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Matcha: Catechins, EGCG, Cellular Necessities?

Nicholas Noble | August 10, 2019

Have we always relied on plants to sustain our good health? As with nature there is little waste, it’s also not too surprising to recognize the mutual interactions we’ve developed with plants. Of course not mentioning oxygen or as sources of food, many of their natural compounds are essential to our survival, if not then to our best health. 

It’s understood that phytocompounds serve clear functions in plant health as hormonal regulators, and as protectants against the elements and even infectious organisms. Do they offer us similar functions once we consume them?

Science would say so, many domesticated crops such as the grapevine, tea plant, and grains such as barley have been established to contain a range of compounds useful to human health. Particularly, polyphenols like the catechin EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate), are thought to confer anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and metabolic benefits. 

They also range widely in function, while some may aid nutrient absorption, others may even be anti-cancer agents. Catechins are present in many dietary products such as plants, fruits (such as apples, blueberries, gooseberries, grape seeds, kiwi, strawberries), green tea, red wine, beer, cacao liquor, and chocolate.

Tea especially, as far back as recorded history has been referenced in longevity and daily vitality; we’re left intrigued that maybe our bodies have been programmed alongside these natural products in order to stay healthy. Also, the traditional association between plants and herbal remedies further suggests that catechins and the like have been adapted as regulators of good health.

Medical research gives credence to these histories, the tea plant especially contains high quantities of polyphenols, a chemical group which hosts catechin flavonoids such as EGCG. With their role in the tea plant’s own cellular maintenance, catechins similarly promote human health by scavenging free-radicals, modulating brain health, reducing cardiovascular disease, and much more.

EGCG and other catechins

The widely recognized EGCG is just one specific (but particularly well documented) example of catechins which impart more than flavor in the taste of tea. It is found in highest concentrations in matcha (powdered green tea) than anywhere else in nature, and typifies the physiological improvements which catechins offer us. Also, more than a third of the dry weight of green tea (matcha closer to half) is comprised of polyphenolics like EGCG and other catechins. 

These are believed to synergize with our cellular mechanisms to improve energy and endurance, reduce inflammation and LDL cholesterol, and possess potential antitumor properties -- benefits valuated most thematically through daily consumption. 

The latest science also argues how long-term catechin supplementation through green tea elevates BDNF, an important biomarker involved in cognitive health and memory 

Making the most of catechins

Daily matcha is recommended for the greatest reward from these long-held properties. It’s the finest source for some of nature’s key health compounds, many that are unlikely or impossible to find nutritionally. Also, unlike brewed green tea, with matcha the whole leaf is also consumed as a fine powder, allowing these compounds an ample absorption. 

In the pursuit of long-term benefits, it’s recommended to minimize milk additives. The natural milk protein, casein, affinitively binds to catechins and adversely limits their therapeutic range. In at least one study, green tea without milk also demonstrated an improved arterial relaxation and blood flow. 

Bioavailability

Keeping matcha’s catechins in a bioavailable form means they will also remain effective in combating viruses, parasites, and fungal infections. This immunomodulation is thought to draw from catechins’ inhibition of host-cell binding sites, thus reducing infectious spread. This effect is associated with significantly fewer cases of flu and flu-like symptoms in controlled studies. 

At least one study also provided that a twice-daily green tea supplement for 3 months limited the occurrence of the common cold by more than 30%, while another of school-aged children found an inverse relationship between flu diagnoses and cups of green tea consumed. 

The bottom line

In an era of cutting-edge science, novel diseases therapies, and an unending stream of natural and synthetic supplements, matcha green tea remains one of our oldest allies in the quest to stay healthy. With thousands of years under its belt, only now are we lucky to understand some of the ‘how’ behind its health benefits. 

We now know the broad range of catechins make for strong antioxidants, immunomodulators, and cognitive boosters; they’re even under study for their vital capabilities in the fight against multidrug-resistant bacteria. 

While the occasional bowl of matcha is certain not to hurt, clinical research suggests it twice a day for at least 3 months in order to maximize all of these mentioned health outcomes.