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A Little Think

A Glimpse of Tea and Your Health

Here's an important tip from the kid across the street from me, now all grown up into an MD! It sure makes me glad I'm into Green Tea. Try some and see....Thanks, Kevin!"
Phyllis Wallace

The question of the health benefits of tea has been actively researched for the past several decades. Western medicine has continued to recognize the impact of nontraditional drugs and their therapeutic effects as we move forward in time. Who would have guessed that drinking green tea could have significant implications to one's health? This is a fascinating area of research for us tea-drinkers, and as more information is revealed perhaps these discoveries will usher an unprecedented era of tea consumption in the western world.

In the past year, I've given two small talks at the St. Louis Science Center on the health benefits of tea. I was first introduced to the idea by one of our current Internal Medicine residents, who raised the question, "Does tea have any effect on the prevention of breast cancer?" She presented a summary of her research at one of our resident conferences, and proposed some very interesting findings. There are chemicals called polyphenols found in tea, especially in green tea where there has been minimal processing (unlike black tea). The most abundant polyphenol in green tea is a compound called Epigallocatechin-3-gallate, or EGCG in short. EGCG has been shown to decrease the rate of cancer cell production through various mechanisms, as well as increase the rate of cancer cell death, while protecting normal cells at the same time. These studies have been proven in vitro, in labs. But what about in people? In Los Angeles and Japan, studies in the past 10 years have shown that drinking 5 cups of green tea per day will reduce your chances of getting breast cancer; in the Japanese study it was also shown that the prognosis of established Stage I and II breast cancer was significantly improved in comparison to those who drank less tea. Other studies done in Taiwan by Dr. Shu-Tsung Liao, a life-long bioorganic researcher, confirm these findings and suggest that perhaps these compounds also improve blood circulation and reduce infection rates.

Through other research, scientists have also discovered that tea has significant benefits in lowering cholesterol in the body. This results in a decrease in cholesterol build-up inside our blood vessels, or atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is one of the significant players in heart disease, strokes, high blood pressure, and other health problems. And yet, even more studies have shown that the EGCG in tea can help with certain skin conditions, as well as potentially play a beneficial role in bone production and maintenance, reducing osteoporosis as a consequence.

In summary, it seems as though drinking tea is a healthy thing to do. Before a formal medical recommendation can be made however, more research will need to be done in order to delineate the risks associated with drinking tea, if there are any. In the meantime you can continue to liberally drink your tea knowing that you are doing some good for your body, especially if you're into green tea.

Kevin Chang, M.D.
Chief Medical Resident, Internal Medicine
University Medical Center at Brackenridge
UTMB Austin

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