Welcome to the Ingredient Spotlight on the most powerful form of tea you may ever drink. Matcha Green Tea!!!
Recently, Matcha green tea tantalizes consumers in every coffee shop, health food store, and magazine across town. It is undoubtedly a new health craze. As with every new health craze, people claim that it does some pretty off the wall stuff. I’ve heard everything from that it gives you glowing skin… to it boosting your metabolism… to it curing cancer. These claims always make me skeptical. I mean come on, there is NO WAY that tea could possible do all the things they claim Matcha can do.
So I do what I’m good at and start a serious fact checking extravaganza! After WAY to many hours of internet sloothing I am here to give you the down home truth about the claimed benefits of Matcha … plus the legitimate sources to back them up. So get out your pad and pen, or whatever you take notes with, because class is officially in session!
So, what exactly is Matcha Green Tea?
Simply put, Matcha green tea is a concentrated powder created by grinding up the ENTIRE green tea leaf. It originated in Japan nearly a millennium ago and is the tea used in the traditional Japanese tea ceremony. You whisk this ground up powder with hot water to make the tea. Thus, you are drinking the entire tea leaf itself instead of just the hot water that steeped the crushed leaves in your tea bag. This gives you the maximum health boosting benefits that green tea has to offer… Which Are Numerous!
Regular green tea, black tea, and Matcha green tea are all made from the same Camellia sinensis species. However, plants destined to become Matcha are grown in the shade for up to 20 days before harvest. This causes the plant to make more chlorophyll – which gives Matcha tea its vivid green color and has many health benefits in and of itself. As a result of this growing method Matcha green tea also has more antioxidants, caffeine, and L-theanine in comparison to regular green tea. We’ll get so some of the benefits of each of these additions in a minute, but first…
What makes green tea, and in particular Matcha green tea, soooooo beneficial to your health? The true jewel of this plant lies in its containing a particular antioxidant group called catechins (EGCG, EGC, ECG and EC). These little guys are super important as you will see below. Many superfoods, including regular green tea and dark chocolate, contain catechins but at not nearly the level of Matcha.
Now it’s time to put aside whatever “Matcha Myths” you might have heard and get to the facts. What does science and medicine say Matcha is actually helpful for? Below, I’ll go over 10 areas that have research backing up the claims to fame.
But before we dive in let’s have a little disclaimer. Not much hard science research has been done on Matcha itself. Thankfully, green tea research is EXTENSIVE. As Matcha is literally a highly concentrated form of green tea we can assume that the same health benefits of green tea apply to Matcha and in even greater strength. Therefore, much of the information and references below point to green tea specifically and Matcha by association. Moving On!
1.) Boost Metabolism and Fat Loss
This is probably the most well-known claim to fame Matcha has. With good reason.
Matcha has the ability to boost your body’s thermogenesis which in turn increases the metabolism rate. As your metabolism increases your body converts more fat into energy instead of storing it in case of a famine… like if the local Aldi grocery shut down!
In addition to simple thermogenesis, those powerhouse catechins also can provide some fat loss assistance. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published a report which ran a 12 week double-blind study where healthy Japanese men were divided into 2 groups with similar BMI and waste circumference. The men drank either 1 bottle oolong tea containing 690 mg catechins (green tea extract group) or 1 bottle oolong tea containing 22 mg catechins (control group). The results showed that body weight, BMI, waist circumference, body fat mass, and subcutaneous fat area were significantly lower in the green tea extract group than in the control group at the end of the study. This led to the conclusion that the ingestion of catechins might be useful in the prevention and improvement of lifestyle-related diseases, mainly obesity (3).
With such dramatic changes in size and weight over just 12 weeks imagine what a lifestyle of drinking Matcha could do for long-term healthy weight goals!
In addition to simply helping you lose weight, Matcha may very well help to keep you exercising longer and more effectively by increasing you endurance level.
A 2006 study published by the American Journal of Physiology found that long-term intake of catechin-rich GTE (green tea extract), together with habitual exercise, is beneficial in improving endurance capacity, and that these effects might be attributed, at least in part, to the stimulation of whole body lipid metabolism. (26)
As if that wasn’t enough, a second study published in the American Journal of Physiology found that the catechins in green tea and Matcha could even prevent age related physical performance decline. They summarized the study as follows,
Combining catechin intake with habitual exercise is beneficial for suppressing the aging-related decline in physical performance and energy metabolism, and these effects may be attributed, at least in part, to improved mitochondrial function in skeletal muscle. These results suggest that tea catechins combined with habitual exercise might be useful for preventing a decline in physical function during human aging. (27)
2.) Prevent Cancer
Yes ladies, you read that right, Matcha green tea has medical research backing up the claims that the type and amount of catechins found in Matcha might help prevent cancer.
According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI) the particular chemicals in green tea, especially EGCG and ECG, have substantial free radical scavenging activity and MAY protect cells from DNA damage caused by reactive oxygen species of cancer. Additionally, tea polyphenols have been shown to slow down rapid tumor cell growth and cause cell death in laboratory and animal studies. Tea catechins have been shown to inhibit the formation of new diseased blood vessels and tumor cells spreading to other areas. These polyphenols MAY protect against damage caused by ultraviolet (UV) B radiation, regulate immune system function, and have been proven to activate detoxification enzymes that may help protect against tumor development. (4) The NCI believes these results are promising but as of yet few human research trials have yielded any rock hard results.
But don’t lose hope! Separate research group studies have yielded interesting and promising research.
A meta-analysis of multiple observational studies found that women who drank the most green tea had a 22 percent lower risk of developing breast cancer than those who drank little or none (5).
A separate 6 year study of 69,710 Chinese women aged 40 to 70 years evaluated the association between green tea consumption and colorectal cancer (CRC) risk. They concluded that the regular consumption of green tea significantly reduced the risk of CRC in these women (6).
Another study interviewed 908 cases of pancreatic cancer patients and 1067 healthy controls on tea drinking, including type of tea, amount of tea consumption, temperature of tea, and the duration of regular tea drinking. It was found that women who drank green tea regularly had a 32% reduction of pancreatic cancer risk compared to those who did not drink tea regularly. (7).
This might just be the beginning but let’s give a big shout out to future research in this area!
3.) Higher Source Of Antioxidants Than Regular Green Tea
Green tea has been known as a health drink for decades and many of us have grown up drinking it every time we started to get a cold or sore throat. Only recently, however, has the research come together to show that Matcha is officially more powerful at fighting that crud than its tea bag cousin.
Why? Those amazing catechins we keep talking about of course!
According to this study, “Using a mg catechin/g of dry leaf comparison, results indicate that the concentration of epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) available from drinking matcha is 137 times greater than the amount of EGCG available from China Green Tips green tea, and at least three times higher than the largest literature value for other green teas.” (8).
Wow… 137 X the antioxidant power is nothing to joke about folks! Antioxidants are so important for our overall health. They are what prohibit (and in some cases even prevent), the oxidation of other molecules in the body. Basically they are what keep those nasty free radicals in check. Which, if left to do what they want, cause a wide range of illnesses and chronic diseases.
4.) Caffeine Without The Jitters
Matcha is unique in the world of morning “pick me ups” because it has the “perk you up” equivalent of a cup of coffee but won’t give you the caffeine jitters. This is because of its containing an amino acid called L-Theanine. This relaxation inducing and non-dietary amino acid is found almost exclusively in teas from the Camellia sinensis plant. It results in the feeling of alert calm that Matcha has become known for. L-Theanine sources of caffeine are also a good choice for those suffering from anxiety since it increases levels of dopamine and GABA in the brain. (9)
Another study by the Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that L-theanine significantly increases activity in the alpha frequency band which indicates that it relaxes the mind without inducing drowsiness. It went on to discuss how L-theanine, when taken at realistic dietary levels, has a significant effect on the general state of mental alertness or arousal. (25)
A nice alert calm free from post caffeine jitters… I’ll take a cup of that tomorrow morning please!
5.) Lowers the Risk of Type I and II Diabetes
Green tea helps to control blood sugar levels and has been used by diabetic patients as a dietary supplement for many years. Given this, it is a pretty easy step to assume that the concentrated form of Matcha green tea could only produce greater results.
Animal studies suggest that green tea may help prevent the development of type 1 diabetes and/or slow the progression once it has developed. This is because Matcha helps to regulate the levels of glucose in the body. Patients who are diabetic, and therefore produce little or no insulin (which is what normally regulates this glucose), need this glucose control. Matcha may very well be this successful prevention and/or treatment. (10)
Another study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine has found that consumption of green tea and coffee was inversely associated with risk for diabetes after adjustment for age, sex, body mass index after researching 17,413 adults from 25 communities across Japan. (11)
A 2013 study by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that green tea showed a significant reduction in fasting glucose, hemoglobin, and insulin concentrations. (20) This is the kind of regulatory substance needed to help prevent and treat Diabetes across the board.
6.) Reduces the Risk of Hypertension and Heart Disease
It should go without saying that taking care of your heart is absolutely vital for long-term health.
A Harvard compilation of several studies has found that drinking green tea significantly reduces the risk of Hypertension and heart disease. According to one of their study comparisons, people who drank the most green tea had a 28% lower risk of coronary artery disease than those who drank the least green tea while drinking black tea had absolutely no effect on heart risk at all. A second comparison study conducted that same year found that green tea significantly lowered LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels. (12)
Another of the Harvard comparisons was a research study which focused on 40,530 Japanese adults. They discovered that participants who drank over five cups of green tea a day had a 26% lower risk of death from heart attack or stroke and a 16% lower risk of death from all causes than people who drank less than one cup of green tea a day. (12) Now, 5 cups might sound like a lot of green tea. But, if you realize that a nice brew of Matcha probably has the same concentrated power in a single serving… much more manageable than 5 cups a day for the rest of your life.
In two studies separate from the Harvard compilation, researchers have concluded that catechins may reduce the risk of heart disease up to 31% and could prevent the onset of ischemic stroke. (15) (16) That’s an even greater percentage than the Harvard study!
7.) Provides an Effective Detox
The detoxifying power of Matcha comes from its high levels of chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is what gives Matcha its vibrant green color. It is found in such high levels in Matcha due to the shading process before harvest that we touched on earlier. That shade prompts the plant to produce more chlorophyll than normal and adds all the super health benefits to the leaves that are then ground up to make Matcha. Multiple studies speculate that chlorophyll helps to naturally increase the enzymes in the body that promote optimal liver health. This then lets the liver do its job and eliminate harmful toxins from the body.
One interesting study with amazing results on the power of chlorophyll took place back in 2001. In this study 180 residents of Qidong, People’s Republic of China, who are at high risk for development of hepatocellular carcinoma (the most common form of liver cancer). They are at such a risk level in large part from consumption of foods contaminated with aflatoxins (a family of toxins produced by certain fungi that are found on agricultural crops). These people were tested in a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled chemoprevention trial, for whether chlorophyllin (a chemical made from chlorophyll) could alter the character traits of aflatoxin exposure. After ingesting either 100 mg of chlorophyllin or a placebo three times a day for 4 months the subjects amazingly had an overall 55% reduction in urinary levels of this aflatoxin compared with those taking the placebo. The study concluded that interventions with chlorophyllin, or supplementation of diets with foods rich in chlorophylls, may represent a real means to prevent the development of hepatocellular carcinoma or other environmentally induced cancers. (13)
For an interesting article on other health benefits of chlorophyll, read this article written by Dr. Axe.
8.) “Alert Calm” And Focus
I love the smell of coffee, but can’t stand the taste. I also don’t like the jitters, but we already went over how to avoid that! So long ago I started drinking a cup of Earl Grey (which I LOVE) every morning to get me going. It gave me enough umph to get the day started but never really gave me the focus and brain boosting umph I wanted. Then I found Matcha and discovered the effects of the magical little amino acid called L-theanine.
L-theanine is a specific amino acid found in high quantities in Matcha due to the special shading technique that farmers use to grow those lovely green leaves. In fact Matcha contains up to five times as much L-theanine as regular green tea (20 mg versus 4 mg). When we drink a nice cup of Matcha this L-theanine amino acid quickly crosses the blood brain barrier and triggers the release of alpha waves. These alpha waves are what give us a feeling of alertness and focus. While caffeine can give us the same feeling (and Matcha does contain a small amount of caffeine) it often leads to jitters and that inevitable “crash” after wearing off. (14) Matcha gives me all the benefits of a cup of joe but without any of the negative side effects!
9.) Boosts Your Immune System
According to Harvard medical research the catechins found in green tea (and therefore in even greater quantities in Matcha) are more effective than both vitamins C and E in stopping oxidative damage to cells as well as appearing to have other disease-fighting abilities (2).
In addition to these antioxidant properties of catechins, Matcha also contains a number of essential vitamins including calcium, iron, potassium, protein and vitamins A and C.
We touched on the importance of antioxidants before, but let me just bring you up to date on how vital something that stops the oxidative damage to your cells is. Our bodies naturally produce both free radicals and the antioxidants needed to counteract their negative effects. However, the ratio is usually a higher level of free radicals than antioxidants due to the polluted environment we live in. Thus, we NEED to take in more antioxidants through food and drink in order to keep those nasty buggers in check. Giving our bodies what it needs to fight off these free radicals will allow it to keep our immune system revved up and fighting all the viruses and diseases that we encounter every day.
10.) Improves Brain Function
Green tea has since ancient times been believed to possess the strength to improve cognitive functions. Recent studies have begun to confirm this with research. Looking at the studies below, I believe it won’t be long until science proves that the catechins in Matcha not only improve brain function, but literally slow down the rate of age related cognitive decline.
A 2014 pilot study which looked at twelve elderly nursing home residents with cognitive dysfunction found that after three months of green tea consumption, the participants’ dysfunction scores were significantly improved. The findings suggest that green tea consumption may be effective in improving damaged cognitive function and/or reducing the progression of cognitive dysfunction. (17)
A 2006 study looking at 1003 Japanese adults 70 years or older found that a higher consumption of green tea was associated with a lower prevalence of cognitive impairment in humans. (18)
A 2008 Chinese study found similar results when it concluded that higher tea intake was significantly associated with a lower prevalence of cognitive impairment, independent of other risk factors. While this study looked primarily at black and oolong teas due to them being the most popular in that region, it is conceivable that the catechins found in those teas were responsible for the results. In contrast, no association between coffee intake and cognitive status was found by this study. (19)
Last, but certainly not least, the catechins so prevalent in Matcha are now being studied, with tantalizing potential, as a preventative and treatment for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. These catechins have proved effective in protecting neurons from degeneration, thus potentially lowering the risk for these two devastating diseases. (21) (22) (23)
Unfortunately, as with to many good things use some caution before you run out and buy the first tin of Matcha you can find.
First off, where Matcha originates is VERY important. Almost all the Matcha sold today either comes from Japan or China. Anything grown in Japan is safe BUT NOT FROM CHINA. This is because of the high levels of lead in the soil there due to them not stopping using leaded gasoline till the year 2000. (24)
The roots of plants absorb this lead and store it in the leaf. When you steep a regular tea bag most of that lead actually stays in those little tea leaf pieces. BUT, with Matcha you literally drink the entire leaf so you can literally overdose on lead if you drink enough of it. (24)
So, be careful where your Matcha comes from. Buying premium grade Matcha from Japan (avoid the culinary grade if possible as it has fewer antioxidants and chlorophyll plus a less smooth flavor) is pricier … but you are getting what you pay for. I equate buying Matcha with buying medicine. For me, this is an investment in my health and if it is something I am putting in my body to help me avoid the doctor’s office it is worth a little extra.
Also, this should go without saying but I’ll say it anyway. AVOID anything “Matcha flavored” if you are trying to do your body any good at all. Instant Matcha teas, Matcha flavored desserts, or Matcha frappuccinos are NOT healthy. They are sugar, cream, and more sugar with a dash of (possibly cheap lead containing) Matcha for spice … and a higher price tag. Just read the ingredients. If anything other than Matcha is first in the list (and it better be a pretty short list) just skip it and make yourself a good brew at home.
Matcha green tea is undoubtedly a powerful weapon to store away in your life long health arsenal. It has many proven benefits and SO MANY MORE that are still in the infancy stages of research with promises of breakthroughs just around the corner. Without a doubt, it is worth a daily sip as you breathe in the steam off of freshly made cup of vibrant green goodness.
Ahhhh, fresh, vitalizing, and oohh so very good for you.
I love me some Matcha!
What about you? Have you become a Matcha fan in the last few years like me? Do you have any other researched benefits of this wonderful green brew that I missed? Let us know in the comments below!