Mayo Clinic researchers have discovered that a component in green tea helps kill cells of the most common leukemia in the United States.
The chemical, epigallocatechin galeate (EGCG), was found more than two thirds of 42 patients in the trial showed a significant reduction in the number of leukaemia cells in their blood or other signs the cancer was not spreading.
The research using laboratory cell cultures shows that a component of green tea known as epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG) [epi-gallo-cat-ekin-3-gal-ate] helps kill leukemia cells by interrupting the communication signals they need to survive. The findings are reported in an early electronic article in the journal Blood.
The leukemia cells studied were from patients with B-cell chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) — most often diagnosed in patients in their mid-to-late 60s. Currently, there is no cure for CLL, though chemotherapy is administered in the most severe cases. The Mayo Clinic study, led by Neil E. Kay, M.D., shows that green tea’s EGCG interrupted survival signals, prompting leukemia cells to die in eight of 10 patient samples tested in the laboratory.
Says Dr. Kay: “We’re continuing to look for therapeutic agents that are nontoxic to the patient but kill cancer cells, and this finding with EGCG is an excellent start. Understanding this mechanism and getting these positive early results gives us a lot to work with in terms of offering patients with this disease more effective, easily tolerated therapies earlier.”
Legend has it that the Chinese Emperor Shen Nung discovered tea around 2737 B.C.E. He was known as the Divine Healer, and that title is almost all one needs to know about why legends, right or wrong, persist. Green tea has come down through the ages, trailing behind it mythic tales of health benefits from “cheering the heart” to reducing inflammation, from improving bladder function to treating tumors.
Kit Lee, a hematology research technician at Mayo Clinic remembers drinking it on his family’s farm in Perak, Malaysia. Perak is near the town of Gopeng, where tradition holds that drinking green tea after a heavy meal aids digestion. It wasn’t green tea that brought Lee from Malaysia to Mayo Clinic, but green tea turned out to be a discovery turning point for him, for fellow researchers, Neil E. Kay, M.D. and Tait Shanafelt, M.D., and potentially for thousands of patients with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia or CLL.