Health benefits of premium matcha
April 7, 2009 11:31 PM   Subscribe

Is premium matcha really healthier than other green teas?

I have seen lots of research about the health benefits of green tea, which is why I drink so much of it (apart from it being delicious). Recently, I've seen a lot of claims that matcha (specifically premium matcha) is healthier, but I am getting quite frustrated because I can't find any research on it. Everyone I see who talks about it in detail is selling it.

The arguments seem to be that it is lower in fluoride, contains more nutrients, and that you get more of the nutrients because you consume the whole leaf. I don't understand why it would be lower in fluoride, I haven't seen any research showing there are more nutrients, and I thought all the nutrients seeped out into the water when we drink regular tea anyway. And why is the premium healthier? I understand that it tastes better, but why is it healthier?

I did try some matcha that I got for Christmas, and it definitely made me feel wonderful. I had a sense of well-being throughout the day, felt more clear-headed, and I was even a great deal more positive and optimistic than I have ever been and it seemed to temporarily cure my depression. I just want to know if that was placebo or not. Premium matcha is extremely expensive, but if these claims are true, then it would certainly be worth it.

There is one last piece of the puzzle and I'm wondering if it is relevant. Green tea usually gives me an energy kick, so I often have it right before exercising. Matcha didn't do that for me. I had more energy throughout the day, but no quick boost after drinking it. More placebo or insight into how it works in the body and possible health benefits?
posted by giggleknickers to Health & Fitness (11 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Green tea sits in the category of "it may be good for you in moderation, it's probably bad for you in excess, and we have no idea at all how it works". Any other claims are marketing nonsense from which you can derive nothing of value.

The "we have no idea how it might work" is the red flag for any claims of drug effect. I've seen this stance repeated in many places, a very quick search returned a Journal of the American Medical Association article, a more readable but less rigorous blog entry.
posted by fydfyd at 1:07 AM on April 8, 2009 [3 favorites]

The effects you're talking about are all probably placebo effects, apart from the slight feeling of invigoration from the caffeine. But maybe you don't want to know that - the placebo effect can be powerful medicine for a lot of people.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 2:27 AM on April 8, 2009

IANAD, etc. Green tea has caffeine and theanine. The latter seems to be the source of the "clear-headed" feeling. (You can get it alone, as a very cheap nutritional supplement.) It's where that distinctive, vaguely salty, nori/MSG-like taste in Japanese green teas comes from. I'm not clear how it works, but for me, it almost completely counteracts the jitteriness of the caffeine. Matcha also has some antioxidants, and probably gets a lot of health food points for that, but many foods do. Coffee is a major source of antioxidants for most people, actually.

The above is true of all green teas, though. Matcha is made of gyokuro leaves, which are shade-grown in a way that, among other things, boosts the levels of theanine a bit. It's also crushed to powder, which should make it steep very thoroughly.
posted by silentbicycle at 5:23 AM on April 8, 2009

I stand corrected on the antioxidant thing. Interesting link, fydfyd.
posted by silentbicycle at 5:31 AM on April 8, 2009

I understood that the ill effects of green tea only occurred when it was in extract form. As the author of that blog post says, extracting things that are otherwise good for you can make them bad for you, e.g. poppyseeds. Or am I misinterpreting it?
posted by giggleknickers at 5:35 AM on April 8, 2009

"The arguments seem to be that ... you get more of the nutrients because you consume the whole leaf [but I] thought all the nutrients seeped out into the water when we drink regular tea anyway."

It would make sense that more nutrients (and whatever else) would be available to your body when you consume an entire substance than when you consume an infusion of the same substance, unless the nutrients are more soluble in the liquid than without it. By way of (somewhat absurd) example, imagine eating a whole carrot as opposed to soaking a carrot in hot water for a few minutes and then drinking the infusion....
posted by onshi at 6:24 AM on April 8, 2009

I understood that the ill effects of green tea only occurred when it was in extract form. As the author of that blog post says, extracting things that are otherwise good for you can make them bad for you, e.g. poppyseeds.

More along the lines of "It's not clear by what mechanism this works if it works, and it could potentially be harmful, so don't base your diet regimen around it"
posted by electroboy at 6:37 AM on April 8, 2009

This is just hearsay, but when I was in Japan, I saw a lot of elderly men and women very frail and hunched over when they walked. When I asked several natives about this they told me it was probably from osteoporosis from drinking so much green tea.
posted by nikkorizz at 7:58 AM on April 8, 2009

Here's some conclusions from the few studies I could find:

"We have presented the first analysis of the Japanese ceremonial green tea, matcha, by MEKC. [...snip...] The additional catechins obtained upon drinking matcha compared with other green teas may be the result of the manner in which people consume a typical green tea compared with matcha. These results suggest that drinking matcha will result in dramatically greater intake of EGCG compared to drinking other types of green tea."

David J. Weiss, Christopher R. Anderton, Determination of catechins in matcha green tea by micellar electrokinetic chromatography, Journal of Chromatography A, Volume 1011, Issues 1-2, 5 September 2003, Pages 173-180, ISSN 0021-9673, DOI: 10.1016/S0021-9673(03)01133-6.

"The researchers found that samples of matcha had 200 times the concentration of epigallocatechin gallate in the common U.S. tea.

Although most green teas are prepared in the familiar way-by steeping leaves in water-matcha is prepared by mixing hot water with powdered leaves. This is probably why matcha contains so much epigallocatechin gallate, says Weiss. If other green teas were also prepared from powdered leaves, he says, they might offer tea drinkers more of the beneficial compound."

J.G. J. Matcha green tea packs the antioxidants. Science News [serial online]. April 12, 2003;163(15):238. Available from: Academic Search Elite, Ipswich, MA. Accessed April 8, 2009.

posted by tdreyer at 9:36 AM on April 8, 2009

Green tea's alleged health benefits, ignoring the claims made by loonies who boldly claim that it cures Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis and cancer, usually seem to centre around its undisputed high antioxidant capacity. (See also, multi-level-marketed miracle juices and other "super-foods".) I don't think there's any important "nutrient" difference between green tea made from ultra-expensive matcha or (to a similar strength) from whatever's in the green-tea tea-bags you can find at your local supermarket.

It's common knowledge that antioxidants are good for what ails you, but unfortunately, this common knowledge appears to be claptrap.

(Oh, and the commonly-heard claim that whole plants are better for you than extracts may be valid for normal food plants, but nobody eats camellia sinensis. The herbal-medicine version of this claim appears to be based more in concepts of sympathetic magic than in any empirical evidence, since it is clearly disproven every day by numerous medications extracted from plants, or produced artificially to mimic compounds that used to be plant-derived. Willow bark is not as good as aspirin.)

There's no reason to suppose that even quite heavy intake of tea of all sorts does you any particular harm, though - as-part-of-a-balanced-diet, high-caffeine-not-good-for-weak-hearts, et cetera.

Drink whatever you think tastes best.
posted by dansdata at 9:37 AM on April 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Good grief, antioxidants are actually bad for you? Now I'm more confused than ever.
posted by giggleknickers at 9:30 AM on April 9, 2009

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