Dr. Andrew Weil, M.D., is a world-renowned leader and pioneer in the field of integrative medicine, a healing-oriented approach to health care which encompasses body, mind, and spirit.
Combining a Harvard education and a lifetime of practicing natural and preventive medicine, Dr. Weil is the founder and director of the Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona, where he also holds the Lovell-Jones Endowed Chair in Integrative Rheumatology, and is Clinical Professor of Medicine and Professor of Public Health.
Dr. Weil is an internationally recognized expert for his views on leading a healthy lifestyle, his philosophy of healthy aging, and his critique of the future of medicine and health care.
Zach: Dr. Weil, thanks so much for joining us today. Let's jump right in with the question I am asked daily: "What are the health benefits of Green Tea?"
Dr. Andrew Weil: I think tea in general is a healthful beverage and I am tempted to say the healthiest form of caffeine you can ingest. While I believe all teas are healthy, green tea probably has more benefits than other types.
Z: Do we have strong scientific evidence to prove the beneficial impact that green tea has on our health?
A: Most of the information we have comes from epidemiological studies. A very large study conducted in Japan several years ago showed that the mortality rate was lower in those who drank five or six cups of tea a day. This doesn’t prove a cause and effect relationship, just suggests an association. The only way to prove a direct connection between green tea and health would be through prospective studies where you put people on green tea and watch what happens over time. Unfortunately, such studies haven't been conducted. We do know the effects of some of the constituents of green tea in the body, particularly Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG).
Z: So It would be interesting to see longer term studies where people are looked at while drinking tea in order to understand the real impact...
A: Exactly, but that probably isn’t going to happen because those are costly and diffucult to organize. Based on what we know, we can say that drinking green tea regularly probably supports cardiovascular health, boosts defenses against cancer , and fortifies the body's antioxidant defenses. So while we cannot make specific statements such as “green tea prevents heart disease” or “green tea prevents a specific form of cancer”, we can infer some sort of health benefit from the many epidemiological studies and chemical analysis that have been conducted to date.
Z: But you often see these highly targeted and specific claims of green tea being specifically good for weight loss or specifically good for a certain type of ailment or illness. Do you agree with the specificity that many green tea companies claim to sell their products?
A: Most of that is nonsense. Let’s take Matcha as an example. Matcha is the only form of tea where the whole leaf is consumed. And we know that the shading process of growing matcha increases the content of chlorophyll and flavor compounds - including flavonoids - which we know are beneficial for our health. Matcha probably has a higher content of those beneficial compounds than other forms of green tea.
Z: There is a lot of predatory marketing around green tea. How can the consumer navigate that and weed out fact from fiction? Should these buzz words like “detox” or “superfood” be red flags?
A: Yes, I would see them as warning signs. Some people, like you Zach, have done a great job of educating people and my website, Matcha Kari, is trying to do the same. But we still have a long way to go. A few years ago, if I ordered green tea in a high-end hotel, I was likely to get jasmine flavored green tea; it was impossible to get really good Sencha or Gyokuro. I remember organizing a fundraising luncheon some time ago. I had planned the menu very carefully and I had bags of very good quality Sencha on the table. I suggested to a woman I was sitting with “You should try this” and she replied “We are big lovers of green tea, we’ve been into green tea for years.” When she dipped the bag into the hot water in her cup she exclaimed “Wow, this is green!” So it really is that level of not knowing. We still have a lot of work to do.
Z: It is so true. So many people just haven’t been introduced to good quality great tea. And I hear it again and again “oh my God, I didn’t know tea could taste like that”.
A: In medical practice over the years I've seen so many people who are physically addicted to coffee and have physical problems related to their coffee intake; often, they don't make the connection. I am talking physical problems like irregular heartbeats, indigestion, urinary problems, anxiety and insomnia. I rarely see tea do that or cause the kind of physical addiction so common with coffee. I believe the quality of caffeine stimulation from green tea is different from that of coffee and probably better for you.
Z: Absolutely, I find the caffeine from coffee to affect me much differently - an absolutely racing feeling….
A: Exactly, and there are also very different cultural meanings around the two. Coffee has a long history of association with political radicalism and argumentativeness while tea is associated with meditation and contemplation. That also is a point for tea in my mind.
Z: Are there any conditions or diseases that would benefit most specifically from drinking green tea?
A: Green tea has a modest effect in lowering cholesterol as long as you combine it with a healthy diet. It also has anti-inflammatory effects and I always recommend it as part of an anti-inflammatory diet. So while I would be reluctant to recommend green tea for specific conditions or diseases, it is fair to say that green tea is supportive of health. Its content of flavonoids and antioxidants helps support immune and cardiovascular function and strengthen the body's defenses.
Z: Some people are highlighting the benefits that some components in green tea, mainly catechin, could have in fighting Covid-19. Is there any scientific evidence?
A: Two recent papers reported that EGCG, one of the main components in green tea, may actually inhibit the entry of the virus into cells. While that is an interesting finding, you cannot conclude that drinking green tea is going to protect you from getting the disease. It may make you more resistant to Covid-19 infection.
Z: Aside from the nutritional components of tea, do you think the ritual or communal aspect of drinking tea has also a positive psychological impact?
A: I do. I think sharing the preparation and consumption of tea can be a very good social ritual, especially in these times.