The Secret Power of Green Tea

by Carole Jackson, Bottom Line Health

Yes, we live in a coffee society. Hellooo Starbucks! But even at that shrine to the roasted bean, you can order lots of different kinds of teas, too. Next time you find yourself there or in another beverage shop, you might want to order yourself a piping hot cup of green tea, which has bountiful health benefits. I was reminded of this once again when I attended a lecture on the topic by Mark Blumenthal, founder and executive director of the nonprofit American Botanical Council.


While green, black and oolong teas all come from the same plant, Camellia sinensis, and theoretically offer similar health benefits, the truth is that the green tea we drink usually is far better for us because it has undergone the least amount of processing. Some types of tea must be fermented — the leaves wilt, and then they are bruised and rolled, which results in the leaves being fully oxidized. But with green tea, the wilting is halted by using dry or steam heat, so the leaves are only dried. This allows them to remain exceptionally rich in natural polyphenol antioxidants known as catechins, Blumenthal explained. The most powerful of these is epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), which acts as a kind of superhero antioxidant in your body to wipe out free radicals that damage genetic material in cells and cause disease.

Blumenthal noted that there actually has been an explosion of research on green tea over the past decade. Blumenthal and I reviewed some of the stand-out findings…

  • Lower heart risk. Numerous studies demonstrate that green tea can lower your risk for cardiovascular disease.
  • Explore green tea’s anticancer potential. A variety of population-based research suggests that green tea protects against cancer — in other words, cancer rates tend to be lower in Asian countries, where people regularly consume the beverage. And in one recent study of more than 500 people in Taiwan, investigators found that people (including both smokers and nonsmokers) who did not drink green tea experienced more than five times the risk for lung cancer compared with participants who drank at least one cup a day.
  • Slim down with a cup of tea. In a clinical trial of more than 100 overweight adults ages 21 to 65, half had about two cups (about 16 ounces) of a catechin-containing beverage that included green tea extract each day while the other half drank a placebo beverage that did not contain green tea. All engaged in 180 minutes weekly of moderate exercise and were asked to eat what they normally eat throughout the study. After 12 weeks, members of the catechin group had shed more abdominal fat and showed greater improvement in their triglyceride (blood fat) levels than the control group. Results were published in the February 2009 Journal of Nutrition.


Following an extensive review of the data on green tea, Blumenthal told me that he believes that most health benefits begin to accrue with about five cups per day. My first reaction was, wow, that’s a lot of tea — but he explained that this refers to five of the five-ounce cups common in Asia, which translates to about three of our Western-style mugs.

Generally speaking, said Blumenthal, the teas with the most nutrients are almost always sold in bulk as “leaves” as opposed to in tea bags. Brewing tea in bags is more convenient for most people, but if you want more bang for your buck, buy the leaves. You can buy either caffeinated or decaffeinated green tea. Some experts think that decaffeinated tea may have fewer nutrients, but Blumenthal doesn’t know of any data that supports this.

To preserve the tea’s antioxidants, store the leaves or bags in a cool, relatively dark area. How you take your tea — such as with milk, sugar or honey — doesn’t appear to affect the health benefits of tea, said Blumenthal. Just be sure to steep the tea for two to five minutes to get the most polyphenols — and if you’re using a bag, dunk it up and down.


Mark Blumenthal, founder and executive director, American Botanical Council (, an independent, nonprofit organization dedicated to disseminating accurate, reliable and responsible information on herbs and medicinal plants. Blumenthal is the editor/publisher of HerbalGram, an international, peer-reviewed quarterly journal.

Memory Loss May Soon Be Reversible

by Carole Jackson, Bottom Line Health

If you can’t remember where you put your glasses or the last name of the couple that you’ve just been introduced to, be sure to remember this one word — guanfacine. It’s the name of a drug, currently used to treat high blood pressure, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and anxiety, that might be able to reverse a major type of short-term memory loss in older people, according to a new study. That’s right — reverse memory loss. Even if an elderly person’s ability to remember has deteriorated over 15 or 20 years, doctors may soon be able to prescribe guanfacine to restore the memory to the way it was during young adulthood. Now, we’re not talking about memory loss due to Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia — we’re talking about the loss of working memory, which occurs in nearly everyone, sometimes starting as early as age 50 and almost certainly after the mid-60s.

I spoke with Amy Arnsten, PhD, the study’s lead researcher and a professor of neurobiology and psychology at Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut, to find out how this drug works.


Prior studies have shown that the faster neurons fire, the better the working memory. What Dr. Arnsten and her colleagues explored is how aging affects the firing of the neurons — and whether guanfacine might help speed up the firing.

For the study, she gathered six rhesus monkeys of three different age groups. Two were “young adults,” two were “middle-aged” and two were “aged.” The monkeys played a game that required them to remember the locations of objects on computer screens. During the game, a tiny electrode that had been painlessly inserted into each monkey’s prefrontal cortex allowed researchers to monitor their brain function. Compared with the young adult monkeys, the neurons in the middle-aged and aged monkeys fired more slowly.

Earlier tests done by Dr. Arnsten’s lab had shown that neurons in the prefrontal cortex of humans and other animals fire more slowly when there’s a buildup there of a substance called cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP). So in this study, researchers injected the monkeys with guanfacine, which is known to inhibit the production of cAMP in the prefrontal cortex. Afterward, neuron firing doubled, on average, in both the middle-aged and aged monkeys, compared with the firing speed of their neurons when they weren’t given the guanfacine injection. These results appeared in the July 27, 2011 issue of Nature.


The question remains: Would guanfacine have the same effect on humans? Dr. Arnsten said that she and her colleagues are optimistic because the prefrontal cortex functions similarly in both species. In fact, researchers at Yale have already begun clinical trials on the effect of guanfacine on the working memory of people age 75 or older (who don’t suffer from dementia or Alzheimer’s). Results of these tests are expected in the fall of 2012.

Meanwhile, there’s the question of whether guanfacine could or should be prescribed now, off-label, for memory loss. Dr. Arnsten thinks that it’s too early to try this — because it hasn’t yet been proven to reduce memory loss in humans. However, if future studies show that it’s a good idea, you can be sure that I’ll remember to tell you about it.


Amy Arnsten, PhD, professor of neurobiology and psychology at Yale School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut. Dr. Arnsten is a member of Yale’s Kavli Institute of Neuroscience, a group that focuses on innovative approaches to study of the human brain.

Ear Tool May Cure Seasonal Affective Disorder

by Carole Jackson, Bottom Line Health

There is a new, offbeat, research-based treatment for seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a.k.a. the wintertime blues, that involves light — and if you’re thinking, well, I’ve heard that one before… I assure you, you have not. This first-of-its-kind tool consists of lights that you shine into your ears, which send a “get going” signal to the photosensitive part of your brain that produces the feel-good chemical serotonin. Two small earbuds are connected by a wire to a lightweight device that looks like an iPod, and just eight to 12 minutes of daily use has been shown to banish SAD symptoms quite effectively.


Common SAD symptoms include depression, anxiety and loss of energy. While the exact mechanism that causes SAD hasn’t been pinned down, it’s known that reduced exposure to natural outdoor sunlight (like during winter months) disrupts the body’s circadian rhythm (the internal body clock) while also decreasing production of serotonin. Scientists believe that both genetic and environmental factors, including living in the Northern hemisphere, put certain people at higher risk than others.

Most people with SAD respond well to a traditional treatment that involves putting your face in front of a special type of light for about an hour a day, but now new research from Finland, presented in Budapest in November at the International Forum for Mood and Anxiety Disorders, reports better results in far less time when light is delivered to the ears. To understand this better, I contacted the study’s lead author, Timo Takala, MD, PhD, chief physician at Finland’s Oulu Deaconess Institute.


Since the brain is sensitive to light — not just the eyes — Dr. Takala and his team wondered if light therapy might work if it was directed at the brain through the ears. He said that we receive sunlight through the ear canals (and actually through the skull bone, too), not just through the visual system. This had led a Finnish manufacturer, Valkee, to develop a device that delivers light therapy directly into the ears via earbuds equipped with light-emitting diodes (LEDs). The light used in the Valkee headset is similar to the kind used in traditional therapy, except that it’s brighter. Dr. Takala’s team was engaged by Valkee to test the device’s efficacy.

Study: In one of the clinical trials, researchers studied 13 men and women who were suffering from SAD. Each participant received light in both ears from a Valkee headset in the morning for eight to 12 minutes at a time, five times a week for four weeks. At the beginning of the study and at the end of each week, participants’ SAD symptoms were self-reported using standard surveys for depression and anxiety.

One major finding: At the end of the study, which took place during the dim months of January and February in Finland, 77% of people achieved “full remission” of depression symptoms and 92% saw at least a 50% reduction. The same statistics were true in terms of anxiety. It’s important to note that this was a small study, there was no control group (so the placebo effect can’t be ruled out), and the ear light therapy was not compared with traditional light therapy. But Dr. Takala said that prior research has shown that traditional light treatment for one hour daily eliminates depression in about 60% of patients.


Dr. Takala thinks that based on this preliminary data, ear light therapy may be more effective and certainly less time-consuming than traditional light therapy because the light used is more intense. He said it’s also more convenient, since you can do other things more easily while wearing earbuds.

In any case, Dr. Takala suggests that people with SAD who want to try the earbuds start with 12 minutes of ear light use 30 to 60 minutes after awakening in the morning five times a week. If symptoms don’t improve after five days, try them for an hour or two before bedtime instead. While it should be mentioned that some users reported headache, nausea and dizziness while using the Valkee headset, Dr. Takala noted that those side effects also can occur in some people just from being exposed to natural sunlight. He added that using the device for shorter periods usually eliminates these side effects while still relieving symptoms. And in case you were wondering, like traditional light therapy devices, the ear light device blocks potentially harmful UV rays.

Right now, the Valkee headset is available only in Europe, the only place where it is approved for use as a medical device. Valkee is looking into getting regulatory approval in the US, and Dr. Takala thinks that within the next year the device may be sold here, too. If you’re interested in buying the product, talk to your doctor first — and bring this article with you, because the device is new and he/she may not know about it yet. You could buy a Valkee headset online through third parties — such as on eBay, where they were recently offered for around $200 to $300. Or if you know a friend going to Europe, you could save on shipping by asking him/her to bring one back for you.

This device does sound like a bright idea — I’m interested to hear the FDA’s take on the product and see if future research confirms these findings.


Timo Takala, MD, PhD, chief physician, Oulu Deaconess Institute, Finland.

The Truth About Keeping Weight Off

by Carole Jackson, Bottom Line Health

Losing weight is hard — and keeping it off can be even harder. In fact, after analyzing 31 long-term studies on the topic, researchers at UCLA found that within five years, up to two-thirds of people on diets regained more weight than they had lost. And you may have heard a lot of buzz about a recent Australian study, because its findings claim to explain one reason why — your hormones can work against you. The depressing implication of the research is that weight loss is nearly impossible to sustain — in particular for those who have been seriously overweight or obese. I was intrigued by this claim but also puzzled because, like me, you’ve surely known people who have lost weight and have kept it off. So how come certain people are able to “overcome” their hormones, while others are not?

For help solving this riddle, I called Michael Aziz, MD. He’s an attending internal medicine physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City and author of The Perfect 10 Diet, in which he discusses 10 hormones that profoundly impact weight loss. (For more information on The Perfect 10 Diet, check out the January 18, 2011 issue of Daily Health News.)


Fifty men and women who were overweight or obese enrolled in the Australian study. They weighed, on average, 210 pounds and were put on an extreme diet for eight weeks, consuming just 500 to 550 calories per day. Dieters who had lost 10% or more of their body weight by week eight were allowed to continue with the study. At the end of week 10, they received individual counseling from a dietician about foods that would help them maintain their weight loss and were encouraged to either start or continue exercising. Throughout the 62-week study, blood samples were taken to monitor assorted hormones.

What the researchers discovered…

  • In terms of weight, after 62 weeks, study participants had each regained about 12 pounds, on average — about half of the pounds that they had lost by week 10.
  • From week 10 through week 62, following the initial weight loss, the levels of hormones that influence hunger changed in a way that increased appetite.

Therefore, the researchers argued, regaining weight is — at least partly — due to hormonal changes. They also reported that this information might help pharmaceutical companies design more effective weight-loss drugs to help dieters regulate their hormones and feel less hungry. To me, there were assorted holes in this logic, including the assumption that drugs are the answer.


Dr. Aziz wasn’t surprised by what the study found, but he pointed out many flaws that may have helped lead to the disheartening results…

  • Participants were on a crash diet. During the weight-loss stage, the people in this Australian study weren’t eating what Dr. Aziz would call “regular” food — they drank diet formulations with chemicals that he said have a negative effect on hormones. Furthermore, he added, consuming so few calories and having such extreme and rapid weight loss likely sent their bodies into a “long-term starvation” mode, in which metabolism slows, calorie burning decreases and hunger rises.
  • The follow-up was weak. Dr. Aziz added that the researchers did not investigate what participants actually ate in the year after their crash diet and failed to find out what (if any) exercise they did. And both of those factors may have affected the results.
  • The study wasn’t long enough. People who carry excessive weight generally need at least a year — oftentimes longer — for hormones to even begin to normalize and rebalance after weight loss even if they eat a healthy diet the whole time. These participants were studied for barely over one year, so it’s no wonder that their hormones were out of whack when measured, Dr. Aziz said.


As you might have guessed (but probably don’t want to hear), Dr. Aziz assured me that there is no quick fix for weight loss. The most effective and healthiest way to shed pounds, he said, is by going back to the basics…

1. Eat real, natural foods and get moving. “Losing weight isn’t just about eating low-calorie foods,” said Dr. Aziz. “Many low-calorie foods are processed, so they aren’t filling. You’ll be starving an hour later and will end up ruining your diet.” Besides being low in calories, foods should also contain filling nutrients, such as fiber and protein. So fill your plate with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and lean meats. Exercise, of course, is also crucial. Aerobic exercises, such as running, brisk walking and bike riding are great because they burn calories, boost your metabolism and have been shown to suppress appetite, he said.

2. Give it time. “Trying to lose a ton of weight in a short amount of time is likely to backfire,” said Dr. Aziz. Instead, be patient, he said — when you let weight loss happen slowly, your hormones will have more time to rebalance and will be less likely to work against you.

While hormones do play a role in weight control, according to Dr. Aziz, what you eat and how much you move around can play an even larger role.


Michael Aziz, MD, attending internal medicine physician, Lenox Hill Hospital, and founder and director, Midtown Integrative Medicine, both in New York City. He is author of The Perfect 10 Diet (Cumberland House).