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A Peek at the Pump
A Peek at the Pump

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Alternatives:Healthcare Outside the Box

Brewing Health

By Deborah Gardiner

"Many researchers believe green tea to be among the richest sources of antioxidants and link it to a decreased risk of cancer, stroke, lowering blood cholesterol, fighting cavities, reducing harmful blood clotting and arthritis."

Every morning, Andrew Sternick, a systems administrator for a digital consulting company, stops by a downtown café for a caffeine infusion. In San Francisco — home to thousands of groggy, overworked tech workers — this is fairly normal. But what is less prosaic is Sternick's order.

"I began drinking 16 ounces of green tea a day about five months ago," said this 27-year-old. " I heard it was cancer fighting. I read it in a few different places, Chinese medicine books and Scientific American. They were saying that in high concentrations, green tea was being looked at as a chemotherapy drug."

For Sternick, who suffers from rheumatoid arthritis, an auto-immune disease affecting the joints, aorta and muscular skeletal system, the reasons for drinking green tea are not only preventative, they are personal.

"Coffee causes my urethra to become inflamed. So I switched to green tea because it is caffeinated but with no side affects," said Sternick.

A tasty economy

In Japan and China, the world's two major producers of green tea, drinking this tasty brew is nothing new.

Kasuka Baba, a Tokyo musician says she drinks five cups of 'gyokuro' (deep flavored) green tea a day because she loves the earthy taste and believes Japanese researchers' claims that green tea prevents a host of chronic ills including cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure and even the onset of aging.

So, what is this magic beverage? According to the Celestial Seasonings website, green tea, like oolong and black tea, originates from Camellia sinensis, an evergreen plant indigenous to China and India. Because the leaves are not fermented, green tea is less processed than black tea thus producing a lighter flavor.

The site explains, "In the United States, many researchers believe green tea to be among the richest sources of antioxidants and link it to a decreased risk of cancer, stroke, lowering blood cholesterol, fighting cavities, reducing harmful blood clotting and arthritis."

Taking tea to task

Although green tea appears loaded with health benefits, researchers are quick to point out a dearth of clinical trials.

"It is okay to say that green tea reduces the risk of several types of cancer — several end studies prove that," said Jon Wise, M.D., vice president of research and development at Natural Alternatives International, a San Marcos based vitamin manufacturer. "But the next question is how does it work and is there a true clinical trial that proves this? Intervention clinical studies testing a specific compound are still rare."

Nonetheless, actual evidence is mounting. The most recent surrounds Epigallocatechin-3-gallate, or EGCG, thought to be the most potent antioxidant in green tea and capable of fighting prostate, breast and pancreatic cancer.

Late last year, researchers at the Center for Toxicological Research in Jefferson, Ark., released findings showing that tea slows cancer growth by 90 percent. In the brief in-vitro study, pancreatic and prostate cancer cells were exposed to extracts of polyphenols and theaflavins, potent anti-cancer agents found in green and black tea.

"No one has demonstrated the healing effects of tea to the extent that we have in the pancreatic cancer," said Dr. Beverly D. Lyn-Cook, a senior research scientist at the center. "The next step would be to investigate whether tea or its components had any adverse or beneficial effects in combinations with chemotherapeutic drugs. Because pancreatic cells are highly resistant to chemotherapeutic drugs and the polyphenols in the green tea may help reduce that resistance, this is exciting."

Fill it to the brim

Before you rush to the kettle, some green tea specialists argue that tea is not just for drinking anymore.

"That eating green tea rather than drinking the tea brings more healing properties has been well known in Japan for some time now," said Ichiro Kawasaki, vice president of marketing and research for 'Mr. Green Tea', a green tea and herb-based food seasoning product.

"Brewing the tea means that 60-65% of the vitamins and nutrients remain locked within the leaves and left in the cup," said Kawasaki.

Dr. Michael Chang, chief scientist for Pharmanex, the producer of "Tegreen 97", a standardized green tea supplement, suggests ingesting green tea in pill form. "Four cups of green tea, or one capsule of tea extract every day should give you the antioxidant-rich polyphenols that you need," he said.

Some cancer experts even suggest cooking with it. "Cancer of the breast, prostate, colon and pancreas are all associated with meat intake," said John Weisburger, M.D., Director Emeritus and senior member of the American Health Foundation. "By adding tea extract, either green or black, you can rapidly reduce your exposure to these carcinogens."

Tea for two, three, four...

Although clinical trials are still underway, green tea fans remain in abundance. "Because I trust in Chinese medicine, I choose to believe that it is good for me. I don't think that it will hurt me," said Sternick.

Baba says that she needs no statistical evidence to urge her to continue her copious tea consumption. " I will raise my children to drink green tea."

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