Health benefits of phytonutrients – catechins
Catechins are a type of phytochemicals with antioxidant properties found in such sources as tea (green tea), red wine (from red grapes), apples, dark chocolate and cocoa. They belong to the group known as flavanols and the chemical family of the flavonoids. They are natural plant polyphenols.
By far the highest concentrations of catechins are found in green tea. For interest sake we shall look at different teas.
Types of tea available are four in number; white, green, oolong and black. They are all from the same plant, known as Camellia sinensis. What make the difference are the different methods by which the leaves are processed. The most popular types in Nigeria are the black and green teas. Black tea is processed by fermentation (oxidation and not microbial fermentation) of the withered leaves, while the method of processing green tea is by steaming and drying the withered leaves. Our primary focus is green tea and its health benefits. Like I said earlier, the method of processing green tea, withering, steaming and drying, ensures that the green colour of the leaves is maintained and the health benefits are by no means tampered with. Since the discovery of tea in China centuries ago, it has always been known to be a plant with a lot of health benefits for which people drank it then and still drink it today. Of course the flavor of original tea is not only irresistible but is almost addictive.
As we know, the phytonutrients are primarily beneficial to the plants, in that they protect them against pests, fungi, bacteria herbivores etc. The catechins, when released into the surrounding soil from the roots of the plants, act as antibiotics and pesticides to destroy other plants around them.
The secret of catechins is found in the polyphenols that they contain. Polyphenols are natural organic chemicals characterized by the presence of large multiples of phenol structural units. These phenol-structured units give the organic chemicals their unique chemical, physical and biological properties. The metabolic, therapeutic and toxicity function of the polyphenols are dependent on the number of the phenol groups present.
Health benefits of catechins
Among the catechins the most important is one known as epigallocatechin [EGCG]. As I said earlier, catechins are phytochemicals, organic chemicals found in plants, also known as flavonoids. These flavonoids are powerful antioxidants which of necessity have anti-carcinogenic functions. Green tea, because of the abundance of catechins in it, is particularly effective against oesophageal cancer and highly indicated in breast cancer. It is also helpful in the management of other types of cancer, such as lung cancer. Green tea inhibits the growth of cancer cells and kills cancer cells directly without causing any damage whatsoever to the surrounding normal tissues. There is a substance in green tea that inhibits the growth of cancer cells and because of the antioxidant property of the catechins; free radicals anywhere in the body are neutralized by green tea.
Another health benefit of catechins in green tea is that it lowers the risk of cardiovascular diseases. It does this by its ability to inhibit the abnormal formation of blood clots and its lowering effect on cholesterol. Green tea lowers total cholesterol level and improves the ratio of good HDL cholesterol to bad LDL cholesterol [it decreases bad LDL cholesterol]. In other words, green tea helps to maintain a healthy blood level of cholesterol.
It has also been discovered by researchers that catechins help to lower blood pressure and so can prevent stroke. Catechins both inhibit clot formation and lower the blood pressure, the two commonest ways by which stroke develops.
Furthermore, catechins are known to boost the immunity. This is a function that helps against cancer.
Another benefit is that they help the tooth enamel to remain healthy and strong. They inhibit the formation of cavities and plaques. In fact, it is recommended that you drink green tea as a last drink and mouth wash before you go to bed, to keep your gums and teeth healthy.
Finally, catechins help to maintain strong healthy bones by improving the bone density and are also helpful against rheumatoid arthritis and infection anywhere in the body. Routinely, drinking 2 to 4 cups of green tea without sugar and milk daily is recommended to keep the body healthy. Conditions like cancer, cardiovascular diseases, stroke, dental caries, arthritis and so on can be kept at bay.
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