Q: Does research still support green tea as a way to reduce cancer risk?
A: Studies show potential for tea, especially green tea, as a helpful addition in a diet to lower cancer risk, but the research is currently inconclusive. Interest in green tea as a way to reduce cancer risk relates mainly to natural polyphenol compounds it contains, especially one known as EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate). Cell and animal studies show these tea polyphenols may be protective in several ways: they may act as powerful antioxidants that protect our DNA from damage that begins cancer development; they may intervene directly in cancer cell growth and ability to spread; and they can increase self-destruction of abnormal cells. The challenge, however, is to figure out whether these benefits hold true in humans. Some population studies do show a link between green tea, or total tea consumption and lower risk of colorectal, prostate, ovarian and some other cancers, yet the studies overall are inconsistent. Researchers are working to determine whether the results of these studies are really reflecting the effects of some other diet or lifestyle choice, such as not smoking, not drinking alcohol or physical activity levels. It’s also possible that the different methods of producing and brewing green tea, or individual differences in how tea’s compounds are metabolized in the body, could lead to different results. Cell studies are investigating whether other phytochemicals from plant foods might even enhance the availability of tea’s compounds in the body. Regardless, unsweetened tea is a good beverage choice, since it contains no calories and can replace sugary drinks, which can help weight management – a goal clearly important to lower cancer risk. But don’t count on tea as your primary strategy to reduce cancer risk.