A report in the Anticancer Research journal adds a new focus to the study of tea in preventing and treating severe illnesses. Most have centered on green tea. This one highlights the potential of oolongs in fighting breast cancer.
The research team at St. Louis University, Mo., investigated the impacts of applying five different tea extracts, that included black and green teas, to six cancer cell lines. The results are striking. The oolong inhibited the growth and proliferation of cancerous cells by disrupting their DNA interactions. It broke up the lines that form tumors, through molecular “cleavage,” in effect acting as a sniper that picks out targets for “apoptosis” – programmed cell death that amounts to molecular suicide. The sniper chases down “free radical” cells – intruders on the body’s healthy biological routines.
Breast cancer is the second largest cause of cancer death among U.S. women. There are 250,000 new diagnoses per year, with more than 40,000 deaths. Globally, breast cancer is increasing rapidly among young women, with fatty diets viewed as one of many factors that make this such a complex illness. Treatment remains long, painful and debilitating: chemotherapy, mastectomy, radiation therapy and lymph removal are just some of the options, none benign.
Oolongs amount to around 2 percent of the tea market. They are the favorites for the many tea lovers who are likely to burst into song at the very sight of a Big Red Robe (Da Hong Pao), Iron Goddess of Mercy, or Oriental Beauty. Of course, tea extract reduces the leaf to a powder or liquid concentrate, but the fact that the study showed a distinctively higher effectiveness for oolongs in attacking all six cancer cell lines than for the other extracts could reflect their complex artisan processing.
A harvested tea leaf is a chemistry lab containing at least six hundred interactive compounds. With green teas there is no oxidation, preserving many of the original elements and ensuring a high proportion of the magic molecule epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) that has established green as the wellness tea.
Black tea is fully oxidated, creating new compounds. It is higher in bioflavonoids than greens; these have a beneficial impact on many minor complaints.
Oolongs fall between the two. Oxidation ranges from 2 percent to 80 percent, with most Chinese oolongs in the 25-50 percent range and Taiwan’s 15-35 percent. One can detect the results of the chemical interplay in the vegetal flavor of most green teas versus the nuttiness, woodiness and richness of oolongs.
One also gets a sense of the crafting of oolongs in their individualized and complex shapes. Oolong teas involve more steps in processing and more variation in drying, roasting, baking, rolling, and forming. Earlier studies have identified oolong-specific compounds that contribute to health: oolonghomobisflavins, anti-inflammatory theasinsensins, OTF6 that has shown powerful impacts on dental infections, and C-1 and C-2 anti-allergy catechins.
One of the incidental findings of the St. Louis report is circumstantial but attention-grabbing. Fujian Province is the historical home of oolong evolution and excellence. Breast cancer in Fujian in 2014 was 35 percent lower than the national average. The incidence among “high” consumers of oolongs was 25 percent below that of the general provincial population and 50 percent under the national average. The death rate was 68 percent less than the national rate.
The research findings must be placed in context. This was a small scale and preliminary project. It will need replication, refinement and extension from lab to clinical study. Nor will it produce a magic cure. Developing a major new drug takes 10-12 years on average and costs $2.5 billion. Of 10,000 that go through the process, just one will pass the clinical trials and regulatory approvals and reach the market.
That said, the study findings are interesting and encouraging. Oolongs, wonderful in their taste, and healthy in their unique chemistry, reinforce the rapidly accelerating application of molecular biology as a base for new cancer treatments, and contribute to general community health.
Source: Anticancer Research