Over the last couple of days I have been doing a little research on the health-giving aspects of tea. I have to admit to being a bit of a cynic when it comes to alternative medicine but I am now convinced that there is something of great benefit in tea.
Green tea in particular seems to have some therapeutic qualities. Recent studies have linked it to the prevention of cancers (particularly squamous cell cancer of the skin and esophagus, the prostrate, the breast and the ovaries), cardiovascular disease, strokes, arthritis and Alzheimer's. In fact it appears to be some sort of wonderdrug.
The active ingredient in green tea is something called epigallocatechin gallase (EGCG) which is a sort of flavonoid. This is just the name of a set of chemicals that are derived from plants. In the freshly plucked leaf there is 10% EGCG by weight but this is destroyed when the leaf is 'fermented' and turned into the black tea we normally drink.
EGCG is a powerful antioxidant and this, until recently, was thought to be the reason for its anticancer action. The flavonoid was thought to work by 'mopping up' the harmful free-radicals that can damage cells and lead to cancer. However in March Professor Frei at the Linus Pauling Institute found that this was not what actually happened in vivo. Flavonoids only work, he says, because they are slightly toxic and the body can't wait to get rid of them. Only about 5 % is absorbed and in response to even this small invasion the body produces substances like uric acid to expel the toxin as soon as possible. And it is this expulsion that causes the anticancer effect. The mechanisms that expel the flavonoid also eliminates mutagens and carcinogens. The body is put in a state of alert and is sensitised to any invader. The system is purged. There is a detoxification on a grand scale.
So green tea is good, but you don't need too much. In fact too great a dose of flavonoids can be harmful so it is best to keep the doses small and often. A healthy diet of 5 - 9 portions of fruit and vegetables a day should do the trick, according to Professor Frei, there is no need to go mad.
And at least a couple of these portions can include green tea (which must be carefully stored and steeped at 100 degrees to extract as much EGCG as possible according to another study), and with a little persistence I am sure it is possible to get used to the taste - which is, unfortunately, quite disgusting. At least in my opinion.