Volume 5  Number 3  May 26, 2008
Second Opinions

On Teas and the Great Green Tea Revolution

Americans are apt to be unduly interested in what average opinion
believes average opinion to be. – J.M Keynes

The public will believe anything, so long as it is not founded on truth. – Edith Sitwell

Tea is an infusion made by soaking processed leaves, buds, or twigs of the tea bush, Camellia sinensis in hot water. It is one of the most widely-consumed beverages in the world, second only to water. Tea is a natural source of the amino acid l-theonine, caffeine and theobromine, and antioxidant catechins (often referred to as tannins). The four basic types of true tea are black tea, oolong tea, green tea, and white tea; the main differences being green and white tea are un-wilted and unoxidized-i.e. dried quickly after picking, while black and oolong are partially or fully oxidized by being allowed to dry and then crushed and heated, or "roasted". Did you know that the term "herbal tea" is a misnomer, and refers to infusions of fruit or herbs that contain no actual tea or Camellia sinensis?

Tea drinking is an important social event in many societies, and sharing the drink has a unifying and profound cultural value in the Middle and Far East, Africa, and throughout the world. Jane Higden, a research associate with the Linus Pauling Institute, states at "Although numerous observational studies have examined the relationships between tea consumption and the risks of cardiovascular disease and cancer, there is no conclusive evidence that intake of tea are protective in humans." (My emhasis.) See this link. As a tea drinker, if not tea lover, I am merely emphasizing "new" formulations and differing brand names of green tea have no proven health benefits and do not "burn calories" or perform other health miracles as claimed, nor is there any difference in supposed health benefits between green or black tea.

An FDA announcement nixed cardiovascular health claims of green tea by a Japanese company, nor has any other research confirmed tea's purported anti-oxidant-rich healing powers. Yet millions are feeling the heat from the latest media blitz, The Great Green Tea explosion, appearing in print and TV. Quotes continue month after month in millions of spam mail as well as interviews featured on ads and interviews from CBS to CNN. Virtually unavailable in supermarkets 10 years ago, green tea received another big push three years ago from Starbucks when they introduced their green tea Frappuccino in the United States. "100 times more effective than vitamin C and 25 times better than vitamin E," Dr. Perricone declared on Oprah. "(lose) 10 pounds in six weeks... Read all about the new drink that will Burn Calories." Coca Cola and Nestlé makers of Nestea jumped on the green tea bandwagon, launching Enviga in November 2006. This (miraculous?) beverage consists of carbonated water, calcium, concentrated green tea extract, various "natural flavors," and ingredients typically found in diet soda, such as caffeine (three diet colas' worth), phosphoric acid, and artificial sweeteners. The companies say its green tea extracts are high in an antioxidant called epigallocatechin gallate, or EGCG, said by The American Institute for Cancer Research to "short-circuit" cancer development.

A USDA chart on green tea enumerates antioxidants it contains, such as flavenoids, polyphenols, thearubigins, epicatechins, and catechins. These antioxidant compounds, described in my newsletter, are hailed by enthusiasts and green tea marketers as "more than 10-100 times more potent than in black tea," and better and more potent than antioxidants present in fruits and veggies. Scattered among 24 million sites on a Google search of "green tea", you can discover ways to treat Alzheimer's, prevent cancer (tell that to Asians with some of the highest rates of esophageal and gastric cancer in the world), and achieve robust health and long life.

Green tea is not the first product to move from health foods stores into the supermarket mainstream thanks to its alluringly seductive image. Prefigured in the New Age niche by tofu, soy and rice-based milk, there's "Chai," a spiced milk tea from India (not even trademarked, most likely because chai or cha is the Chinese, Persian, Hindi, Russian, Arabic, Bengali, Tibetan, Greek, Punjab, Slovak, etc for the English word tea.)

Meanwhile, the Connecticut Attorney General, Richard Blumenthal last February said that his office was investigating claims by Coca-Cola and Nestlé that their new drink, Enviga, can burn calories. Blumenthal who describes their claims as "voodoo nutrition," said he gave Beverage Partners Worldwide, a joint venture of Coca-Cola and Nestlé a week to submit proof to support its claim that consumers who drink its carbonated green tea beverage will burn more calories than the drink contains.

Since the Connecticut lawsuit, The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) filed in U.S. District Court in New Jersey, formal notification on Coke and Nestlé and their partnership, Beverage Partners Worldwide that they would be sued if they continued to use the unsubstantiated calorie-burning and weight-loss claims on Enviga labels and ads. However, the company indicated publicly and privately that it had no plans to change the claims.

If you go to the Enviga website you'll see that Coke and Nestlé indeed finally responded to pressure by putting on the bottom of their site the following clever disclaimer in small letters: "While every can contains 5 calories, drinking 3 cans a day of Enviga has been shown to increase metabolism to burn 60-100 calories in healthy normal weight 18-35 year olds. Individual results may vary. Weight loss requires a reduced calorie diet and regular exercise."

With Enviga costing between $1.29 and $1.49 per can, 3 cans a day comes to $1,500 a year. As to the disclaimer, right under the word Enviga on any can of the three flavors, Tea, Berry, or Pomegranate, the words "The Calorie Burner" appear.

Martin F. Sturman, MD, FACP

Copyright 2008, Mathemedics, Inc.

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