The Benefits of Tea for Cancer Patients
Tea is a natural drink that has been used for millennia, for pleasure and medicinally. Native to Asia, tea is now drunk everywhere and is the most popular drink in the world. There are numerous health benefits of drinking tea, from supporting weight loss to reducing cholesterol, and possibly reducing the risk of various types of cancer.
For patients living with mesothelioma and other types of cancer, drinking tea can be a positive way to support overall health. Being healthier while going through treatment may make it more effective and will certainly make treatment more tolerable. There also may be some new and exciting evidence that a substance in green tea could slow and even stop the growth of cancer in the body.
Types of Tea
Studies of the effects of tea on health or on cancer risk or treatment usually refer to true tea, a drink made from the plant Camellia sinensis. This includes black tea, green tea, oolong tea, and white tea. Herbal teas are not true teas, as they are made from other plants, or mixtures of plants, herbs, and fruit. Examples of herbal teas are peppermint, chamomile, and hibiscus. Among the true teas, there are important differences:
- Black tea. All true teas are made from the leaves of sinensis, but are allowed to oxidize for varying amounts of time. Leaves picked for black tea are rolled and bruised and then allowed to wilt and oxidize. This changes the chemical makeup of the leaves and darkens them, producing characteristic tea aroma and flavor. This is the most common tea drunk in Europe and North America.
- Oolong tea. Leaves used for oolong tea are allowed to oxidize less than those used for black tea, resulting in lighter flavors and color.
- Green tea. Green tea is made from tea leaves that have not been bruised or rolled at all and have not been allowed to oxidize. Green tea is more commonly drunk in Asia, but has become more popular in the west.
- White tea. The leaves that go into white tea have not been oxidized and are selected only from the youngest shoots on the plant.
All the true teas contain a mix of chemical compounds, but it is the group of catechins that are credited with health benefits of tea. Green tea contains the most catechin substances because of the minimal oxidation the leaves undergo. One catechin that has been studied the most is called EGCG. There are others, including EGC, ECG, and EC. Supplements of EGCG are also available.
Health Benefits of Drinking Tea
Most studies of the benefits of drinking tea have focused on green tea because of the abundance of catechins and other natural substances called polyphenols. Many of these compounds are antioxidants, which when consumed may help prevent damage to DNA and aid in the repair of damage done to cells by free radicals. The substances in tea have also been shown to be able to supplement dietary changes in reducing levels of so-called bad cholesterol, or LDS.
Studies with people who drink tea have found that tea may help protect against diabetes and possibly against cardiovascular disease. Green tea has been proven to increase metabolism of fat in the body, which can support weight loss or maintenance. These studies also show that tea and its compounds help to reduce inflammation in the body and may help prevent or reduce the risk of brain disorders like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Substances in tea called tannins are known to have anti-bacterial effects.
Tea and Cancer Prevention
Perhaps the most important health reason to drink tea, and especially green tea, is that it may reduce cancer risk. For example, one study found that women who drank a significant amount of green tea daily had a 22 percent reduced risk of developing breast cancer. Men had an even bigger reduced risk of prostate cancer after drinking daily green tea. A large study in China with nearly 70,000 participants found that the risk of colorectal cancer could be reduced by 57 percent in women who drank green tea.
Tea for Cancer Patients
Some of the findings of how tea may impact cancer and tumors include the effects of EGCG. Studies have found that it can disrupt a number of processes involved in replicating cells, which happens at a fast rate in tumors. This disruption may slow the growth of tumors and even cause cancer cells to die. Another way in which it may slow tumor growth is by slowing down the formation of blood vessels that supply tumors with blood and nutrients to grow. ECG has also been studied and has been found to stop the growth and division of leukemia cells in a laboratory setting
Many of these studies were conducted with cells in a lab. More challenging is finding out if tea and its polyphenols can really aid treatment of cancer in real people. One such study came up with positive results. Using a green tea extract, a clinical trial looked at how it affected patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia. It showed clinical activity in patients with this type of cancer, which means it may slow and stabilize tumor growth.
Research like this is encouraging and indicates that drinking tea while fighting cancer certainly can’t hurt. Although much more research needs to be done, there are many benefits of drinking tea, and it can be a great dietary addition to patients going through treatment for mesothelioma and other cancers.
There are few risks associated with drinking tea, but a few are worth noting. One minor risk is an adverse reaction to caffeine, although green tea does not have a lot of caffeine and significantly less than coffee. Too much caffeine can cause heart palpitations and arrhythmia. Tea may also inhibit the absorption of iron, so patients experiencing anemia should beware of this potential side effect. It may be necessary to time the drinking of tea so as not to interfere with iron supplements.
If you are living with cancer right now, a hot cup of tea may seem like a minor comfort, but consider all the potential health benefits in that soothing cup. While green tea confers the most benefits, black tea and other types may also be beneficial to overall health. For cancer prevention and support of treatment, green tea and its catechins like EGCG are most likely to provide the benefits. If you are interested in starting to drink tea, talk to your medical team first and find out if there are any reasons you shouldn’t drink it and how much is safe for your current situation.
Page edited by Dave Foster
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