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Cancer-fighting tea goodness

by Mikael Zaurov

The tea leaf possesses secret powers

A healthy cup of green tea

Free radicals, the real villains

As you sip that fine cup of green tea, you're not really thinking about what it contains. You're just immersed in the amazing aroma and the sweet vegetal taste. Undoubtedly, that is the proper way to drink tea but once you put your cup down, it is totally fine to wonder what you just put into your body. It should be no surprise to you that tea is exactly what you should be drinking. In fact, it is so good that if it wasn't for the great taste, you might as well be injecting it. Modern research is showing that tea rocks. Let me tell you why.

It has been known for the at least the last decade that tea provides great benefit to the human body. This is mainly due to tea containing what are referred to as polyphenols, catechins, or, more commonly, antioxidants. These little chemicals are nature's way of preventing some of the weird imbalances that can occur in the body over time, and thus are quite important.

As the human body interacts with the environment, things can go start to go wrong right down to the molecular level. The body functions through chemical reactions and due to its interdependent nature, if one little thing goes wrong everything else can go with it. When we expose ourselves to environmental pollution or smoke, ingest harmful chemicals or have a bad diet, or involve ourselves in stressful situations, we will inevitably create ‘free radicals.' They naturally occur just through living and breathing, but their creation can be drastically sped up if we partake in harmful activities. During a chemical reaction, a molecule can lose an electron and when this happens, the molecule cannot pair properly with other molecules. It becomes a ‘free radical' and causes a chain reaction, like a domino effect, that leads to damaged organs, the speeding up of aging or, even worse, it can lead to heart disease, cancer, or a stroke.

Antioxidants act like super heroes. They enter the blood stream super-highway and look for the bad guys, the free radicals. Once they spot the villains, they use their super powers of stabilization and stop the free radicals in their tracks. The more super heroes around, the safer your body is from bank robbing free radicals. John Weisburger, PhD, has meticulously studied the tea plant, Camellia sinensis, at the Institute for Cancer Prevention. His research has led him to conclude that all types of tea contain around 10 times the antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables. You should of course still eat your vegetables, but this is great news for tea lovers. Seems that tea has much more to it than great taste!

Which tea is better? Are they all the same? Taste wise it's all subjective but if you're talking about antioxidant content, green tea easily wins. Japanese green tea especially has an incredibly high percentage. In Japan, Shizuoka has a very low cancer rate compared to other parts of Japan. Is it a coincidence that Shizuoka is a major tea growing area where many of the people drink green tea religiously?

All of this has been known for at least a decade, but a recent study done in France provides even more information about how drinking tea can prevent cancers from forming. This study was published in FASEB, Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, which is a leading journal for medical research, and it concluded that both green tea and red wine contain powerful antioxidants, polyphenols, which have been shown to stop the growth of prostate cancer. In addition, polyphenols actually prevents prostate cancer from ever growing in the first place, making tea a powerful preventative measure. The study shows that polyphenols stop a certain type of pathway called SphK1, which leads to the growth of cancerous cells. Gerald Weissman, MD and chief editor of FASEB, was quoted as saying, "Not only does SphK1/S1P signaling pathway play a role in prostate cancer, but it also plays a role in other cancers, such as colon cancer, breast cancer, and gastric cancers . . . The profound impact that the antioxidants in red wine and green tea have on our bodies is more than anyone would have dreamed just 25 years ago. As long as they are taken in moderation, all signs show that red wine and green tea may be ranked among the most potent health foods we know."

The fact that the polyphenols found in tea inhibit this pathway not only means that there is conclusive evidence in the scientific world about the powerful health benefits of tea, but also that scientists now know exactly how drinking green tea prevents cancer. This is very important. WebMD recently wrote an article that talked about the difficulties of finding ‘real world evidence' of tea's health benefits. The article mentions that doing a large-scale population study to determine the effects of tea is problematic because this can only be done in the East where people have much better diets than most Americans. The article insinuates that the high consumption of fish in Asian societies could account for their good health rather than the tea that they drink. While this may very well be true, the study mentioned earlier proves that drinking tea alone can be extremely beneficial. Still, the few human studies done in Asia on green tea are very interesting.

Both Chinese and Japanese scientists have separately studied the effects of green tea on cancer. A Japanese study concluded that drinking green tea can lower the recurrence of cancers after recovery, while a Chinese study showed that drinking green tea can prevent the onset of cancer. There were also studies done on how drinking tea affects those with heart disease. A Japanese study involved 500 people, while a Dutch study involved 3,000. Both studies suggest that drinking green tea everyday can drastically reduce heart problems. Seems that there's plenty of ‘real world evidence' suggesting that drinking tea helps out more than just your taste buds.

Wonderful news for all you tea lovers! I personally drink green tea all the time, Sencha or Dragonwell preferably, so I am quite happy to learn tea is a healthy passion of mine. How do you feel about it? Join us in the discussion below.