Green Tea Squeeze Play
Green tea is one of the best known supplements in the world. It has been touted for everything from weight loss to cancer prevention to longevity. It's used by serious herbalists (who actually understand it), and it's used in some of the most basic formulas in the world such as One A Day WeightSmart, albeit at meaningless pixie dust levels. But more to the point, it's back in the news with the release of a new study that shows it may actually help slow the progression of prostate cancer. But this newsletter isn't about the virtues of green tea, although we will explore them. Instead, it's about some of the shenanigans going on behind the scenes concerning not just green tea, but all supplements, and even some basic vitamins – specifically B6.
But first, let's talk about some of the virtues of green tea as demonstrated in clinical studies.
The biochemicals of health in green tea
Green tea antioxidants are of the same family as grape seed and pine bark extracts. They are polyphenols, chief of which are the flavonoids called proanthocyanidins. In green tea, the main proanthocyanidins are the catechins, and the most powerful of the catechins is Epigallocatechin Gallate (EGCG), found in the high concentrations in green tea. Why don't other teas have similar properties – particularly since many of them come from the same plant, Camellia sinensis? Quite simply, what sets green tea apart is the way it is processed. Green tea leaves are lightly fermented and steamed, which prevents the EGCG compound from being oxidized. By contrast, black and oolong tea leaves are made from heavily fermented leaves, which results in the EGCG being converted into other compounds that are not as effective in preventing and fighting various diseases.
And while on the topic of green tea, I should probably mention its lesser known sibling, white tea. The main difference between white and green tea is that white tea leaves are harvested at a younger age than the green tea leaves. It should be noted that white tea actually trumps green tea in several ways. First, whereas green tea is lightly fermented, white tea is totally unfermented leaving even more of the EGCG intact. Second, studies have shown that the young, white tea leaves retain antioxidants in higher concentrations than does green tea. In fact, the concentration of antioxidants in white tea is approximately three times higher than in green tea. Bottom line: anything we say about the health benefits of green tea also apply to white tea, but even more so.
Note: if you drink your tea (as opposed to taking a supplement), adding cream or milk to the tea "may" destroy the antioxidant benefits (1, 2, 3). Although the studies are conflicting, it's probably best to err on the side of caution. The studies are far less conflicted when it comes to milk reducing the antioxidant potential found in dark chocolate. The mechanism is simple. The caseins in the dairy interact with the polyphenols in the tea or chocolate and decrease their effectiveness. Then again, if you use a concentrated, full-spectrum green tea extract, you avoid the problem altogether.
Green tea health benefits
As I mentioned earlier, the reported benefits of green tea are multitudinous…and well studied. For example, green tea inhibits tumor growth in a variety of cancers, including: breast, lung, and prostate cancers. Specifically, the EGCG in green tea works to suppress angiogenesis, the growth of blood vessels that tumors need to survive. And if that's not enough -- stopping the growth of cancer at the front end -- green tea polyphenols have been shown to inhibit metastasis, the spread of cancer at the back end. And finally, EGCG is the first known natural telomerase inhibitor. That is to say, it eliminates the "immortality" of cancer cells which is their trademark and which makes them so deadly. The bottom line is that green tea is particularly effective in destroying the causes of leukemia, prostate cancer, breast cancer, and seems to provide the best protection known in terms of preventing lung cancer. And green tea seems to be able to almost totally prevent cancer causing DNA damage in smokers -- a possible explanation as to why the Japanese, who are among the world's heaviest smokers, have such a low incidence of lung cancer.
And the benefits of green tea don't stop there. It has also been shown to be effective in regulating blood sugar, reducing cholesterol and triglycerides, and in reversing the ravages of heart disease. (Incidentally, the Japanese, who drink large amounts of green tea, have some of the lowest rates of cardiovascular disease in the world.)
And finally, green tea has great benefits for the brain as well. It serves as an effective MAO inhibitor. It also protects against brain-cell death from glucose oxidase, over-production of nitric oxide, and it lowers the amount of free iron reaching the brain (a bad thing). The net result is that there are strong indications that green tea extract may play a major role in protecting against both Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease.
Green tea slows prostate cancer
Now let's turn to the study in the news that triggered this newsletter. The headlines started making the media rounds a couple of weeks ago, "Green tea slows prostate cancer." In summary, according to the results of a study published in Cancer Prevention Research, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research, men with prostate cancer who consumed the active compounds in a green tea extract demonstrated a significant reduction in serum markers predictive of prostate cancer progression.
"The investigational agent used in the trial, Polyphenon E (provided by Polyphenon Pharma), may have the potential to lower the incidence and slow the progression of prostate cancer," said James A. Cardelli, Ph.D., professor and director of basic and translational research in the Feist-Weiller Cancer Center, LSU Health Sciences Center-Shreveport.
The study included 26 men, aged 41 to 72 years, diagnosed with prostate cancer and scheduled for radical prostatectomy. Patients consumed four capsules containing Polyphenon E until the day before surgery – four capsules are equivalent to about 12 cups of normally brewed concentrated green tea, according to Cardelli. The time of study for 25 of the 26 patients ranged from 12 days to 73 days, with a median time of 34.5 days.
Findings showed a significant reduction in serum levels of HGF, VEGF and PSA after treatment (HGF and VEGF are good prognostic indicators of metastatic disease), with some patients demonstrating reductions in levels of greater than 30 percent, according to the researchers.
Cardelli and his colleagues found that other biomarkers were also positively affected. There were only a few reported side effects associated with this study, and liver function remained normal. Said Cardelli, "There is reasonably good evidence that many cancers are preventable, and our studies using plant-derived substances support the idea that plant compounds found in a healthy diet can play a role in preventing cancer development and progression."
The Polyphenon E curve ball
So what is this miracle antioxidant Polyphenon E found in green tea and used in the study? Well, according to the National Cancer Institute, Polyphenon E "is a substance being studied in the prevention of cancer. It is made from decaffeinated green tea, and contains chemicals called catechins, which are antioxidants." And according to its manufacturer, Mitsui Norin Co., Ltd., Polyphenon is a highly purified tea catechin extract, and is going to be the first pharmaceutical grade green tea catechin in the world.
That sounds pretty amazing…and pretty unique. The reality, however, is a tad less dramatic. The Polyphenon E used in the prostate study came in a 416.7 mg capsule with a breakdown as follows: 200 mg EGCG, 48.5 mg EGC, 34.2 mg EC, 20 mg ECG, and other tea catechins, 28.8 mg pregelatinized starch, 2.25 mg colloidal silicon dioxide, and 2.25 mg magnesium stearate. In other words, there's nothing particularly special about Polyphenon E. It's a fairly standard mix of green tea catechins. And as far as being "pharmaceutical grade," green tea extracts now come standardized to 95-98 percent polyphenol content. That's about as pharmaceutical grade as you're going to get.
So, does it matter that tests were being conducted using a standardized green tea extract with a registered trademark for a name and that the National Cancer Institute is singling out for special attention?
And the answer in this case is, "Yes, big time!"
The FDA seeks to outlaw pyridoxamine (vitamin B6)
Your first thought might be, "How could it matter?" Lots of companies trademark names of ingredients. Heck, I've done it with some of my formulations. But in those cases, you're just talking about marketing differentiation. But with Polyphenon E, you have a whole different ballgame.
First, think about the status of green tea in the world. It's only known side effect is that it might make it more difficult for you to sleep if you took too much of it too close to bedtime. In exchange for this minor effect, you get all of the benefits cited above (cancer, heart disease, longevity, etc.), all demonstrated in study after study after study. In point of fact, you would be hard pressed to find a single drug in the world that has so few side effects and so many benefits and so many studies to back it up. Even the so-called miracle drug, aspirin, is not as clean. Remember, the smallest dosage of aspirin causes internal bleeding.
And yet, given green tea's remarkable safety record and proven benefits, not a word of these benefits can be mentioned in connection with any product being sold that contains green tea -- not in the US, not in Europe, not anywhere. And yet, Polyphenon E is being pitched as a potential cancer cure all over the internet and in medical literature. It even has a featured position on the Prostate Cancer Foundation website. How can this be?
Perhaps we can find the answer by looking at the curious case of pyridoxamine – the only form of B6 that can be taken without fear of peripheral neuropathy, and the only form, according to some experts, that should ever be used in supplements. And yet, given all this, pharmaceutical interests have filed a petition with the FDA seeking to ban the use of pyridoxamine in supplements. And the FDA is seriously considering it. Why? Because pyridoxamine has shown promise in protecting against diabetic complications! According to the FDA, if low cost pyridoxamine was available in supplements, there would be no incentive for the pharmaceutical industry to invest the money necessary to get it classified as a prescription drug! In other words, if there is enough money involved, the FDA is quite willing to reclassify everyday supplements as pharmaceutical drugs.
For a more detailed look at this issue, check out William Faloon's article in the most recent issue of Life Extension Magazine. But for now, let's cut to the heart of the matter.
The green tea squeeze play
When it comes to herbs and supplements, governments all over the world do everything in their power to prevent you from ever seeing any information at all that might indicate they offer any real health benefits. But like Catch 22, they catch you coming and going.
- If you can't prove the benefits to their satisfaction (and how much more do we need to see on the benefits of green tea), you can't talk about the benefits because they would amount to unsubstantiated health claims.
- On the other hand, if you can prove the benefits, you can't sell the supplements because they would no longer be supplements. They would be drugs and therefore too valuable to be left in the hands of anyone but the pharmaceutical companies.
- Damned if you do. Damned if you don't.
So is there any way out of this conundrum? Absolutely! Just join the club – aka, the pharmaceutical industry. And get your supplement classified as pharmaceutical grade. Then you can make all the health claims you want, and charge 600% more for essentially the same supplement. This appears to be the route that Mitsui Norin Co., Ltd has chosen to follow. And who gets hurt by this squeeze play? Only you, the consumer!
You're denied mountains of information on a plethora of supplements that can potentially save your life. Or you're forced to pay many times over the actual cost to get an "officially sanctioned" version of the same supplement that actually comes with information.
Over the years, I've sounded off repeatedly on how the alternative health community continually gets itself hung up on the pinstripes of major legislation that is highly, highly unlikely to ever pass -- all the while missing the true threat to health and nutrition, the co-option that goes on in the background…without the requirement of any legislation being signed.
You are witnessing that co-option as a potential walk-off home run with pyridoxamine -- and as a squeeze play in the making with green tea and Polyphenon E.