Much has been done to document the health benefits of green tea, but which compounds actually contribute to green tea’s effectiveness in so many areas of human health?
Catechins are the most prevalent group of compounds found in green tea and are thought to be behind the majority of its natural benefits. In all, catechins make up about 30% of green tea’s composition. The most common of the catechins in green tea is known as Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCg) and it generally constitutes between seven and thirteen percent of the mass of any sample of green tea. The list of diseases that this compound is thought to prevent or ameliorate is extensive and includes colon cancer , arthritis , diabetes , kidney stones , liver disease , and more. According to a data table issued by the USDA, catechins are present in far greater concentrations in whole leave tea than in brewed tea, including EGCg which is almost 100 times more concentrated.
This group of nutrients makes up between five and ten percent of the composition of green tea. Flavonols have been found to be very powerful antioxidants, and in fact, the flavonols found in tea are thought to be among the most powerful natural antioxidants in existence. This is thought by researchers to be the reason for green tea’s connection to heart disease prevention. According to another USDA data table Flavonols are present in quantities as high as five times greater in whole green tea leaves than in brewed green tea.
This compound is found to a large extent in coffee and also to a lesser extent in green tea. It is thought by some researchers to prevent diabetes although more work still needs to be done on this issue.
Much research has been done on this amino acid which is found almost exclusively in tea. It has been shown variously to reduce stress , improve memory , and improve the overall health of the immune system.
The effects of caffeine are well known, so there is little reason to go into them here. But it should be noted that most of caffeine’s high energy effect is at least partially counteracted by L-Theanine which is a natural stress reducer and relaxant. This, along with the fact that green tea has much smaller amounts of caffeine, may contribute to it’s much gentler effect on the body than coffee.
There are some other compounds also present in small quantities green tea such as coumarylquinic acid and theogallin but the research on these compounds is still very sparse, meaning that it may still be some time before we know if they are in any way linked to the demonstrated health benefits of green tea.
Vitamins and Minerals
Green tea leaves also contain moderate amounts of vitamins and minerals that are partially or wholly lost during the steeping process. These include vitamins A, B1, B2, and C, as well as Niacin, Calcium, Potassium, Magnesium, and Fluoride.
The health benefits of these compounds are well known, but it is worthwhile to recount some of their more important effects:
This is a major antioxidant and an essential nutrient. It protects the body against oxidative stress meaning that it could help to prevent a number of diseases. It’s presence in whole tea leaves is over ten times greater than in brewed green tea.
It is well known that this vitamin is an essential nutrient for the health of the human eye. It is plentiful in green tea leaves but is cannot be absorbed in water during brewing. Hence it is not found in the green tea beverage.
This is yet another essential nutrient that is plentiful in green tea leaves. In addition to promoting bone health, it is also a necessary mineral for basic cellular processes within the body. It is nearly two hundred times more plentiful in whole tea leaves than in brewed green tea.
This mineral prevents the formation of plaque on the teeth and is commonly prescribed by dentists for this purpose. It occurs in moderately large amounts in whole green tea leaves.
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17] Yamamoto, Takahiko. Chemistry and Applications of Green Tea. 1997.