If you’re a tea drinker, you already know how much better tea can be as a beverage choice over coffee or soda. Humans drinking tea is a tradition that is thousands of years old, starting in India and China, and today only water is consumed more often than tea across the world. There are three main types of tea (oolong, green, and black), but the health benefits of green tea in particular are widely known.
All three main tea types are derived from the Camellia sinensis plant, the difference between them being how the tea leaves get processed. Black tea is fully fermented, oolong tea is made by partially fermenting the leaves, and green tea is produced from the unfermented leaves. No sugar, no calories, and chock-full of antioxidants, green tea is one of the healthiest beverages you can drink.
Read on to learn more about the makeup and health benefits of green tea.
What Is Green Tea Made Of?
Green tea is full of bioactive compounds like caffeine, polyphenols (powerful antioxidants), and vitamin K.
Many of the healthy effects attributed to green tea are due to its polyphenol content, which green tea posses in higher amounts than black or oolong tea (the fermentation process lowers the polyphenol levels). Subcategories of polyphenols include catechins and flavonoids that help reduce the formation of free radicals, and epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), which is regularly studied in relation to a multitude of diseases for potential use in treatment.
Green tea’s main stimulants after caffeine are theobromine and theophylline, though green tea also includes the amino acid L-theanine, which brings a calming effect to the nervous system. Both stimulating and relaxing, green tea has it all. While the tea leaves themselves carry more caffeine than coffee beans do percentage-wise, a lot fewer leaves are needed to make tea than it takes beans to produce coffee, so there is significantly less caffeine in a cup of green tea than your average cup of java.
The Many Health Benefits of Green Tea
These are among the many health benefits green tea has to offer, making it a nearly vital choice to include in your daily routine.
There is data that shows green tea can improve bowel health, aid digestion, and even reduce symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). By reducing inflammation in the gut caused by conditions like ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, green tea brings a calming effect to the digestive tract and is also a simple and effective way to help prevent other gastrointestinal disorders.
Improve Cognition and Brain Performance
With the stimulating power of caffeine, green tea can help perk up your mental acuity without giving you the jitters associated with that second cup of coffee. Caffeine works by blocking adenosine receptors, which then allows your neurons to fire longer, which in turn increases your brain activity. Caffeine has been shown in studies to improve both memory and concentration. The amino acid L-theanine both relaxes you and increases you alertness, and combined with caffeine produces a brain-stimulating effect that allows for focused productivity.
Protect Long-Term Brain Function
Green tea has also shown promising associations with staving off the onset of neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. The catechins in green tea exhibit a protective effect on the neurons in the brain, which lowers the risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
Weight Loss and Fat Burning
There are clinical studies which suggest that green tea boosts your metabolism, which in turn helps you burn fat. The weight-loss effects of green tea are provided partially by the caffeine content, but by the other attributes of green tea as well. Green tea may help with appetite suppression and feelings of satiety, and may contribute to a more steady supply of energy so that your body doesn’t crave more energy in the form of food. One study showed that people who received green tea extract over a 12-week period had significant decreases in body fat mass, body weight, waist and hip circumference, and body fat percentage.
Cardiovascular diseases include stroke, heart disease, high blood pressure (hypertension), and atherosclerosis (a hardening and narrowing of the blood vessels and arteries). Green tea can reduce the risk of acquiring these conditions, as it helps to regulate your LDL cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol), and increases antioxidant levels in your blood. Black tea and green tea drinkers generally have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, and researchers suggest that the rate of heart attack measurably decreases when you have just a couple cups of green tea each day.
Support for Youthful Skin
With antioxidants that delay the symptoms of aging and fight free-radical damage, the anti-inflammatory effects of green tea also work to protect skin from environmental damage and stressors, along with the EGCG in green tea specifically being shown to guard against sun damage. Regularly drinking green tea could be the next best step after applying plenty of sunblock before heading out for the day, just above moisturizing before going to bed at night.
Dental Health and Illness Prevention
Some studies suggest that the catechins in green tea can inhibit and kill bacteria and viruses in the mouth, lowering your risk of infection overall from viruses like influenza (meaning green tea may help prevent the common cold). Studies also show an association between green tea consumption and greater oral health. Green tea’s catechins specifically inhibit the growth of Streptococcus mutans, the main culprit in causing cavities and tooth decay. Drinking green tea can even help you reduce bad breath.
Improved Athletic Performance
Not only does your breath smell better with green tea, but you’re more impressive in sports due to its contribution as well. (If only you could go back in time, green tea might have made it easier to get a date to the prom—you’d have had better skin, better breath, more trophies, and avoided getting sick on or before the big night!) The caffeine in green tea can increase exercise endurance and exertion, while also helping to utilize the fatty acids in fat tissue so they can be easily accessed for energy during physical exercise and performance.
Lower Risk of Type 2 Diabetes
Green tea can help stabilize and lower blood sugar levels, and at least one study suggests that it may improve insulin sensitivity. Another study showed that Japanese individuals who drank more green tea significantly lowered their risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Lower Risk of Various Types of Cancer
Both green tea and black tea have been shown to help prevent various cancers. According to the National Cancer Institute, the antioxidant power of the polyphenols in green tea have been shown to inhibit tumor cell proliferation and to activate detoxification enzymes. The bottom line is that the antioxidants in green tea can have a protective effect against cancer, including specifically the types of cancer listed below.
- Breast cancer: An analysis of studies showed that women who drank more green tea exhibited a lower risk of developing breast cancer, which is the most common cancer that afflicts women.
- Pancreatic cancer: One study showed that the EGCG in green tea changed the metabolism of pancreatic cancer cells, disrupting their metabolic systems and lowering the risk of pancreatic cancer.
- Prostate cancer: One study showed that men who drink 5 or more cups of green tea each day halved their risk of developing advanced prostate cancer, the most common type of cancer among men.
- Colorectal cancer: A study of over 69,000 Chinese women showed that green tea drinkers were at a lower risk of colorectal cancer.
- Lung cancer: Green tea has been shown to not only reduce the risk of lung cancer in smokers, but also slow the rate of lung cancer growth in a lab setting.
- Stomach cancer: Green tea’s effect on stomach cancer has been extensively studied, with some research showing a protective action against stomach cancer.
Green tea has also been shown to have positive impacts on ovarian, bladder, esophageal, and skin cancer, and may possibly aid in preventing liver disease.
Green Tea for Life
Secondary benefits of drinking green tea include increased hydration and anti-inflammatory benefits, but it might be best to leave this subject with one of the most brow-raising abilities green tea has shown: increased longevity.
Not only are green tea drinkers existing with a lower rate of cardiovascular diseases and cancer, but a study of over 40,000 Japanese adults drinking more than 5 cups of green tea per day were simply (and scientifically significantly) less likely to die. Overall, death was 12% less likely to occur in men, and 23% less likely to occur in women. In another study of over 14,000 Japanese elders, those who drank the most green tea of the group were 76% less likely to die over the 6-year study.
It’s not that swimming in a big pool of green tea can cure everything (not that some of us wouldn’t be willing to give it a try), but with the massive amount of data gathered on green tea, you can see an overwhelmingly positive effect on the health of regular green tea drinkers, so… maybe it’s time to become one.