Green tea has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for thousands of years to help address a range of health problems. From providing relaxed yet focused energy for meditation and soothing away belly aches to treating certain types of cancer. But you may be wondering – is there any real evidence behind drinking matcha green tea to help treat cancer? And what compounds found IN matcha are linked to cancer prevention?
Clinical studies suggest compounds found in green tea may help prevent oxidative stress that can lead to life-threatening diseases – including certain forms of cancer.
Keep reading to find out how drinking one or two cups of matcha green tea daily holds the potential to change your odds of developing and recovering from cancer.
What are Polyphenols? What are catechins? The most potent matcha green tea cancer-fighting compounds
Since the late 1980s, scientists have conducted thousands of studies delving into the potential health benefits of green tea. However, we must note that it was only recently that scientific researchers have begun to truly understand the mechanisms behind green tea’s health benefits concerning its high concentration of phytochemicals – known as polyphenols.
Matcha green tea – a highly-concentrated, finely powdered form of green tea made from 100% ground Camellia sinensis leaves – is packed with polyphenols. Polyphenols – also called flavonoids – are naturally occurring compounds that we ingest through specific plant-based foods – such as fresh tea leaves, fruits, and red wine.
Though over 8,000 different polyphenols have been discovered, researchers are still trying to determine precisely how these naturally occurring chemicals impact the human body. (3)
When ingested, polyphenols act as antioxidants in the body, which means they help protect your body and neutralize free radicals that often damage cells.
Wait, what are free radicals?
Of course, it may be hard to grasp this connection unless you know the definition of free radicals. So let’s take a step back.
Free radicals are the highly reactive oxygen molecules produced by ‘everyday’ external life factors, such as air pollution, smoking, chemical exposure, and radiation. And when you don’t neutralize free radicals with antioxidants in the body, cells become damaged and injured – which increases your risk of serious health problems down the line, such as cancer.
What are catechins?
An increasing amount of recent research has suggested the specific polyphenols found in green tea – known as catechins – may lower the risk of bodily cells mutating from oxidative damage and becoming cancerous. (13)
Researchers have found that catechins may help inhibit tumor generation, induce apoptosis in cancer cells, interfere in the progression of cancer cells, and help speed up the body’s recovery. (13)
Many of matcha’s health benefits are linked to epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), a major grouping of catechins that helps keep immune system functions balanced and cancerous cells at bay.
Naturally-occurring polyphenols found in green tea may reduce the risk of certain cancers
You’ve probably heard that plant-based diets are often linked to reducing cancer risk. Well, the catechins found in plants are likely at least partially responsible! Per the National Cancer Institute (NCI), EGCG (a specific catechin unique to green tea) may help: (11)
- Protect cells from DNA damage
- Activate detoxification enzymes that inhibit tumor growth
- Promote cancer cell death
Research has shown the catechins uniquely found in matcha green tea may help reduce the risk of developing certain types of cancer, such as: (8)
- Breast cancer
- Ovarian cancer
- Lung Cancer
- Cervical cancer
- Prostate cancer
- Pancreatic cancer (6)
Green tea compounds in breast cancer prevention | Epigallocatechin Gallate (EGCG)
Even though the specific mechanisms behind breast cancer treatment and green tea catechins remain elusive, there has been a fair amount of in-vitro and vitro studies that accurately link an association between green tea and a lower risk of contracting breast cancer.
EGCG is most abundantly found in matcha green tea. It is an antioxidant that exhibits the highest potential for cancer-fighting abilities that has been studied to reduce inflammation, aid in weight loss, and potentially help prevent specific chronic conditions such as cancer.
Ovarian cancer and daily green tea drinking
Various studies have demonstrated a decline in ovarian cancer risk with regularly drinking green tea. For example, a Swedish study specifically comparing tea consumption to the risk of ovarian cancer in more than 60,000 women between 40-76 found that women who drank at least 2 cups of tea daily had a 46% lower risk of ovarian cancer than non-tea drinkers.
Another study examining components in green tea and their impact on epithelial ovarian cancer found a link to a lower expression of proteins involved in inflammation, cell signalization, cell motility, and angiogenesis. In other words – the latest science suggests an inverse association between drinking tea and ovarian cancer risk.
Green tea may help fight lung cancer
According to a systematic review on green tea and lung cancer that looked at over 84 scientific studies, the science isn’t there yet to count on a cup of matcha green to curb your risk of lung cancer. There just isn’t enough evidence from controlled human trials to support green tea as a primary treatment or preventative agent for lung cancer.
However, you may still want to consider drinking green tea if you are at a higher risk for lung cancer. Why do you ask? There is growing evidence suggesting green tea – both consumed orally and used topically – may have some chemopreventive benefits.
In other words, drinking green tea may help with some of the adverse side effects of chemotherapy, but this depends on which chemotherapy drugs you may be on. So if you are currently undergoing chemo, we recommend exercising caution and touching base with your doctor before adding matcha green tea to your daily wellness repertoire.
Green tea and prostate cancer
Findings presented back in 2012 at the American Association for Cancer Research revealed men with prostate cancer who regularly drank green tea had less prostate tissue inflammation and other changes linked to cancer growth. (4)
In the study, 79 men with prostate cancer had six cups of brewed green tea (equivalent to 2 cups of matcha) or water daily for three to eight weeks.
Researchers in the study noted that in the 3-8 week period, they could not inhibit tumor growth in participants – and that a longer-term study is needed to determine this. (10)
Green tea and the risk of pancreatic cancer
There is still little known about the specific connection on how green tea may lower pancreatic cancer risk – but there is promise.
A large-scale, population-based case-control study in Shanghai, China, focused on uncovering the associations between tea and the risk of pancreatic cancer. Researchers focused on collecting information on tea drinking, including: (6)
- The kind of tea consumed
- The amount of tea consumed
- The temperature the tea is prepared at
- Number of days and duration of tea drinking
According to the results published, researchers found that women drinking green tea daily were linked to a 32% reduction in risk of pancreatic cancer compared to those who did not drink tea regularly. (16)
Furthermore, the male and female study participants who drank more green tea for a more extended period, prepared at lower temperatures, and in higher volume were associated with a reduced risk of pancreatic cancer.
People at high risk or with cancer may also consider drinking matcha green tea because:
- Detoxifying: Matcha green tea has detoxifying effects and may help remove toxins from the body. (2)
- General Well-being: Green tea improves their overall physical and mental health and a general sense of well-being
- Self-management: The daily routine of having a cup of matcha enables a sense of control and agency over cancer treatment and empowers individuals with chronic illness.
- Immune-boosting: Green tea has powerful immune-boosting properties, as it’s loaded with disease-fighting antioxidants and polyphenols.
The Bottom Line: More research is needed around matcha and cancer-fighting properties
At this time, the impact of regular green tea consumption on human cancer has been inconclusive.
The potential cancer-preventing properties of matcha green tea have been portrayed using animal models for common cancers and also suggested by recent in-depth epidemiological studies.
Researchers are still discovering the health benefits of matcha green tea and its healthful compounds, and there’s no doubt more research is needed to understand all the potential good matcha green tea can provide.
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- Cory, H., Passarelli, S., Szeto, J., Tamez, M., & Mattei, J. (2018, September 21). The Role of Polyphenols in Human Health and Food Systems: A Mini-Review. Frontiers in Nutrition, 5. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnut.2018.00087
- Fujiki, H., Sueoka, E., Watanabe, T., & Suganuma, M. (2015, March 30). Primary Cancer Prevention by Green Tea, and Tertiary Cancer Prevention by the Combination of Green Tea Catechins and Anticancer Compounds. Journal of Cancer Prevention, 20(1), 1–4. https://doi.org/10.15430/jcp.2015.20.1.1
- Fujiki, H., Watanabe, T., Sueoka, E., Rawangkan, A., & Suganuma, M. (2018). Cancer Prevention with Green Tea and Its Principal Constituent, EGCG: from Early Investigations to Current Focus on Human Cancer Stem Cells. Molecules and cells, 41(2), 73–82.
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