13 September 2006

Green Tea and Anti-Inflammatories

Green Tea

The verdicts on green tea and your health are mostly in:

Japanese Government: No cancer benefit, but does reduce strokes in particular, and heart disease generally. Women are helped much more than men from comparable amounts of tea consumption.

Their 11 year study involving 40,530 middle aged and elderly Japanese adults showed most of the benefit to overall mortality was associated with 3-4 cups a day in women where it provides an 18% mortality reduction with a range of a 5% to a 30% benefit being within the margin of error. In men 5 or more cups a day provides a 12% reduction in mortality with a range of a 2% to 21% benefit being within the margin of error. The benefit flowed from reduction in cardiovascular deaths, especially stroke.

For one to cups a day, according to the Japanese study, women get a reduction in mortality of 7%, while men get a 2% reduction in mortality, but both groups have a benefit that is well within the margin of error at the 95% confidence level with that amount of green tea consumption.

Thus, while green tea consumption is probably harmless, you have to drink a whole lot of it to get any significant benefit.

There was no statistically significant cancer benefit no matter how much green tea you drink, which is surprising because the main theory behind the benefit of green tea is that it contains anti-oxidants, which are seen primarily as cancer preventers. Indeed, even in this study, the quantities of green tea required to get a benefit are so great that it isn't entirely out of the question that the main benefit may come from drinking large quantities of warm water, relative to your body size, rather than the green tea itself.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration: "no credible scientific evidence to support manufacturers' claims that green tea can cut risks of cardiovascular disease." I suspect it will change that conclusion after this study.

According to the Denver Post:

The National Cancer Institute says human studies on tea and cancer prevention have had contradictory results. But the institute is funding rigorous studies testing whether tea extract can help prevent several kinds of cancer.

Suffice it to say that if the benefits were more dramatic, we wouldn't be seeing such equivocal results from heavy weight studies like these. You have to drink a whole lot of green tea to get health benefits.

Anti-Inflammatory Drugs

One of the main medical decisions the average American makes is what over the counter drug to buy for pain, fever and the like.


The oldest of the class of drugs called anti-inflammatory drugs used for this purpose is asprin. You should have some at home.

Why? A daily regime of baby dose (81 mg) aspirin dramatically reduces the risk of stroke and heart disease. An apsrin regime can greatly reduce breast cancer risk. It is also good at preventing enlarged prostates, oral cancer, and colon cancer (ibuprofin and naproxin also help prostates and against these cancers).

Taking asprin at the first signs of possible impending stroke or heart attack is the best thing you can do while you head to a hospital. It is also cheap.

The down sides? Instestinal bleeding and ulcers with regular use (low dose regime asprin has coating designed to reduce this effect, but some people still find it a problem). There are also possible complications if used to treat fevers associated with chicken pox in children.

A fuller discussion is here.

Ibuprofin and Acetaminophen

Ibuprofin (Advil and Motrin and Nuprin) and Acetaminophen (Tylenol) are common aspirin subsitutes.

Tylenol is easier on the stomach, but carries a risk of liver damage in high doses.

Ibuprofin is easier on the stomach than apsirin, but harder on it than acetaminophen and may be more potent in reducing pain than aspirin. Inconclusive evidence links "regular use . . . to a reduced risk of Alzheimer's disease."


One of the new kids on the block, now available for about a decade, is Naproxin (Aleve). It is chemically similar to aspirin and ibuprofin and is marketed primarily for its much longer lasting effect (8-12 hours, as opposed to 4-6 hours fo all of the others above).

It doesn't raise heart attack or stroke risk (although it doesn't have aspirin's protective effects on those risks either), and it is easier on the stomach than aspirin, although not entirely harmless on that score.

This drug is now being recommended for large numbers of patients who used to take one of the drugs discussed below. According to an editorial in the Journal of the American Medical Association:

For most patients with arthritis or other conditions who require chronic pain relief, naproxen appears to be the safest NSAID choice from a cardiovascular perspective. For patients at high risk of NSAID-related gastrointestinal tract complications, naproxen plus a proton pump inhibitor is less costly and as effective, and probably safer, than low-dose celecoxib.

COX-2 Inhibitors

Yet another class of drugs (not over the counter), that substitutes for aspirin, particularly for arthritis patients concerned about stomach risks, are COX-2 inhibitors (Celebrex, Vioxx). In an effect opposite of aspirin they increase heart disease and stroke risks. Some of the latest negative studies can be found here


Another new worry is diclofenac (Voltaren, Cataflam). These carry stroke and heart attack risks at least as great, if not worse, than COX-2 inhibitors.


Sotosoroto said...

If drinking green tea gives men a 2% reduction in mortality, that's all I need to know.

Just think: if I drink a whole lot of green tea, I have a 1 in 50 chance of being immortal!

tovah said...

but drinking your floor weepings variety of tea (ie Lipton's or Celestial Seasonings) won't get you much benefit. using a loose leaf tea that one infuses properly, and then reinfuses a couple of more times is the ideal way to get the antioxidants from the leaves.

the first infusion takes out the majority of caffeine, the second infusion is when the cell walls break down and the phytochemicals are released. if the leaves produce a tasty cup for a 3rd infusion, you're still getting some of the good stuff.

yeah, I'm a tea nerd.