Green Tea (Camellia sinensis) Monograph

Green Tea (Camellia sinensis) Monograph

This section is compiled by Frank M. Painter, D.C.
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FROM:   Alternative Medicine Review 2000 (Aug);   5 (4):   372375 ~ FULL TEXT

Description and Constituents

Tea is one of the most widely consumed beverages in the world today, second only to water, and its medicinal properties have been widely explored. The tea plant, Camellia sinensis, is a member of the Theaceae family, and black, oolong, and green tea are produced from its leaves. It is an evergreen shrub or tree and can grow to heights of 30 feet, but is usually pruned to 2-5 feet for cultivation. The leaves are dark green, alternate and oval, with serrated edges, and the blossoms are white, fragrant, and appear in clusters or singly. Unlike black and oolong tea, green tea production does not involve oxidation of young tea leaves. Green tea is produced from steaming fresh leaves at high temperatures, thereby inactivating the oxidizing enzymes and leaving the polyphenol content intact. The polyphenols found in tea are more commonly known as flavanols or catechins and comprise 30-40 percent of the extractable solids of dried green tea leaves. The main catechins in green tea are epicatechin, epicatechin-3-gallate, epigallocatechin, and epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), with the latter being the highest in concentration. Green tea polyphenols have demonstrated significant antioxidant, anticarcinogenic, anti-inflammatory, thermogenic, probiotic, and antimicrobial properties in numerous human, animal, and in vitro studies. [1, 2]

Mechanisms of Action

The anticarcinogenic properties of green tea polyphenols, mainly EGCG, are likely a result of inhibition of biochemical markers of tumor initiation and promotion, induction of apoptosis, and inhibition of cell replication rates, thus retarding the growth and development of neoplasms. [3, 4] Their antioxidant potential is directly related to the combination of aromatic rings and hydroxyl groups that make up their structure, and is a result of binding and neutralization of free radicals by the hydroxyl groups. In addition, green tea polyphenols stimulate the activity of hepatic detoxification enzymes, thereby promoting detoxification of xenobiotic compounds, and are also capable of chelating metal ions, such as iron, that can generate radical oxygen species. [5, 6]

Green tea polyphenols inhibit the production of arachidonic acid metabolites such as pro-inflammatory prostaglandins and leukotrienes, resulting in a decreased inflammatory response. Human and animal studies have demonstrated EGCG's ability to block inflammatory responses to ultraviolet A and B radiation as well as significantly inhibiting the neutrophil migration that occurs during the inflammatory process. [7-9]

Research on green tea's thermogenic properties indicates a synergistic interaction between its caffeine content and catechin polyphenols may result in prolonged stimulation of thermogenesis. Studies have also shown green tea extracts are capable of reducing fat digestion by inhibiting digestive enzymes. [10, 11] Although the exact mechanism is unknown, green tea catechins have been shown to significantly raise levels of Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria while decreasing levels of numerous potential pathogens. [12] Studies have also demonstrated green tea's antibacterial properties against a variety of gram-positive and gram-negative species. [13]


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