Sunday, 8 December 2013

A cup of Green Tea a day keeps the doctor away

            Far away in the hills of China centuries ago there appeared something mystical about what was being drunk by the people there. An elixir of life or just another new found health fad? An age old remedy with new found health benefits or a new found commercial opportunity of an age old drink?

            Green tea is identified by its characteristic appearance. Served hot or cold, it can be pretty tasteless to what our taste buds would compute as being tea. Not a standard cuppa yet it is one of most widely consumed beverages in the world. Green tea is a product of a tea plant Camellia sinenis, the same plant that gives us dark tea. It is the processing of the tea leaves that gives green tea its characteristic colour and not that it comes from a different plant.

            So what’s so special about green tea? It contains antioxidants called polyphenols which possess anti-inflammatory response. It could potentially be beneficial for treatment and prevention of arthritis. In rat models of rheumatoid arthritis, rats that were fed with green tea in drinking water (poor rats I think they would have preferred milk), had significantly reduced severity of arthritis and inflammatory cytokine levels compared to water-fed controls[1].

            The polyphenols that is most active in green tea is the compound EGCG (Epigallocatechin-3-gallate). This acronym often gets me thinking of the ECG or electrocardiogram, a test that is done to measure the heart activity. This brings me to think of the biological effect of EGCG in reducing inflammation and thus providing possible benefit in reducing heart or cardiovascular risk. EGCG has been shown to reduce arthritis related inflammation cytokines in the mouse model of arthritis[2]. It is the link between inflammation in the joint and generalized inflammation that the benefits of EGCG in regulating these two processes may be realized. One could hypothesize that EGCG may have potential cardiovascular benefit along with anti-rheumatic activity in arthritis such as rheumatoid arthritis[3].

In osteoarthritis, recent studies have shown an association between dietary polyphenols and the prevention of osteoarthritis-related musculoskeletal inflammation[4]. EGCG exerts anti-inflammatory effects by inhibiting signaling events and gene expression of the cytokine interleukin-1beta (IL-1β) which is a principal cytokine linked to cartilage degradation in osteoarthritis.  In bone resorption, polyphenols in green tea, particularly EGCG, inhibit matrix metalloproteinases (MMP) expression and activity which can possibly reduce bone loss[5].

As EGCG has been shown to be anti-inflammatory and protective in several studies using animal models of inflammatory arthritis, clear recommendations of its use in humans cannot be made. Future research should evaluate EGCG's efficacy in treating autoimmune diseases and data from human studies are needed.

I recently received a set of Keep Calm mugs which I now use to serve green tea to visitors to my office. If you don’t fancy an apple, a cup of green tea a day could be considered to keep the doctor away. You can also find it as ice-cream or chocolate wafers if you don't fancy a cuppa.


Views are my own. These are opinions and cannot replace the need to see your physician for review of your individual medical condition.

[1] Kim HR, J Nutr. 2008 Nov;138(11):2111-6.
[2] Byun JK, Immunol Lett. 2013 Nov 12
[3] Riegsecker S, Life Sci 2013 Sep 3;93(8):307-12
[4] Shen CL,  J Nutr Biochem. 2012 Nov;23(11):1367-7
[5] OKa Y, J Pharmacol Sci. 2012;118(1):55-64

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