundation for Cancer Research. Medication for the study was provided by Polyphenon E International. Others on the research team were Timothy Call, M.D.; Clive Zent, M.D.; Betsy LaPlant; Deborah Bowen; Michelle Roos; Charla Secreto; Asish Ghosh, Ph.D.; Brian Kabat; Diane Jelinek, Ph.D.; and Charles Erlichman, M.D., all of Mayo Clinic; and Mao-Jung Lee, Ph.D., and Chung Yang, Ph.D., both of Rutgers University.

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