What is EGCG in green tea?
Epigallocatechin gallate is one of a group of plant phenols commonly described as tannins, since some of these compounds have long been used to tan hides for leather. They give tea its mild astringency, the characteristic that makes your mouth feel clean and fresh after you've had a cup. Some plant phenols, including EGCG, are especially "bioactive," meaning they're very likely to interact with other organic molecules and cellular processes. That activity is exactly what makes EGCG so interesting to researchers.
One of the first things to know about EGCG is that it interferes with oxidation, and therefore can help minimize oxidative damage in cells. Oxidative damage is known to be a contributing factor in a number of illnesses, notably cancer. So some sources, most notably the supplements industry, argue that consuming lots of antioxidants should provide protection against numerous cancers. The reality is probably more nuanced.
The American Cancer Society points out that while antioxidant-rich foods have shown some protective effect, it's not yet clear that it comes from the antioxidants themselves. Further, antioxidant supplements may actually increase your risk of some cancers.
That being said, there is reason to believe that the EGCG in green tea does provide some protective effect against cancer. Test-tube and animal studies have shown that EGCG interferes with the formation of several types of cancer, though the mechanisms aren't yet fully understood. The National Cancer Institute counts over 50 studies investigating tea consumption and its effect on cancer since 2006, many of which showed some degree of promise. Unfortunately results in test tubes and animals aren't as meaningful as results in living, breathing humans, and the results of studies in humans have been inconclusive.
Green tea is well known for aiding in mental alertness, which is not surprising given its caffeine content and the presence of a second well-established stimulant called L-theanine. Interestingly, a 2017 paper in Phytomedicine reviewed numerous studies and concluded that green tea's beneficial effects on brain activity couldn't be fully explained by those two stimulants.
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