Matcha is a bright green powder that is traditionally made in Japan by finely grinding entire tea leaves. In recent years, the popularity of matcha tea has increased dramatically and it can be found all over the United States and even in your local Starbucks! Matcha has some surprising health benefits that contribute to its popularity.
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What is Matcha Tea?
Matcha powder is made from finely ground green tea leaves, which can be used to make matcha green tea or used as an ingredient in other foods and drinks including food items, milkshakes, and cocktails! Unlike traditional green tea, the tea leaves are not removed from the extracted tea. Instead, the entire tea leaves are finely ground and put directly into hot water to make tea. Matcha tea is used in traditional ceremonies in Japan and has recently become an extremely popular drink in the United States, thanks to its unique flavor and exceptional health benefits! Matcha green tea is known to have all of the same health benefits as regular green tea and even more, particularly because the entire tea leaves are used which provide a higher nutrient content.
Beneficial Elements of Matcha Tea
Antioxidants exist in many different forms, including phytochemicals such as flavonoids and vitamins, including vitamins C and E. Antioxidants neutralize damaging molecules called free radicals, which are unstable molecules that can cause oxidative stress (damage) to cells. Antioxidants help to stabilize free radicals and protect against damage to our DNA, cells, and tissues. The most prominent antioxidants in green tea are catechins. Catechins are classified as flavonoids and polyphenols which are naturally occurring antioxidants. The catechins found in green tea are epicatechin, epigallocatechin, epicatechin gallate, and epigallocatechin gallate. Matcha green tea has much higher contents of catechins than regular green teas because the leaf powder is ingested. The high content of antioxidants in matcha green tea is also why it is thought to prevent cancer and improving memory.
Caffeine is found naturally in green tea! Caffeine is classified as a natural stimulant; it can increase alertness and mental activity when consumed. Stimulation of mental activity can help to improve mood and can enhance physical performance during exercise. Caffeine is also known to stimulate the cardiac muscle of the heart and relax smooth muscle, such as the bladder muscle, to encourage urination. This is why it is commonly used as a diuretic in some over-the-counter medications. Matcha green tea also has higher caffeine contents than other green teas because ingested tea leaves provide an extra amount of caffeine!
L-theanine is a non-essential amino acid (a protein building block) found in matcha that is known for its relaxing effects. It can also reduce perceptions of stress and improve mood! It also is known to modify the effects of caffeine on the body and help to improve attention. It also decreases some of the stimulatory effects of caffeine such as jitteriness, which can make it more tolerable for individuals with low caffeine tolerance.
Potential Benefits of Matcha Tea
Matcha powder and the kidneys
A study found that matcha tea may help to improve renal and hepatic damage in type 2 diabetic rats. Matcha was administered to the rats daily for 16 weeks and they found that glucose, triglyceride and total cholesterol levels were reduced. Levels of oxidative stress were also decreased. The study measured advanced glycation end-products (AGEs) as markers for kidney and liver damage. Advanced glycation end-products are proteins and oils that can contribute to oxidative stress and clog small blood vessels like ones in the kidneys. The matcha greatly reduced the AGE level in the kidneys but not the liver. They determined that the epigallocatechin gallate (a type of antioxidant catechin) content of the matcha was the component that helped to improve kidney damage due to diabetes. While the studies in rats are promising, no studies have been done in humans yet.
Lowers blood glucose and lipid levels
Another study in mice determined that matcha suppresses the accumulation of blood glucose, promotes lipid metabolism, and promotes antioxidant activity. The study investigated the effects of matcha on high-fat diet mice for 4 weeks. They found that mice given matcha had decreased levels of triglycerides, total cholesterol and the “bad” cholesterol known as low-density lipoproteins (LDLs), and increased levels of “good” cholesterol known as high-density lipoproteins (HDLs) despite being on a high-fat diet. Higher LDL levels are associated with increased risk for heart diseases because they distribute fat to cells. Higher HDL levels are associated with lower risk for heart disease because they collect fat from tissues. There are no studies in humans.
Matcha tea may also have antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral effects because of the epigallocatechin gallate content! Research has found that matcha may protect against hepatitis C virus, herpes simplex virus, human immunodeficiency virus, influenza virus, Staphylococcus aureus and Methicillin-resistant S. aureus! More information on how epigallocatechin gallate affects these bacteria and viruses can be found here.
Increases fat oxidation
A study also found that drinking matcha green tea may increase fat oxidation during moderate exercise. Fat oxidation is the chemical process of converting body fat to a usable form of energy, which lowers body fat content. They suggested that the polyphenol and caffeine content of matcha green tea increases the fat oxidation during brisk walking in females. The authors of this study also suggest drinking four cups of matcha in 24 hours.
With matcha green tea increasing in popularity, it may be beneficial to try the tea and see if you can reap some of the benefits!