- Chinese tea
- Green tea extract
- Green tea polyphenols
- Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG)
For Patients & Caregivers
Green tea may help lower cholesterol. Evidence of its cancer preventive effects in humans is not conclusive.
Green tea contains substances called polyphenols, which scientists think contribute to its anti-cancer activity. Laboratory studies of one polyphenol, catechin epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), show that it may interfere with several of the processes involved in cell replication, causing tumor cell death (apoptosis). It also might slow the formation of blood vessels around tumors. Epigallocatechin (ECG), another polyphenol, stops leukemic cells from multiplying in laboratory studies. As a proven antioxidant, green tea may repair cell damage, but whether it can prevent cancer is uncertain. It is also unknown how it might help protect the heart, but it reduces LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and increases HDL (“good”) cholesterol. Tannins present in green tea generally have antibacterial properties.
Animal studies indicate that oral consumption of green tea extract during fasting can increase the risk of toxicity. Human studies are needed.
- As an antioxidant
There is mixed evidence.
- To prevent and treat cancer
Although laboratory studies show an anti-cancer effect, a few clinical trials and population surveys show mixed results. A number of studies in China have suggested that high intake may protect against cancers of the colon and stomach.
- To lower cholesterol and prevent heart disease
One clinical trial showed that a theaflavin-enriched green tea extract can be used with other dietary approaches to lower certain type of cholesterol. Other studies report no effects on lipoprotein oxidation (contributes to atherosclerosis).
- To improve mental functioning; for clear thinking
Caffeinated form may stimulate the nervous system.
- To lower high blood pressure
Studies show a reduction in the risk of developing high blood pressure.
- To prevent tooth decay
Laboratory studies show that green tea may prevent bacteria from attaching to teeth. This use has not been tested in clinical trials.
- To lose weight
One human study shows increased expenditure of energy.
- To increase water loss (as a diuretic)
No studies support this use.
- You are pregnant or breastfeeding: Caffeine passes into breast milk and may cause insomnia in the infant.
- You have a peptic ulcer: Green tea stimulates the production of gastric acid.
- You are taking adenosine: Caffeine may lessen its effects.
- You are taking atropine: Green tea may reduce its absorption from the gut and therefore lessen its effects.
- You are taking codeine: Green tea may reduce its absorption from the gut and therefore lessen its effects.
- You take warfarin or other blood thinners: In theory, very large amounts on the order of one-half to one gallon per day might lessen the effect of these drugs.
- You are using bortezomib (Velcade®): Polyphenols can inhibit the effects of this drug.
- You are taking drugs that are substrates of cytochrome P450 3A4: Green tea may increase the risk of side effects of these drugs.
- You are taking drugs that are substrates of UGT (Uridine 5’-diphospho-glucuronosyltransferase) enzymes: Green tea may increase the risk of side effects of these drugs.
- You are taking acetaminophen: Green tea increased liver injury caused by acetaminophen in mice when it was given after acetaminophen.
- Nausea, stomach upset
- Caffeine can cause insomnia, nervousness, or irritability.
- Liver toxicity: Several cases have been associated with consumption of green tea.
- Swelling, itchiness, and darkening of lower lip: In a 40-year-old woman following use of green tea for several years.
- Blood clots in small blood vessels: In a 38-year-old woman following green tea supplementation for weight loss.
For Healthcare Professionals
Green tea is a beverage derived from the unfermented leaves of a plant native to Asia. The extract is marketed as a dietary supplement to regulate blood sugar, cholesterol, blood pressure, for weight loss and cancer prevention. Active constituents include the polyphenol epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), caffeine and theanine. Consumption of green tea may reduce the risk of hypertension (9) and cardiovascular disease (14), and a theaflavin-enriched extract lowered the low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) level (8). Some studies suggest that green tea can enhance glucose tolerance in healthy individuals (11) (12). However, data on the effects of green tea extracts in obese (10) (60) and diabetic patients (13) are mixed.
Topical application of green tea extracts was found effective against external genital and perianal warts (15) (16) (17). One such extract, sinecatechin, is an FDA-approved drug indicated for this use.
Green tea has been studied for its cancer preventive potential and the findings are promising (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (41). Its extracts may have positive effects on preventing the development of liver (61) and colorectal cancers (64) in high-risk patients, benefit those with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (52), along with reducing the risk of myelodysplastic syndromes (56).
EGCG, applied topically, can help relieve radiation-induced dermatitis in breast cancer patients (74) (75). And oral consumption was found to be effective against acute radiation-induced esophagitis in lung cancer patients as well (76).
In prostate cancer studies, supplementation with a blend of green tea, pomegranate, broccoli and curcumin was shown to have a protective effect in prostate cancer patients following post-radical treatment (59). Consumption of green tea decreased the PSA level in prostate cancer patients prior to prostatectomy (72). However, supplementation with EGCG did not reduce the likelihood of prostate cancer (63); and higher doses of green tea catechins were associated with elevated incidence of prostate cancer in men with high grade prostatic intraepithelial neoplasia and/or atypical small acinar proliferation (73).
Data are also inconclusive to determine whether consumption of green tea lowers the risk of colorectal and stomach cancers in women (6) (42); there was no association between green tea and the risk of developing malignant lymphoma or multiple myeloma (65); and EGCG-enriched green tea was not useful as maintenance intervention in women with advanced stage ovarian cancer after standard treatment (71); another finding suggests that consumption may actually increase the risk of breast cancer in postmenopausal women (62). Future studies are needed to resolve this ambiguity.
The caffeinated form may cause insomnia and nausea. Use of decaffeinated products may be preferred due to lower incidence of adverse events, but data are inconsistent regarding the relative efficacy of caffeinated versus decaffeinated teas. Animal studies indicate that oral consumption of green tea extract during fasting can increase the risk of toxicity (49). In humans, EGCG intake (200 mg, twice daily for one year) was shown to be safe (70) based on clinical data, whereas a daily dose amounting to 800 mg EGCG was associated with elevated liver enzymes, which was reversible with cessation of consumption (67). It is important to distinguish food from concentrated supplements because the dosage varies considerably that in turn can either confer benefit or cause harmful effects.
Green tea is thought to confer cardiovascular protection by increasing HDL cholesterol, lowering LDL cholesterol and triglycerides (8) (29), as well as by blocking platelet aggregation. The tannins may have antibacterial properties (28) and can produce anti-diarrheal effects. The flavonoid constituents may reduce lipoprotein oxidation (30).
The mechanism by which green tea modulates blood pressure is thought to be mediated through EGCG. It induces nitric oxide (NO) production via activation of endothelial NO synthase, resulting in vasodilation (27).
In addition, a green tea extract was shown to modulate effective brain connectivity during working memory processing in healthy subjects (55); EGCG was found to inhibit aggregation of tau protein, thereby reducing toxicity in neuronal model cells (57).
The anticancer activity of green tea is thought to be related to polyphenol content with the chemopreventive attributes associated with EGCG, known to induce apoptosis and tumor antiangiogenesis (20). EGCG may inhibit enzymes involved in cell replication and DNA synthesis by interfering with cell-to-cell adhesion or via inhibition of intracellular communication pathways required for cell division (21). In vitro data indicate that concentrations of 30 mcg/mL EGCG and (-)-epigallocatechin (EGC) inhibit lipoxygenase-dependent arachidonic acid metabolism by 30-75% in normal human colon mucosa and colon cancers (22). Other studies in human colon cancer cell lines suggest that EGCG inhibits topoisomerase I, but not topoisomerase II (23). It also inhibits DNA replication in vitro in leukemia cancer cell lines (24), and was shown to modulate vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) leading to apoptosis in leukemic cells (7).
Administration of green tea inhibits UVB light-induced carcinogenesis (25); when given before and during carcinogen treatment, it reduces the incidence and number of stomach and esophageal tumors in mice (26). Topical EGCG may be useful as a chemopreventive against skin cancer, but additional research is needed (3).
- Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) includes tea on their list of “Generally Recognized As Safe” substances, pregnant women and women who breastfeed should limit their intake because of caffeine content.
- Because tea can pass into breast milk, it may cause sleep disorders in nursing infants. Ingestion by infants has been linked to impaired iron metabolism and microcystic anemia.
- Individuals with peptic ulcers should avoid drinking because it can stimulate the production of gastric acid (29).
- Green tea is generally considered safe, but because of the caffeine content, excessive consumption can disrupt sleep and cause headaches. A few cases of hepatotoxicity have also been associated with green tea extracts containing high EGCG levels (44) (46) (47) (58).
- Adverse reactions appear to be dose dependent. Clinical trials reported the following effects:
— Nausea, abdominal pain, and transaminitis after intake of high dose EGCG (2000 mg orally twice per day) in patients with early stage chronic lymphocytic leukemia (52)
— Elevation in alanine aminotransferase (ALT) levels, also after consumption of high amounts of EGCG (843 mg daily for one year) by postmenopausal women at risk for breast cancer (68)
— In another study of EGCG in breast cancer patients, rectal bleeding (with 800mg daily), weight gain, indigestion and insomnia (daily dose of 1200 mg), and liver function abnormality (at 1,600 mg daily) were reported (69).
However, in a study of men with high-grade prostatic intraepithelial neoplasia (HGPIN) and/or atypical small acinar proliferation (ASAP), EGCG (200 mg, twice daily for one year) was shown to be safe (70).
- Pruritic swelling and darkening of lower lip following green tea consumption for several years (45) and thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura after taking a green tea supplement for weight loss (48) have also been reported.
- When consumed during fasting, green tea extract increased the risk of toxicity in animal studies. Whether it has the same effect in humans is not known (49).
- Adenosine: The caffeine content may inhibit the hemodynamic effects of adenosine (18).
- Anticoagulants / Antiplatelets: Theoretically, consumption of large amounts (.5-1 gallon/day) may provide enough vitamin K to antagonize the effects of anticoagulants and antiplatelet agents, though this effect has not been reported in humans (29) (34).
- Atropine: The tannin content may reduce the absorption of atropine.
- Iron supplements: The tannin content in may reduce the bioavailability of iron. Green tea should be taken either 2 hours before or 4 hours following iron administration.
- Codeine: The tannin content may reduce the absorption of codeine (18).
- Bortezomib: EGCG and other polyphenols can inhibit the therapeutic effect of bortezomib (Velcade®) and other boronic acid based proteasome inhibitors (37).
- Tamoxifen: EGCG was shown to increase the oral bioavailability of tamoxifen, increasing the potential for their interactions (38).
- Verapamil: The bioavailability of Verapamil increased significantly in the presence of EGCG, thought to be due to P-glycoprotein inhibition by EGCG (39).
- Irinotecan: A study found EGCG to inhibit transport of irinotecan and its metabolite SN-38 into biliary elimination, resulting in their prolonged half-life which can increase toxicity (40).
- Cytochrome P450 3A4 substrates: Green tea extract inhibits CYP 3A4 enzyme and can affect the intracellular concentration of drugs metabolized by this enzyme (43) (44).
- UGT (Uridine 5’-diphospho-glucuronosyltransferase) substrates: Green tea modulates UGT enzymes in vitro and can increase the side effects of drugs metabolized by them (51).
- Acetaminophen: Green tea was shown to increase acetaminophen-induced hepatotoxicity in mice when administered following acetaminophen (53).
- Nadolol: Green tea extract inhibits OATP1A2 transporter and can reduce the absorption and plasma concentration of substrate drugs, like nadolol (54).