And furthermore… is it a safe option?
The questions stem from mounting research that many food extracts used for medicinal purposes contain too much of a good thing. In most cases, many foods and herbs have specific health benefits, and many companies are trying to derive the health benefits from the food without the calories, the necessary prep time, or added liquid consumption.
Green Tea Extract, also called GTE, is no exception to this. There are companies that are drawing the health benefits out of the green tea so that they may be consumed in higher concentration in convenient pill form. This extract may either be presented in a capsule form that contains high amounts of powdered green tea (far more than would be used in 4 cups of matcha) or a liquid-filled capsule that contains a hyper-concentrated form of tea.
Why this is a Bad Thing…
As with a large number of things, the difference between something being medicinal and poisonous is in the overall dosage that is consumed. The differences between Green Tea and GTE are no exception.
An average cup of green tea has a good amount of polyphenols and catechins, and it is also the highest known concentration of EGCG (the world’s most powerful anti-oxidant). Even with these concentrations being considered very high, it still only makes up roughly 2% of your total cup of green tea. This is why when the Japanese enjoy 9-10 cups of green tea per day, they are getting great health benefits with minimal risk. In addition, EGCG is water soluble, which means that if you consume it with an appropriate amount of liquid (like a cup of tea), then excess EGCG that your body cannot use at the moment is flushed out.
The problem with these GTE supplements is that they do not have this built in safety feature; build up can occur within the body since the liquid may not be present to help clear out any excess EGCG. This is doubly dangerous when you realize that most of the supplements on the market that are GTE’s often contain approximately 500mg of EGCG per capsule.
The maximum recommended EGCG daily intake in milligrams is about 4.54 x the body weight of the patient in pounds. Your 150-pound man would want to have no more than 681 mg of EGCG entering into his body per day. Regardless of body weight, the recommended cap is 750 mg per day. When you consider that many of these GTE pills recommend taking 2-3 per day, you are easily getting into the danger zone.
Too much EGCG has been shown to go from being anti-oxidant to pro-oxidant. Pro-oxidants actually increase the presence of free radicals within the body, and many of these free radicals can cause liver damage. In fact, one of the largest findings present with GTE’s is that there does appear to be a correlation between their use and liver damage.
What are the tea sources?
To be sure, GTE capsules do not source high-end tea for use in their products, and determining where exactly the tea comes from is almost impossible. Because these supplements are sold over the counter at mass market chains, we can be reasonably certain that they do not use the premium teas sold by dedicated tea vendors. More likely they are purchasing remnants of tea production (i.e. fannings) or lower quality teas. Numerous studies have shown that lower quality teas are much more likely to contain pesticide residue, and these are potentially increased by the concentrated form of extracts.
A Better Alternative
It is clear that the unregulated business of supplements carries some risks. While the idea behind the GTE is a good one, more and more evidence is indicating that the use of GTE is not safe. If you really are looking for the health benefits that are associated with the naturally occurring compounds that are in Green Tea, the best bet is to simply drink green tea. Green tea has been shown to be safe and healthy, and it is less costly than the GTE supplements are. Matcha is also an excellent choice.
To your health!