Wednesday December 31, 2008 | 1 comment
More and more, I continue to see the old Mother Nature versus human reductionism controversy rear its ugly head. Tea certainly hasn’t escaped the scrutiny of the reductionists. It is no different than what has been happening with medicinal herbs since the onset of the pharmaceutical industry in the late 1920’s. I’ll give you my opinion, but you will have to decide for yourself where you stand on the issue.
There are a myriad of studies that commonly isolate only one compound (Epigallocatechin 3 Gallate [EGCG] in particular) from green tea, and study its effects on various aspects of health, while claiming they are studying the health effects of green tea. Now, don’t get me wrong. These types of studies are not necessarily bad. The problem is that studying one component of tea is not the same as studying the effects of regular green tea consumption on health. Fortunately, the latter is also being studied, albeit to a lesser degree. The reason this is an important distinction is that although EGCG is an important and biologically active polyphenol, there are many more active phytochemical compounds in the tea plant. To think that EGCG is the ONLY active compound with health benefits is, in my opinion, tunnel vision thinking.
This becomes a potentially problematic issue once you start identifying and extracting specific compounds from plants and removing them from the natural, ecologically-balanced environment that Mother Nature has created. This perfect balance provides us with a number of wonderful health effects with no or limited negative side effects. Once you start isolating individual constituents from medicinal plants, you run the very common risk of creating significant side effects as well. Now, there is no doubt that EGCG is a very potent compound, of which concentrated extracts will be a boon to the armamentarium of weapons in our fight against disease. My only concern is the reductionistic, over-pharmaceuticalizing of natural compounds in general, and EGCG in particular. I would like to see a responsible use of these highly concentrated compounds. Whereas it’s very difficult to drink too much tea, it is quite easy to take too much concentrated EGCG.
My recommendation for general good health is to drink lots of tea and plain water on a daily basis, eat healthy, balanced meals with a lot of fiber, and exercise regularly. If you have a specific acute health issue, then taking a product with more concentrated levels of EGCG (or the other catechins in green and white tea) for a period of time could be very beneficial.