The Cancer Fighting Benefits Of Tea

Wednesday, October 4, 2006 - 1:49pm

By Erin Dummert RD, CD

Tea consumption dates back 5,000 years to China and India where it was a popular beverage as well as a traditional healing tonic. Today, researchers from the National Cancer Institute, American Institute for Cancer Research, and many other top research facilities are studying the science behind tea, hoping to understand the healing properties that ancient civilizations relied on. So far, the results of many of these studies are extremely promising. Whether you drink tea or use it in cooking, research shows that tea can offer many health benefits, including a reduced risk for a variety of cancers.

Types of Tea

Black tea is the most commonly consumed tea in the United States. In other parts of the world, white, green, and oolong are the teas of choice. Each of these tea varieties originate from the same plant. When tea is harvested it is either fermented, processed, or both. The way it is handled determines what variety of tea it is:

  • Black tea - fermented and highly processed
  • Green tea - unfermented and lightly processed
  • Oolong tea - semi-fermented and moderately processed
  • White tea - unfermented and very lightly processed.

For further information on the benefits of tea and reducing cholesterol and cutting heart attack risk see the following article from TheDietChannel: 10 Best 'Superfoods'.

Contrary to popular belief, herbal tea is not really tea at all, but a blend of flowers, leaves, and roots from various plants. Though it may contain some health benefits of its own, herbal tea is not discussed in this article.

How Tea Fights Cancer

According to a recent study recognized by the American Institute for Cancer Research, a substance in green tea has been found to halt a specific stage in the cancer process more effectively than current cancer drugs. In studies of liver, skin, and stomach cancer, green and black teas were shown to decrease the size of tumors and either slow or completely prevent breast, colon, and prostate cancers.

Other studies show similar protective effects of green tea in tissues of the lung, esophagus, and pancreas. Black, oolong, and green tea have all been associated with ovarian cancer prevention. A few studies also suggest that white tea is even better than green tea at preventing damage to cells that could lead to cancer.

While most tea research has focused on cancer prevention, researchers have recently begun to explore trends in green tea consumption among cancer survivors. Preliminary results suggest that women who drink 3 or more cups of green tea daily have a lower recurrence rate of early (Stage I) breast cancer. Another study showed that women with ovarian cancer who drank at least 1 cup of green tea daily were more than twice as likely to survive as non-tea drinkers.

Tea's Cancer Fighting Ingredient

What does tea contain that is so powerful? Catechins. These plant chemicals have potent antioxidant activity to help reduce the risk of cancer by fixing cell damage. Among other roles, catechins have been shown to inhibit growth of tumor cells and keep them from spreading to other parts of the body. Tea is the best source of catechins in the human diet. Possibly because it is less processed, green tea contains 3 times the catechins than black tea, and catechin levels in white tea are even higher.

Supplement makers have responded to the positive results of tea research with a multitude of tea extracts. Perhaps the most popular, epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) is popping up in a variety of nutritional supplements, from multivitamins to herbal concoctions. Though EGCG may have some benefit, it should be used in moderation. Very high amounts of green tea components have been shown to interact with drugs that affect blood clotting such as aspirin, and also may cause liver damage.

Make Tea a Part of Your Diet

Some investigations found that people who drink 6 cups of tea daily realized maximum health benefits. However, many studies show health benefits, including cancer prevention, in only 1 to 2 cups of tea daily. Choosing the correct form of tea is also important. Brewed tea, either hot or iced, offers the most potent cancer-fighting activity. Instant iced tea and bottled tea beverages offer little health benefit.

The key to realizing the potential health benefits of tea is consistency. Consumed regularly over many years, white, green, oolong, and black teas can offer substantial protection against cancer and other diseases. When combined with a mostly plant-based diet, the catechins from tea could have an even greater effect as all the plant chemicals work together to safeguard your health.