The human population currently sits at around 7.8 billion people, a relative evolutionary success. But we have to remember there is no excess in nature. Like any animal population, when our critical mass reaches a certain size, it also runs the risks of food, predation, and even microbial infection.
Pathogens, like any other organism (ourselves included), are trying to assert their evolutionary dominance by competing with other organisms, and by using animal and plant cells as hosts to aid with their own replication. With our health in mind, we have to be aware of the competitive and changing environment we live in, and use the tools around us to improve our body’s natural methods of defense.
GOOD HEALTHY HABITS
Healthy habits like exercise, meditation, and quality nutrition (both food and drink, such as matcha green tea) are examples of things that can give our immune system a boost in the constant fight against nature.
Sound scary? While nature has always been and will always be an ongoing contest of forces, we can do our part finding balance within it. Perhaps the ultimate goal is to find harmony both within ourselves, and with the other organisms around us -- to be the best version of ourselves, physically and mentally, ebbing and flowing with life.
Sometimes it’s the little things that can make a big impact. Traditional knowledge has shown us that the plant kingdom is amazingly versatile in the range of compounds it produces. These compounds help plants survive their environment, but many of these compounds are also ‘adaptogenic’ to us in boosting our nutrition and giving our immune system the edge it needs (sulforaphane is a great example).
Plus, modern Integrative Medicine, in contrast to allopathic medicine, reminds us how anything with low risk and potential benefit should be considered, even if it is not yet “proven” as an effective “pharmacological agent”. We must remember that Nature is the original pharmacy, and that all drugs got their inspiration from it first.
Our immune system is constantly under threat from within and from without, and much of the time it handles these threats without us even knowing. The novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) that originated in Wuhan, China in late December is perhaps a stark reminder to take our health more seriously.
It’s during these times that many just begin to think about practicing good habits, hygiene, and diet. The best mindset is to have consistent health habits, staying ready for whatever the latest challenge may be.
2019-nCoV is the largest outbreak of its kind in recent years. It comes from the same family of viruses that caused SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) in 2002 and MERS (Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome) in 2012 (Tesini 2018). The common cold is in this same family. Coronaviruses affect birds and mammals, including humans (Hussein and Gallagher, 2010). And in a sense, this is nothing new.
Humans have always existed alongside viruses, and throughout history there have been waves of “superbugs” (virus or bacteria) that are currently more advanced than our defenses. Virus work by finding a vulnerability in our cellular machinery and DNA, and hijack them for their own replication. They transmit through contact and sometimes can travel airbourne.
HOW TO BUILD RESILIENCE
So while we cannot stop their constant change, we can help limit some of the most common vulnerabilities at the cellular level. If you want resilient cells, you need to feed them good building blocks of fats, proteins, carbohydrates (macronutrients), and vitamins, minerals and other bioactive compounds (micronutrients). See other ways to build resilience here
You body will break these down into the fatty acids, amino acids, monosaccharides, and other subunits to reorganize them into more complex structures. You are literally what you eat and drink! Quality over quantity is paramount. Our power to choose this is one of our most important health decisions.
Plants are the original pharmacy and a kingdom we have evolved alongside step by step. Many indigenous cultures have relied on plants for of course caloric sustenance, but also for specific remedies to bring relief for various conditions.
The phenomenon of “xenohormesis” can shed light on why this is the case. It is defined as the “biological principle that explains how environmentally stressed plants produce bioactive compounds that can confer stress resistance and survival benefits to animals that consume them” (Hooper et al, 2010). In other words, when a plant’s environment changes, since the plant cannot get away, it instead produces various compounds as part of its own stress response. Our bodies have their own version of this, too.
HARNESSING THE STRESS OF PLANTS
Common examples are grapes and olives; when grown in hotter and more arid conditions, they concentrate phytochemicals (“plant chemicals”) called polyphenols and terpenes in the skins.
These serve as antioxidants for the plants themselves… but they also confer antioxidant benefits to the animals who eat them - what an elegant concept! Matcha green tea, of course, is no exception...
WHAT MAKES MATCHA TEA SPECIAL
The world of tea is a great example of this synergy between plant and animal life. The true tea plant, Camellia sinensis, can be selectively treated to produce green tea, matcha tea, white tea, black tea, and oolong and pu-erh fermented teas. All of these have unique benefits based on their chemical composition.
The tea plants used to make matcha have been specially bred over a millennium to respond strongly to changes in their environment. And because every condition of their growth from sunlight to soil is precisely monitored, tea masters have been able to yield matcha with profound concentrations of specific polyphenols, antioxidants, and tasty amino-acids.
HOW TO FIND PREMIUM MATCHA
Quality matcha is known for its vibrant green hue and sweet (not bitter) flavor. The cultivation of matcha uses the specific combination of slightly above-sea-level altitude, high humidity, and shade-grown conditions. If your matcha doesn’t look vibrant green, or tastes more bitter than sweet, then it’s not a premium quality of matcha.
Changing one simple environmental factor can manipulate the chemical composition of the tea. For example, more direct sunlight will result in more catechin (a tea polyphenol) production to protect the plant from the sun. More shade will result in more chlorophyll production (rich in magnesium and also an antioxidant) as the plant tries to make the most of the limited sunlight. Both are examples of phytochemicals that serve an adaptive benefit to the plant.
And as we learned with xenohormesis, they also offer a secondary benefit when we consume them. Matcha is particularly high in chlorophyll and L-theanine (a “feel good” amino acid), due to the shaded conditions, and still a good source of catechins. It’s an all-around powerhouse of plant nutrition!
MATCHA GREEN TEA RESEARCH
Many of the compounds studied in matcha green tea have been found to have diverse properties. The antioxidants in matcha are broadly categorized as polyphenols, and subdivided into flavonoids and further into catechins (Reygaert, 2018).
There are four main catechins that occur in green tea: epicatechin (EC), epicatechin-3-gallate (ECG), epigallocatechin (EGC), and epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG). Most of the research has been done on EGCG (Reygaert, 2018). It has shown anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties, as well as anti-microbial properties.
EGCG appears to be the most potent catechin against viruses. Its chemical structure is unique in that it has both pyrogallol and galloyl chemical groups; these are parts of its chemical structure which seem to be essential for its ability to interfere with viral replication (Xu et al, 2017).
IS EGCG ANTIVIRAL
EGCG has been shown to have various antiviral effects against several different types of viruses, including influenza, HIV, Epstein-Barr, Herpes, Hepatitis B and C, and Human T-cell lymphotropic virus type 1 (Tran, 2013).
These mechanisms can happen at various stages of infection, from interfering with viral adhesion to the cell membrane, to interfering with transcription and translation of viral proteins (Xu et al, 2017). Although these studies have not been replicated in humans, it is not a stretch to say that there are real interactions occurring between EGCG and various pathogens which are at the very least not harmful, and likely helpful, to supporting human health.
Aside from potential antiviral activity, EGCG has been shown to work epigenetically in the genomes of some animals. Epigenetic modification changes the way genes are expressed, but not their sequence. EGCG found in matcha green tea was found to increase numbers of regulatory T cells found in the spleen and lymph nodes of mice (a common mammalian research animal), which are essential to a healthy and modulated immune response - one that is strong enough to fend off an invader, but not so strong as to set off an auto-immune reaction. (Wong et al, 2011)
DOES MATCHA BOOST IMMUNITY
Each of the benefits so far discussed are shared in any high quality matcha green tea. Perhaps one reason matcha is such a potent source of these benefits compared to the average green tea is because of the presence of a full spectrum of phytochemicals.
Each of the natural compounds in matcha work together, not only boost immune function, but also boost your mood, well-being, and even your taste-buds! They might even help replace statins.
It is also worth noting that because you consume the whole-leaf unlike normal green-tea, your body is guaranteed to absorb more of the health benefits.
Wrap all of that up with the delicate, sweet flavor from the carefully picked leaves, and you have an amazing daily ritual that’s easy to stick to because you look forward to it!
DAILY HEALTH RITUALS
We could go on and on about the specific health benefits of matcha tea, but it is important to remember that part of the power of ritual is not the biochemistry alone, but also in the perspective and mindfulness that you put into it.
Carving out space, intentionally putting quality nutrition into your body, and knowing there is a vast database of positive knowledge supporting this plant, are the things that can synergize into a fortifying daily practice for your morning (or anytime)!
And if you’re worried about flu season or any other virus in the news, you can feel more confident in your health by drinking matcha daily. No, it’s not a cure, but it is a perfect compliment to other healthy practices, like daily movement, and will help you level-up as a human being; surviving and thriving in today’s competitive environment!
* * *