A common herbal boost can benefit your health

Thursday, June 30, 2005

What if I told you I could give you something that would help prevent cancer, keep you thin and cure bad breath? It would cost you as little as 20 cents a dose, and it is totally legal.

No, I haven't gone to the dark side and started hawking snake oil. Nor have I become suddenly brilliant and eligible for the Nobel Prize. You can be brilliantly healthy yourself as easily as visiting your grocery store and purchasing a cute little box of the Camellia sinensis: the common green tea.

Looking at the research on green tea, it becomes stunningly apparent that only those with a death wish would avoid drinking it on a daily basis.

The health benefits of green tea are impressive. Here are the highlights.

Cancer

According to the National Cancer Institute, green tea consumption can reduce the risk of esophageal and skin cancer. New Scientist Magazine's review of studies on the subject adds lung, prostate and breast cancer to the list. The powerful antioxidant that is abundant in green tea (EGCG) not only inhibits the growth of cancer cells but it offs those bad guys without killing the good guys.

Coronary artery disease

The American Medical Association has declared that drinking green tea can reduce the risk of stroke by lowering cholesterol. It is a champ when it comes to reducing the LDL cholesterol levels (that's the "bad" cholesterol) and it also can actually impede the formation of blood clots, which is the major source of strokes and heart attacks.

Perhaps green tea explains the "Japanese Paradox," the fact that there is a very low incident of heart disease among Japanese men even though three-quarters of them are smokers.

Obesity

Green tea has been shown to raise our metabolic rates, which benefits us with friskier fat burning. Caffeine has something to do with this but the increased calorie burn rate also has something to do with those nifty EGCGs.

The kudos for the verdant tea continues. It is high in the B vitamins, which is good for those of us interested in holding off the ravages of age. Because it can destroy bacteria, it is great for oral health: from keeping your breath kissing sweet to destroying plaque and thus helping to prevent tooth decay. Green tea even provides more vitamin C than an orange!

How does the humble herb provide so much health bounty?

It is the fact that it is so rich in polyphenols, specifically the aforementioned EGCG. We have all heard of the healthy anti-oxidant properties of the polyphenols found in red wine. Well, the polyphenol antioxidants in green tea are twice as powerful.

Green tea is better than black tea because the way it is processed (steamed rather than fermented) preserves more of the good antioxidant stuff. And you can be a fervent tea tippler; the more tea, the more antioxidants.

But what if you are the kind who turns into the monster-mother from Aliens when caffeine enters your system? Relax. Green tea also has less caffeine -- half of black tea and less than one-fourth of coffee.

So there is really no excuse, is there? You can't claim caffeine intoxication, poverty, or religious reasons. And something that positively impacts the three biggest killers lurking in our future -- cancer, coronary heart disease and obesity -- is a slam dunk.

So raise that pinky, sip that tea.

Dr. Michael O.L. Seabaugh, a Cape Girardeau native, is a clinical psychologist who lives and works in Santa Barbara, Calif. Contact him at mseabaugh@ semissourian.com.

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