One of the biggest health concerns most people have today is preventing cancer. Incidences of cancer and in the cancer mortality rate in the United States have risen each year for the last fifty. The age-adjusted cancer mortality rate in 1930 was 143 per 100,000 members of the population, but by 1990, it had risen to 174 per 100,000 in 1990.
Medical technology has come a long way in treating this insidious disease, but we still don’t appear to know a great deal about preventing many types of cancer. And, even with the treatments that we do have, 300 people in the United States die from cancer every single day.
Many of our country’s deaths from cancer are completely preventable. For example, about 90 percent of the one million skin cancers in the United States that were diagnosed in 2005 could have been prevented by protection from sun. The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2006 about 170,000 lives will be lost to cancer because of tobacco use, so these too are completely preventable.
However, there are many other cancers that we cannot prevent, in part because we don’t know what causes them. But, there may be a product already in your cupboard that can help prevent, or even treat, cancer. Over the past several years, medical science has begun to scientifically prove out what Asian culture seems to have known for years; tea, particularly green tea is effective in preserving health.
The Chinese have used green tea for centuries to treat everything from headaches to depression. One of the most significant health benefits that green tea appears to provide is prevention against certain types of cancer. But, the studies are getting even more promising. It looks as though green tea can be an effective treatment for certain types of cancer, too.
Tea comes from the Camellia sinensis plant. Therefore, what we refer to as “herb tea” is not really tea at all, but rather an herbal infusion. There are many different types of tea; most of the differences come from the way the tea is processed.
Tea leaves naturally contain catechins. Catechins belong to the flavan-3-ol class of flavonoids. EGCG is one of the many catechins contained in tea, and is considered to be the most powerful anti-oxidant in tea leaves.
Fermenting the tea leaves, which is part of processing tea leaves for black tea, converts these catechins to other compounds and reduces their health benefits. Therefore, green tea, because it is not fermented, retains more of its original anti-oxidants than black tea. Scientists have discovered that tea is healthy primarily because of these anti-oxidants.
Each day, as we convert the foods we eat into energy, we create free radicals in our body. These free radicals are oxygen containing molecules that can damage our cells and our DNA if we don’t combat them. It is believed that unchecked free radicals contribute to the development of cancer.
Anti-oxidants are powerful free radical combatants. Fruits and vegetables are also high in anti-oxidants. Anti-oxidants are linked with preventing cancer, and a decreased risk of stroke, heart disease and lower blood cholesterol.
In addition to these anti-oxidants, all teas, whether black, white or green contain calcium, magnesium, potassium and vitamins C and K. Green tea is also appears to be very good for your teeth.
As exciting as it is to think that green tea may be helpful in preventing cancer; what’s even more exciting is that it may also be a powerful treatment for cancer. In one recent study by the School of Pharmaceutical Sciences, University of Shizuoka, Japan*, research showed that green tea, when combined with the drug Adriamycin, was more effective in treating a certain kind of ovarian sarcoma (cancer of the ovaries) than using the adriamycin alone.
In fact, the cancer cells in the rats in the study were not very responsive at all to the drug when it was administered alone; but when administered along with the substance in tea called theanine, the rats became extremely responsive to the treatment. The rats showed a much higher concentration of the drug in their cancer cells when the drug was administered along with the theanine.
This combination of andriamycin and theanine appears to inhibit the growth of tumors; suggesting that cancer patients might be able to avoid progression of their tumors and might be less susceptible to developing new tumors, when green tea substances are used in conjunction with cancer drugs.
This is, of course, very exciting news. Cancer treatment typically has two facets. The first is killing the cancerous cells that already exist in the body. The second is preventing new cancer cells from growing, both in the organ where the cancer originated, and in other organs (metastasis).
If green tea can help with both aspects of cancer treatment, as well as preventing cancer in the first place, we may be closer than ever to dramatically reducing the incidence of or even eradicating this disease. Of course, far more research is needed, but these results are promising, indeed.