By Edwina Green, Corporate Nutritionist
I feel slightly disloyal writing this blog because in one aspect I am not very British. I was born and bred into a household where tea-time genuinely existed; everything stopped at 5 o’clock for a cup of Yorkshire tea. Here’s the rub; I am not a great lover of the British cuppa. In fact, my tea tastes go further east than tea plantations of India or Sri Lanka, since I have a preference for the green teas of China and Japan. While, I might not be true to my British roots, it turns out that this glitch in my tea preference may be fortuitous given my family history of ovarian cancer.
Green tea is rich in a compound called: Epigallocatechin 3 gallate. It is quite a word to navigate your tongue around, but it often gets shortened to EGCG. Pronunciation challenges aside, EGCG has had the interest of researchers for some time as an anti-cancer agent, and in particular its potential to reduce the risk of developing ovarian cancer (1). EGCG belongs to a family of phytonutrients (phyto comes from the Greek for plant) called flavonoids. Flavonoids are valued for their anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory health benefits, but they also contribute to many of the vibrant colours in the fruit and vegetables we eat, which is why your nutritionist will encourage you to “eat the rainbow”. EGCG is part of the catechin family of flavonols and found in most abundantly found in green tea.
While the research does not provide any conclusive answers; the majority of the research supporting green tea’s protective role in ovarian cancer comes from observational data from Asia. These cultures have a tradition of drinking tea, and specifically green tea, which is different to our own. The Japanese have matcha green tea which is ground green tea which concentrates the flavor and nutrients and is the center piece of the Japanese tea ceremony. The green tea leaves are shaded from the sun for the last few weeks of their growth, increasing the chlorophyll content which gives the tea its vibrant green colour.
The Chinese tend drink green tea throughout the day, placing loose leaves in a tea bottle and make several infusions from the same leaves during the day and drinking at will. A 2009 Cochrane review of green tea for cancer protection found that typical green tea intake in Asia was up to 1200 ml/day, which provided a minimum of 250 mg/day catechins (2), including EGCG.
It seems that actor, dramatist and stage director Arthur Wing Pinero was right: where there is tea, there is also hope. While drinking over a litre of green tea a day might be too much to ask; introducing a cup or more to your diet is likely to be a positive contribution to a healthy dietary pattern. Like wines, teas come from all over the world with different varieties, terroirs and processes. Exploring these and finding one you like is part of the experience and potentially better for you than wine! I prefer Chinese tea and here are a few suggestions, which will be available from most purveyors of loose leaf tea, so you can consider trying as part of your new adventures:
- White tea: is the first harvest of tea and is made from first 1-2 unopened buds, these are dried naturally and undergoes the least processing of all teas. White tea is picked only a few days out of the year, when a white down, which the Chinese call bai hao, appears on the spring shoots. Limited quantities mean that this is the most expensive of all teas.
- Silver Needles (Bai Hao): this tends to be a delicate tea with subtle colour and taste. Smooth and soothing with floral and honey notes.
- Green tea: the green tea harvest follows the white tea harvest and lasts about a month. The leaves are picked and are quickly fired or steamed to prevent oxidation. This allows them to retain their green colour and fresh flavor.
- Dragon’s Well (Long Jing Shi Feng): is the most commonly drunk green tea in China (the equivalent of PG Tips or Tetley). The leaves are long and thin (like flattened pine needles) and the taste is fresh and sweet with a slightly astringent finish.
- Oolong (Wolong) tea: developed from the later harvests using the larger, more mature leaves, oolong teas are allowed to oxidize between 10% to 80%. This process develops a wide variety of different colours and flavors as well as altering the phytonutrient balance of the tea.
- Iron Goddess of Mercy (Te Guan Yin): not as oxidized as some oolong teas, this tends to be is a light tea with some floral notes. The flavour expands and develops with each infusion.
- Black tea: the tea leaves undergoes full oxidation (or more correctly fermentation) and the results are the characteristic dark brown and black leaf, which has a more robust flavor familiar to the traditional British tea drinker.
- Pu-erh Tea: This tea tends to come in solid cakes and is often aged for many years. The tea can have a red hue and is very earthy and grounding. The flavours are robust and warming; it’s a good winter tea.
At Superwellness, we help employees and employers understand the modifiable risk factors for cancer and give practical everyday nutritional advice on cancer prevention. We can help you plan your employee wellbeing programme and tailor make plans to suit you and your company’s needs. Please contact us if you would be interested incorporating one of our seminars into your wellbeing programme.
Edwina Green, Associate and Registered Nutritional Therapist
Edwina is a firm believer in natural health and the transformative benefits that good nutrition can bring. Before making the career move to naturopathic nutrition, she ran her own company working in the City of London. She is fully aware of the challenges of trying to follow a healthy diet and lifestyle, while juggling full time work and ensuring quality time with family and friends. She is passionate about helping people take practical steps to manage their own health and teaching them to dissect the varied and often conflicting information that we receive via the media.
Edwina is currently studying for an MSc in Personal Nutrition and is specifically interested in the connection between our genes and our health. In particular, the field of nutrigenomics where the food we eat can positively influence our genes, reducing the risk of disease.
- Trudel D, Labbé DP, Bairati I, Fradet V, Bazinet L, Têtu B. (2012). Green tea for ovarian cancer prevention and treatment: a systematic review of the in vitro, in vivo and epidemiological studies. Gynecologic Oncology. 126 (3), p491-8.
- Boehm K, Borrelli F, Ernst E, Habacher G, Hung SK, Milazzo S, Horneber M. (2009). Green tea (Camellia sinensis) for the prevention of cancer. The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 8 (3)