Having a cup of tea involves a lot more than meets the eye — and the taste buds. It turns out that many varieties of teas contain phytochemicals loaded with a host of health benefits. For example, as previously reported, green tea in particular may help prevent and treat osteoporosis (Green Tea could Naturally Prevent and Treat Osteoporosis, Scientists Say) and research has shown it could fight lung cancer, too (8 Health Benefits of Green Tea). Now scientists have documented how a catechin (a polyphenol plant compound) in green tea known as epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG) may protect people with high-glucose conditions such as diabetes and the pre-diabetic metabolic syndrome from heart disease and other medical ills.
Polyphenols, including EGCG, comprise around 30% of the dry leaf weight of green tea and researchers think EGCG is one of the most beneficial types of all the natural phytochemicals. In fact, recent studies have shown EGCG has a positive impact on arthritis, mental health problems, oral health, heart disease and even weight loss.
Researchers have also noted a link between consuming green tea and the risk of developing diabetes. In a new study just published in the journal Food Chemistry, a team of researchers from the Department of Food Science and Biotechnology at National Chung-Hsing University and the National Institute of Cancer Research in Taiwan have determined that under high-glucose conditions, EGCG may trigger beneficial processes in the body. This suggests the green tea component can protect diabetics and those with pre-diabetic conditions from serious complications.
In lab experiments, the scientists found that EGCG appears to play a role in controlling low-density lipoprotein (LDL or the “bad” cholesterol) and, perhaps most importantly, it protects from a reaction called glycation that can produce an array of health problems. Glycation (sometimes called non-enzymatic glycosylation) occurs when simple sugar molecules, such as fructose or glucose, become attached to proteins or fats without the moderation of an enzyme. This results in rogue molecules known as advanced glycation end products that can produce health risks by impairing the function of various biomolecules.
For their new study, the Taiwanese researchers set out to determine the antioxidant and antiglycation effects of EGCG under high-glucose conditions that mimicked high blood sugar conditions in diabetics and pre-diabetics. Working in lab experiments, they used human plasma that was treated with EGCG. Then LDL was removed from the plasma and challenged to oxidation testing. The results showed the treatment with the green tea EGCC made the “bad” type of blood fat resistant to oxidation, suggesting it helps fight heart disease. In addition, the EGCG was bound to the LDL and that inhibited glycation.
Bottom line: these finding suggest that the green tea extract protects from the harmful cascade of detrimental effects that are known to be triggered by high glucose levels.
“This study suggests that loading plasma with EGCG is an efficient way to increase the content of this phytochemical in LDL, which may imply favorable in vivo activity of EGCG in diabetes,” the researchers wrote. They added that the green tea component seemed to possess a “rather specific and somewhat different degree of antiglycative action and lipoprotein-binding activity” than has been noted with other polyphenols. In other words, it may be a particularly powerful natural way to help prevent the harms associated with high blood sugar levels.
S. L. Baker