Green Tea … A Cup a Day to Keep the Doctor Away

by Dr. Tracy Gilbert, ND Naturopathic Doctor

Green tea is a powerful plant that has countless benefits ranging from cancer prevention to lowering cholesterol levels.  Thousands of scientific studies have been conducted to confirm what Asian cultures have been saying for centuries: green tea has tremendous health-promoting properties and healing powers.

Here is a summary of some of the benefits of green tea that have been supported by scientific research:

  • Lowers total cholesterol and LDL levels (i.e., unhealthy cholesterol)
  • Increases HDL levels (i.e., healthy cholesterol)
  • Reduces blood pressure
  • Reduces risk of heart attack, stroke, and cancer
  • Prevents gum disease and dental cavities
  • Enhances immune function
  • Reduces stress and anxiety
  • Combats allergies
  • Decreases bad breath
  • Regulates blood sugar levels
  • Decreases inflammation
  • Boosts memory and may reduce risk of Alzheimer’s
  • Improves mood, energy, and concentration
  • Supports weight loss by boosting metabolism
  • Reduces the signs of aging (due to antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties)

How can one plant have so many benefits?  Well, green tea contains many active ingredients that contribute to its effects.  Polyphenols, for example, are the antioxidants in green tea that are responsible for much of its health-promoting properties (such as cancer prevention).  One cup of green tea has antioxidant activity that is greater than a serving of broccoli, spinach, carrots, or strawberries.  Green tea also contains many vitamins (e.g., vitamin C), minerals (e.g., zinc), and amino acids (e.g., theanine).

Green tea does contain some naturally occurring caffeine; however, the amount is only about one-third the caffeine of black tea.  Furthermore, the caffeine from green tea is released into the blood stream slowly, resulting in relaxation and increased concentration for prolonged periods of time.  Green tea can be decaffeinated; however, this process reduces some of the beneficial ingredients.

Green tea and black tea come from the same tea plant known as Camellia sinensis.  What distinguishes green tea from black tea is the way they are processed.  Black tea undergoes significant processing to produce its characteristic dark colour and strong flavor.  Green tea, on the other hand, is very lightly processed using steam or gentle heat.  This helps to preserve the beneficial properties of the leaves, which are largely destroyed in the processing of black tea.

When selecting your green tea, it is much better to buy the loose leaves rather than the tea bags.  The loose leaves are of higher quality with a greater vitamin and mineral content.  Green tea in tea bags is typically made of the bits and pieces that are left over after the leaves have been used for other purposes.  The tea bags themselves may be dyed with chlorine bleach or contain harmful plastics, thereby adding toxins to your tea.  In addition, tea bags have a much higher caffeine content compared to the whole leaves.

Of course, you can now get everything in a convenient pill – and green tea is no exception.  However, I believe that the benefits of green tea extend beyond isolating one or two ingredients and taking it in a daily pill.  Green tea should be taken as it has been for centuries – as a wonderful, relaxing cup of tea.  So sit back, sip and savor the benefits!