Is green tea really all it’s hyped up to be? We’ve all likely heard about a wide range of green tea benefits, but which ones are true and which ones are old wives’ tales? And for that matter, why is green tea any better than white, black, or red tea (and what’s with all the Christmas colors in tea)? We checked in with our experts and uncovered a host of benefits of drinking green tea that will answer these questions and more.
Technically speaking, green tea comes from the same plant as white, black, and oolong tea – Camellia sinensis– a plant native to Asia. Two major varieties are grown — Camellia sinensis var. sinensis for Chinese teas, and Camellia sinensis var. assamica for Indian Assam teas; the former was the first tea plant to be discovered and is the source of most green teas on the market.
So, if all of these different teas hail from the same plant, what makes them so different, and why does green tea always seem to come out on top as far as health benefits are concerned?
The answer has a lot to do with how the different teas are processed.
While white tea is only minimally processed, both oolong and black teas are more fermented. Green tea is somewhere between the two, as naturopathic doctor Serena Goldstein explains.
“Green tea leaves are quickly heated and minimally oxidized so they can still retain their green color, while black tea leaves are heated and allowed to fully oxidize to turn them into a color along the black spectrum (e.g. amber, red-brown),” she says.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that green tea will have more or fewer benefits than another tea, says naturopathic doctor Gabrielle Francis, “All three teas have antioxidants and health benefits. The antioxidants differ in each one depending on the level of oxidation in the processing.”
So if oxidation is the only thing differentiating a white tea from a green one, what’s all the buzz about green tea about?
Green Tea Health Benefits You Can’t Argue With
While there are benefits to all teas, from white to black, green tea boasts a few compounds in higher concentrations than these other teas, namely Epigallocatechin Gallate (EGCG). Alongside polyphenols, other catechins, and flavonoids, this antioxidant lends much in the way of benefits to the overall makeup of green tea. With this unique cocktail of antioxidants, green tea has a lot to offer.
1. Protects Against Chronic Disease
The flavonoids in green tea are powerful soldiers against viruses as well as both specific and general inflammation. Inflammation can exacerbate other health problems and cause a vast number of seemingly idiopathic symptoms that seem nearly impossible to cure.
Increasing flavonoid intake can decrease the effects of inflammation and even prevent against certain chronic diseases and problems including allergies, immune system disorders, heart disease, and depression.
2. Gives You A Feel-Good Boost
A combination of factors makes green tea great for your mood.
Caffeine enhances both mood and energy, while theanine helps with anxiety and stress.
“L-theanine can help support brain health and lower anxiety due to supporting GABA (inhibitory neurotransmitter) production,” says Goldstein.
Plus, the flavonoids in green tea boost relaxation and help keep anxiety at bay, according to Cate Stillman of Yogahealer.com. Referencing a study in the Journal of Trends in Food Science & Technology, she explains that theanine increases all-important alpha waves in the brain. “Alpha waves are considered to be an indicator of relaxation,” she says.
3. A Weight-Loss Key
While green tea alone will not make you magically drop the pounds, some elements of green tea can help with weight loss. The major component is EGCG, which, according to Bryce Wylde, an expert in alternative medicine and the medical advisor for the Dr. Oz show, can increase metabolism by up to six percent.
Along with the caffeine of green tea, which can improve performance during workouts, EGCG is a major element of green tea’s weight loss benefits.
Different studies have shown a link between the consumption of green tea and a reduced risk of cancer. One study showed that increased consumption of green tea was directly linked to a reduced risk of stomach cancer in women.
The National Cancer Institute attributes these benefits to several characteristics of green tea, including its polyphenols, particularly EGCG and ECG, which “may protect cells from DNA damage caused by reactive oxygen species.”
5. Keep Blood Sugar in Balance
For those who suffer with blood sugar related problems, green tea can be a great, natural solution. One study published in Molecular Nutrition & Food Research showed that green tea may reduce the spike in blood sugar that occurs after eating starches, and another study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that green tea could decrease fasting glucose in some patients.
6. Bad Cholesterol, Be Gone
A study in Western University of Health Sciences showed that participants in a study had lower LDL levels when green tea consumption was increased.
Other research has shown that both total and LDL cholesterol can be lowered when green tea is consumed, thanks — once again — to its EGCG contents.
7. Brain Health
Green tea can also be great for brain health. Research presented by the Kanazawa University Graduate School of Medical Science in Japan at Alzheimer’s Disease and Parkinson’s Disease Conference showed that consumers of green tea had slightly higher scores on cognitive tests than those who did not. This evidence has led some to believe that green tea consumption may ward off or delay dementia.
Benefits of Drinking Green Tea for Beauty and More
Alongside all these great health benefits, green tea also boasts a few beauty benefits that can’t be overlooked.
8. A Glowing Complexion
Drinking green tea can help improve your skin, as naturopathic doctor Christina Major explains. “What it does is help your body hydrate, which makes your skin look better,” she says. “It also will provide antioxidants and nutrients to nourish your body, and that allows you to build healthy skin.”
“Antioxidants help ‘clean up’ the free radicals that can contribute to skin conditions,” agrees Goldstein. “Ultimately, our outside is a reflection of what’s going on inside.”
9. Prevent Skin Cancer
When it comes to your skin’s health, green tea hits all of the bases, including this all-important, more health-related one. A study published in the October 2011 issue of the journal “Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications” found that EGCG inhibited melanoma in laboratory animals by inhibiting genes that activate inflammation.
10. Dark Circles Disappear
But drinking tea isn’t the only way to take advantage of its skin-enhancing benefits.
“The tannins can also help dark eyes and puffy eyes in the morning,” says Goldstein, who suggests placing chilled, brewed teabags over each eye for about 15 minutes to take advantage of this. With green tea, you avoid the staining that black tea could lend to your skin, too.
11. Delay Aging
No, it’s not a magic potion, but green tea can help reverse or delay some signs of skin aging, such as wrinkles, according to a study published in Collegium Anthropologicum in September 2010.
“The antioxidant benefits are great for anti-aging of the skin,” says Francis. “Green tea masks can be very good for cellular regeneration and for detoxification of the skin,” she adds.
12. Slim Down
While you’re waiting for the metabolism boost of green tea to kick in, it’s helpful to know that green tea can also reduce bloating and swelling, making you appear slimmer without ever shedding a pound. Green tea aids in digestion and increases hydration, both of which can reduce bloat.
13. Luscious Locks
The catechins in green tea can also help with achieving thicker, longer hair, thanks to 5-alpha-reductase, according to Goldstein. “(The enzyme) blocks testosterone from turning into dihydrotestosterone (DHT), a more potent version of testosterone that can contribute to baldness,” she says.
Taking Advantage of Green Tea Benefits: A How-To Guide
If you want to see these benefits, then you can’t just pick any brand of green tea and start brewing. “The green tea from the grocery store just does not contain the health benefits, mostly because it’s too old,” says Major.