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Can Tea Cut Cholesterol Levels?
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Prior investigations present a mixed picture, but well-designed new study suggests the answer is “yes”

by Craig Weatherby

The results of population studies generally indicate that drinking tea helps prevent cardiovascular disease.

As the German authors of a review published earlier this year put it, “Consumption of green or black tea has been inversely associated with the development and progression of cardiovascular diseases.” In other words, people who drink the most tea tend to have lower risks of cardiovascular disease.

Most researchers who’ve probed the reasons for the apparent cardio-protective effects of tea have focused on the ability of its polyphenol antioxidantsespecially one called EGCGto prevent oxidation of LDL cholesterol in the blood.

Oxidized LDL cholesterol gets swallowed up by immune system cells called macrophages, which recognize it as something that shouldn’t be allowed to roam free in the bloodstream.

However, a heavy diet of oxidized cholesterol turns macrophages into so-called “foam cells,” which go on to help form the atherosclerotic plaques that clog arteries and cause heart attacks or strokes.

Green tea seems to prevent oxidation of LDL cholesterol quite effectively, while black tea has a mixed record in this regard. Interestingly, three years ago an American research team reported that a green tea extract enriched with a polyphenol from black tea (theaflavin) lowered blood levels of total and LDL cholesterol substantially in adults with moderately elevated cholesterol levels (Maron DJ et al 2003).

And just last month, the Portuguese team whose new study is summarized below reported that green tea reduced oxidation of the fats and cholesterol in volunteers’ blood (Coimbra S et al October 2006).

However, studies designed to discover whether tea can improve blood fat profilesthat is, lower levels of total and “bad” (LDL) while raising blood levels of “good” (HDL) cholesterolshow mixed results.

But this month, the aforementioned Portuguese group published positive results from their investigation into this question.

Portuguese find green tea enhances blood fat profiles

Researchers at the Universities of Porto and Beira Interior, led by Susana Coimbra, Ph.D., evaluated the effects of green tea on the blood lipid (fatty acid and cholesterol) profiles of 29 healthy people.

The volunteers, who ranged in age from 22 to 63, drank one liter (4¼ cups) of green tea every day for four weeks. The tea was brewed fresh every day, always under the same conditions (temperature, brewing time, and amount of tea).

To eliminate the impacts of prior tea drinking, the volunteers first spent three weeks drinking one liter of water a day, before spending the next four weeks drinking one liter of green tea a day.

While the tea regimen produced no significant changes in blood levels of triglycerides or an undesirable form of cholesterol called lipoprotein(a), Dr. Coimbra and her colleagues recorded significant improvements in key aspects of the participants’ blood lipid profiles:

  • Most importantly, the ratio of total cholesterol to HDL cholesterol decreased by six percent
  • LDL cholesterol levels dropped by an average of 8.9 percent in 90 percent of the subjects
  • HDL cholesterol levels rose an average of 4 percent in 69 percent of the volunteers

The Iberian investigators hypothesized that the beneficial effects of green tea seen in this study trace to its catechin-class polyphenols. As we said, studies suggest that these antioxidant compounds can block oxidation of blood fats and cholesterol by reactive oxygen species (free radicals).

As they wrote, “Our data suggest that green tea drinking… protects against CVD [cardiovascular disease] by improving blood lipid profiles.”


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  • Coimbra S, Castro E, Rocha-Pereira P, Rocha S, Santos-Silva A. Green tea consumption improves plasma lipid profiles in adults. Nutrition Research. 2006 Nov; 26(11): 604-607.
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