Article 4 of 20 in the W.H.A.T? series.

Approximately 5 minute to read article. 

Introduction:  Apoptosis and Antioxidant

In last week’s article, we looked at EGCG, the component of the Camellia sinensis leaf that is the most researched and therefore tends to attract media coverage. It has become a kind of buzz words in tea and health discussions. People nod and understand in a general sense that there are microscopic elements in the cell structure of the tea plant that is good to add to our diet. Most people readily accept the fact that tea is healthy but don’t linger on the “why”. Tea nerds aren’t always science geeks. But many things happening on the molecular level of our sipping that are important and interesting. 

What's Healthy About Tea graphic

Consider the terms, Apoptosis and Antioxidant. Of the two, an antioxidant is the more familiar. Most of us know that the high level of antioxidants in tea help eliminate the byproducts of oxidation in the body. And we know that oxidative stress on a cellular level is a contributing factor to many different diseases. Apoptosis also plays a role in maintaining healthy cells and normal cell functions. As we recognize how tea contributes to this process, we better understand the benefits of drinking tea several servings per day and adding tea to foods as a spice.

“Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food.”  . . . Hippocrates

How apoptosis process maintains health- diagram

Apoptosis – Cell Suicide

Each cell of our bodies has a pre-programmed life span. Cells that live longer than their optimal lifespan are more vulnerable to infection. In that way, they contribute to developing many different diseases. More than 700 trillion cells make up the human body. The normal life span of cells varies greatly from as little as 4 hours to decades. During this time, healthy cells can recognize and defend the cell walls against intrusion like cancer. 

Apoptosis is the normal and healthy process of cells dying off. Also pre-programmed into our amazing bodies, are new cells being born to replace the old ones. Scientific research on True Tea, Camellia sinensis, suggests that drinking tea supports apoptosis. This one of the ways it helps defend the body against developing cancer and other diseases. 

Tea & Breast Cancer 

The way tea works to support the healthy process of apoptosis was observed in a 2014 study of the actions of tea polyphenols (TP) on breast cancer cells.

 “To elucidate the mechanism of TP against breast cancer, we observed cellular ultrastructure, detected apoptotic cell,s and measured the expression of anti-apoptotic gene survivin. Comprehensive ultrastructure analysis demonstrated that 5-Fu treated cells experienced necrosis, whereas TP treated cells experienced apoptosis.” (Tea polyphenols induced apoptosis of breast cancer cells by suppressing the expression of Survivin)

 This is one example of the body’s ability to eliminate infected cells but it also points to tea removing the cells that are nearing the end of their useful life, before they become vulnerable. 

Another more recent article considers Matcha specifically for Camellia sinensis’s contributions to apoptosis and prevention of cancer. 

 “Our results indicate that MGT is indeed sufficient to inhibit the propagation of breast cancer stem cells (CSCs), with an IC-50 of ~0.2 mg/ml, in tissue culture. Interestingly, metabolic phenotyping revealed that treatment with MGT is sufficient to suppress both oxidative mitochondrial metabolism (OXPHOS) and glycolytic flux, shifting cancer cells towards a more quiescent metabolic state.”

How Antioxidants work against free radicals - from shutterstock license

Camellia sinensis as an Antioxidant

Oxidation is a naturally occurring process in the body. Cells called “free radicals” which, if not efficiently eliminated from the body, proliferate with chain reactions that cause disease. Antioxidants are compounds that interrupt the chain reactions, inhibiting the production and damage caused by these dangerous free radicals. 

Many foods contain beneficial levels of these compounds. Camellia sinensis, is one of them. The unhealthy levels of the by-products of oxidation in the body (think of it as rust on metal) are sometimes referred to as oxidative stress. There is abundant scientific research into tea as an antioxidant.

Research Explains Tea as an Antioxidant

Oxidation is a naturally occurring organic function. When it becomes unhealthy to a level we refer to as oxidative stress, there is a significant imbalance between free radical cells and antioxidant cells. There are many foods with antioxidant potential – foods like blueberries. But tea ranks at the top of the list and is also easy to consume daily. It fits conveniently into a healthy lifestyle that provides benefits in addition to healthy cells.

“Many studies show that administration of tea polyphenols can limit carcinogenesis, neurodegenerative diseases, inflammation, aging and renal disease. Most of these diseases are associated with the damage of DNA, proteins and lipids caused b,y oxidative stress. Tea polyphenols can help to limit this damage via two ways. One is that it can directly act on ROS, and the other is that it may stimulate endogenous defence system.”

One way that we imagine beneficial molecules in tea to function as antioxidants is that they …. But this is a very limited version of the capacity that components in tea interact with oxidation in our body. 

“In conclusion, tea flavonoids are potent antioxidants that are absorbed from the gut after consumption. Tea consumption consistently leads to a significant increase in the antioxidant capacity of the blood.” 

Our Incredible Human Design

The amazing and incredible design of the healthy human body easily maintains these functions. But much of what we now consider to be a normal modern lifestyle taxes this system throws it out of balance. The results are compromises to optimal health and the natural human aging process. Camellia sinensis the plant, contains incredibly beneficial chemistry. For thousands of years, it has been one of our foremost food-medicines. And modern research is now in the process of giving tangible evidence to support these long-held beliefs. But how we share beverages that contain Camellia sinensis and other botanicals – drinking tea – also supports overall health. One factor when studying human tea consumption relative to its health benefits should be the lifestyle that drinking tea inspires.

Teacup and saucer being served. We see the hands.

Human Terroir & Health

Natural rhythms of apoptosis and efficient antioxidants work together to keep systems running smoothly. Recognizing some of how the healthy body is armed to fight off disease, we must admit that our environment and lifestyle contribute to the lack of health and disease. Another contribution that understanding tea offers to understand health is the idea that everything in our environment contributes to health. Just as the terroir of tea – the soil, climate, varietal, elevation, etc. – creates the flavor and health benefits of Camellia sinensis, our environment can either challenge or benefit our overall well-being. And the lack of it. A healthy lifestyle – healthy human terroir – keeps the body in a better natural balance. Tea promotes a healthy lifestyle in many ways.