Green Tea May Help Keep Heart Disease, Cancer at Bay
Researchers believe they have solved the riddle of East Asia's remarkably low rates of heart disease and lung cancer.
Despite bars and cafes throughout the region being shrouded in cigarette smoke, rates of these smoking-linked diseases remain lower than in the West.
And American scientists now say there is growing evidence that green tea is one piece of the puzzle.
Writing in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons, Yale University researchers detail the body of evidence linking green tea to better heart health and a lower risk of cancer.
No one is suggesting that smokers ignore the danger of the habit and simply drink green tea. But research indicates that the tea's high concentration of antioxidants called catechins may offer a range of health benefits, according to Dr Bauer E Sumpio and his colleagues at the Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut.
Antioxidants help quench molecules known as oxygen free radicals that, in excess, can damage body cells and potentially lead to disease. Free radicals are natural byproducts of normal body processes, but they are also generated by external sources like tobacco smoke.
In China, Japan and other Asian countries, it is a social custom to drink green tea, which is less processed and richer in catechins than the black tea commonly consumed in the West.
And it's possible that this habit helps explain the so-called "Asian paradox," according to Sumpio and his colleagues.
This paradox becomes clear when looking at global health statistics, the researchers note. For example, for every 100,000 US men, 348 will die of coronary heart disease each year. The figure for Japanese men is only 186, despite the nation's higher rate of smoking.
Coronary heart disease (CHD) develops when the arteries feeding the heart become hardened and narrowed due to the buildup of cholesterol on the artery walls. According to Sumpio's team, lab research suggests that that green tea catechins particularly one called EGCG may help thwart the CHD process through their effects on "bad" LDL cholesterol.
The antioxidants may also help keep artery walls functioning smoothly, as well as inhibiting blood cells from sticking together and forming clots.
Similarly, lab studies suggest that EGCG and other green tea antioxidants may block tumour formation or growth in a number of ways. This may help explain why the lung cancer death rate in Korea is unexpectedly low.
The rate of lung cancer death among Korean men is less than 40 per 100,000, versus 67 per 100,000 among US men. The difference among women is more stark: 13 per 100,000 in Korea, compared with 45 per 100,000 in the United States.
But researchers warned that cigarettes were still a major cause of fatal disease. "Smoking cessation is the best way to prevent cardiovascular disease and cancer," Sumpio said in a statement.
(Source: China Daily)