In the past few years, a number of women have turned to green vegetables in an effort to attempt to lower their risk of breast cancer. With the disease affecting as many as one in eight American women, it is only natural that women look to natural remedies in an attempt to improve their odds in the fight against this all-too-prevalent kind of cancer.
Increasingly, though, researchers are looking to another green food in an effort to cut breast cancer risk—green tea. While black tea and chamomile tea have long been thought to soothe nerves and combat depression, it is green tea which is making headlines in the world of cancer research.
A number of animal and laboratory studies have shown that green tea can be highly effective in fighting tumors in the mammary tissues. But only recently has the scientific community been able to address the effect of green tea on breast cancer in human beings.
A Case in Point
One significant study indicated that green tea extract prevents breast cancer cells from producing a chemical that leads to tumors. University of Southern California researcher Anna H. Wu and her team noted the dietary and lifestyle choices of more than 500 women with breast cancer and nearly 600 women without cancer in Los Angeles. The women were of Asian descent and ranged in age from 25 to 74. The researchers found that the healthy women were far more likely to consume green tea. And those breast cancer patients who did drink green tea were likely to consume less of it than the healthy women were. In fact, drinking less than six tablespoons of green tea a day appeared to cut a woman’s risk for breast cancer by as much as 30 percent.
Unfortunately, women who consume a great deal of black tea do not appear to be protected from the onset of breast cancer. Since black tea is more popular in Western nations than green tea, such news can be disappointing. But the fact that green tea’s popularity is gaining strength in the West means that Western women could enjoy the same breast cancer protection that green tea drinkers in the Far East have enjoyed for years.
Green Tea and Breast Cancer Recurrence
But what about women who have already experienced breast cancer? Is it possible for them to reduce their chances of a recurrence by downing cups of green tea?
As you might expect, scientific researchers have been asking the same questions. For instance, a Japanese research team addressed those issues in their article, “Regular Consumption of Green Tea and the Risk of Breast Cancer Recurrence: Follow-up Study from the Hospital-based Epidemiologic Research Program at Aichi Cancer Center (HERPACC), Japan.”
As the Asian researchers noted, various studies indicate that green tea can inhibit the development and growth of tumors. Given that fact, they thought it helpful to examine the link between regular green tea consumption and the risk of a recurrence of breast cancer.
The researchers studied 1160 new surgical cases of female breast cancers between June of 1990 and August of 1998. About 12 percent, or 133 of the subjects, appeared to experience a cancer recurrence. But those women who consumed three or more cups of green tea each day were less likely to see their breast cancer make a comeback.
The reduced rate of recurrence was most likely among those women with stage 1 and stage 2 breast cancer. However, the link was not apparent for those women with more advanced stages of the cancer.
The researchers cautioned that these results need to be interpreted carefully. However, they do suggest that breast cancer patients who drink green tea daily may be able to prevent their cancer from returning—especially if their cancer was diagnosed in the early stages. Therefore, the research team has reason to be cautiously optimistic about the cancer-fighting capabilities of green tea.
A Closer Look at Green Tea
In order to fully understand the potential of green tea as a cancer prevention method, it is first necessary to examine the composition of the beverage. There are a number of compounds that make up green tea, including polyphenols and flavonoids, caffeine, carbohydrates, tannins, fluoride, and aluminum.
As far as cancer prevention is concerned, the most critical substance is the polyphenols—chemicals which act as antioxidants. These substances block cell replication enzymes and therefore prevent the growth of cancer in the process.
In a number of studies, researchers gave rats with breast tumors green tea to consume. These rats were then compared with rats which drank water alone. Interestingly enough, the rats which had been drinking green tea saw their tumor size reduced considerably. In addition, the studies indicated that new tumors were less likely to develop in rats which drank green tea.
How Much is Enough?
Still, you might be wondering how much green tea you would need to consume in order to significantly reduce your risk of developing breast cancer. Generally, doctors say that you need to consume at least three to four cups of green tea each day—without additives such as milk or sugar—in order to see an impact.
Does decaffeinated green tea offer the same health benefits? Actually, that depends upon the manner in which the caffeine has been removed from the tea. If a solvent has been used to decaffeinate the tea, it will contain reduced levels of EGCG, lessening its effectiveness as a cancer prevention tool. You might also consider taking your green tea in capsule form, although there is little hard evidence to indicate that the capsules are as effective as the beverage in cutting cancer risk.
A Final Note
A woman who has experienced breast cancer has no guarantees that her cancer will never reappear. Even if she begins drinking green tea, she might still undergo a recurrence. However, the available evidence suggests that her risk of facing a second bout of breast cancer decreases significantly when she becomes a green tea drinker.