In next month’s issue of the medical journal Appetite, researchers at the Center for Human Psychopharmacology are publishing a paper entitled, “Acute Neurocognitive Effects of Epigallocatechin Gallate (EGCG).” EGCG is one of the key flavonoid phytonutrients found in the Camellia sinensis, the plant from which green, white, black, and oolong teas are made. Using an electroencephalogram, they were able to anatomically match changes in brain wave activity to the feelings of a relaxed alertness that participants reported when consuming the tea phytonutrients, compared to a double-blinded placebo. I delve into a different phytonutrient—theanine—in my NutritionFacts.org video pick today, which offers another neurological basis for humanity’s love affair with tea (see above).
In 1973, scientists discovered that we have specific receptors in our brain for opiate drugs like heroin and morphine. Since we didn’t evolve shooting up, it stood to reason that there were natural compounds produced by our bodies that fit into those receptors. So we went looking, discovered them, and named them “endogenous morphines,” or endorphins for short. And endorphins are good, they’re our natural pain relievers, released during exercise, the consumption of spicy food, and orgasm. So, there are healthier ways to stimulate these receptors than shooting up heroin.
In 1990, scientists discovered that we have specific receptors in our brain for the active ingredient in marijuana as well, cannabinoids like THC. Since we didn’t evolve toking up, it stood to reason that there were natural compounds produced by our bodies that fit into those receptors. So we went looking, discovered them, and named them endocannabinoids, endogenous cannabinoids. And endocannabinoids are good too, they’re one of our body’s ways to ease nausea, ease pain, and generally chill us out. The question is, is there a way to get the good without the bad, stimulate these receptors without smoking marijuana? And, yes, you guessed it, researchers found you can stimulate those same receptors by drinking tea (as detailed in my video Cannabis Receptors & Food).
There are benefits to tea drinking beyond just making us feel good, such as extending our lifespan. This may explain the so-called Asian Paradox, why people living in Asia have lower heart disease and lung cancer rates despite their high level of smoking. How many cups a day of green tea are associated with increased longevity, though? Five. See my 3-minute video The Healthiest Beverage (though note that the final advice on adding soymilk is updated in my Soymilk Suppression? video).
What’s the healthiest way to prepare tea? Check out Cold Steeping Green Tea. Which is healthier, green tea or white tea? Turns out it depends if you add lemon (see Green Tea vs. White). And if drinking tea is good for you, what about eating it? Check out Is Matcha Good for You?.
Best not to add milk to our tea, as dairy appears to block some of the beneficial effects (Nutrient Blocking Effects of Dairy), and soymilk appears to have the same phytonutrient-blocking effect. No data yet on other plant-based milks.
Michael Greger, M.D.
Image credit: neilgorman / Flickr