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Green tea is one of the latest superfoods making its way into bottled waters and energy drinks. You'll even find it in energy bars, mints, chewing gum and ice cream. It has many claimed health benefits. Texas researchers add to the list with evidence that green tea aids in the prevention of osteoporosis. Especially when coupled with a tai chi practice.
Green tea is full of compounds called polyphenols which are known for their potent antioxidant activity. Studies have shown that people who consume the highest levels of green tea polyphenols tend to have lower risks of several chronic degenerative diseases such as cardiovascular disease.
Animal studies suggest that the mechanism behind this correlation may have to do with lowering chronic levels of inflammation. These studies show that green tea may benefit bone health by mitigating bone loss due to aging, estrogen deficiency, or chronic inflammation. That in turn may improve clinical symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, normalize bone metabolic disorders, and impact trace element metabolism.
In humans, the Mediterranean Osteoporosis Study showed that drinking up to 3 cups of tea per day was associated with a 30% reduction in the risk of hip fractures in women as well as men over 50 years of age.
Researchers at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center believe bioactive components in green tea might decrease the risk of fracture by improving bone mineral density. These compounds may support osteoblastic activities (bone building) while suppressing osteoclastic activities (bone breakdown).
Focusing on postmenopausal women, the researchers investigated the potential for green tea to work synergistically with tai chi in enhancing bone strength. Tai chi is a traditional Chinese form of moderately intense aerobic fitness activity grounded in mind-body philosophy.
They conducted a double-blind, placebo-controlled, intervention trial involving 171 postmenopausal women with a mean age of 57 years. The women had weak bones but not full-fledged osteoporosis.
Subjects were divided into 4 groups:
- Placebo: starch pill (placebo) and no tai chi
- GTP: green tea polyphenols (500 mg/day) and no tai chi
- Placebo+TC: starch pill and tai chi (3 times/week)
- GTP+TC: green tea polyphenols and tai chi
The results show that consuming 500 mg of green tea polyphenol improved bone health after 3 months and muscle strength at 6 months. That dosage is equivalent to about 4-6 cups of steeped green tea daily.
Participants in the tai chi group improved their markers of bone health and muscle strength within 6 months.
But participants who combined both green tea polyphenols and daily tai chi practice also showed substantial effects on markers of oxidative stress, which is the main precursor to inflammation.
The authors of the study concluded that there is a favorable effect of modest green tea consumption on bone remodeling in pre-osteoporotic postmenopausal women. They also suggest that green tea and tai chi may help reduce the underlying cause of not only osteoporosis, but other inflammatory diseases as well.
Green tea is one of three main categories of tea. The other two are black and oolong. Green tea is the least processed of the three and is steamed but unlike black and oolong, is not fermented. As a result, green tea is about five times higher in EGCG, a catechin or antioxidant, which is also found in red wine, chocolate, berries and apples.
The caffeine content of green tea is about half that of coffee and it's also available in decaffeinated versions.