- Researchers at the University of Salford in the U.K. found that relatively low concentrations of matcha — or powdered green tea — stopped the spread of breast cancer stem cells. Their study was published Aug. 23 in the journal Aging.
- The scientists said their research findings suggest the tea could be used instead of chemicals, such as the immunosuppressant drug rapamycin, to stop the spreading of certain cancer cells, according to a release from the university.
- "Matcha green tea is a natural product used as a dietary supplement with great potential for a range of treatments. But, the molecular mechanism underpinning all that remains largely unknown," Michael Lisanti, one of the study researchers, said in the release. "By using metabolic phenotyping, we found that the tea is suppressing oxidative mitochondrial metabolism — in other words it is preventing the cells from 're-fueling' and therefore they become inactive and die."
As studies continue to find unexpected advantages to green tea, the market for the beverage has grown. In the past, green tea has been linked to preventing atherosclerosis, lowering total cholesterol, raising high-density lipoproteins and now helping to prevent certain cancer cells from spreading.
While more research has revealed benefits, green tea has grown in popularity. Global market growth in tea polyphenols — which are micronutrients accessed via certain plant-based foods — could reach $368 million by 2020, according to Grand View Research. Green tea leads the market because it contains high amounts of polyphenols, the research firm added. That growth could be destined to continue with this latest study.
But this U.K. research is far from the first to test the beneficial effects of green tea on cancer cells. Such research on both rodents and humans has been going on for more than 30 years — and with encouraging results. Japanese studies have shown cancer prevention or delayed onset of certain cancers with consumption of more than 10 cups of green tea daily.
Green tea manufacturers might want to advertise the results of this and other studies supporting the cancer-fighting properties of matcha since consumers are increasingly looking for functional foods and beverages that can bolster their overall health and target certain issues such as heart problems, obesity and diabetes.
There may be some other good research news for the tea industry as well. The team behind the University of Salford matcha study, which was funded by private donations, specializes in identifying non-toxic ways of killing cancer cells. They have also studied bergamot, the spicy citrus fruit whose oil flavors Earl Grey tea. According to Ingredients Network, they found that it kills cancer cells and has an anti-cholesterol function.
Some consumers will likely have trouble believing teas could have so many benefits, especially since other studies have contradicted findings like this before. One study suggested that extracts of both green and black teas may stimulate genes that cause cells to be less sensitive to chemotherapy drugs.
Tea and other beverage makers also need to be mindful not to overstate health and wellness claims on their product labeling. If those claims aren't solid, they could attract attention from federal government regulators.
Advertising the potential for health benefits could be attractive to consumers. Millennials and members of Generation Z are particularly interested in premium and super-premium tea varieties. Focusing on the health halo of matcha and green tea extracts — and their relatively exotic origins — could be a smart approach in order to appeal to those demographics.