By Stephen Matthews Assistant
It’s long been hailed as having beneficial health properties, such as aiding weight loss.
But matcha green tea could be used to treat cancer – not just shed the pounds from your stomach, according to new research.
Laboratory trials have revealed the bitter tasting tea can keep cancer cells dormant, by knocking out their energy supply, stopping them from ‘refuelling’.
University of Salford researchers have branded their results ‘striking’, as scientists continue to hunt down cures for cancer.
They assessed the effects of a matcha extract on breast cancer stem cells – which can transform into any tumour cell, divide and renew themselves. The team delved into its effects by using metabolic phenotyping, a scientific process that examines how compounds directly impact cells.
Through that, they found matcha tea extract suppresses the metabolism of mitochondria, considered the powerhouse of each cell.
Professor Michael Lisanti, who led the study, revealed the extract had shifted the cancer cells towards a ‘quiescent metabolic state’. He added: ‘In other words, it [matcha] is preventing the cells from “refuelling” and therefore they [cancer cells] become inactive and die.’
The results were published in the scientific journal Aging. The researchers analysed how matcha strikes the cancer cells in hope of shining further light of its potential cancer-fighting properties.
They uncovered evidence it ‘strongly affected’ the mTOR signalling pathway, known to play a critical role in the metabolism of cancer cells.
The matcha extract also weakened components of a ribosome – which synthesise most of the proteins required by cells for their survival.
Matcha could, in the future, be used in the same way as rapamycin – a drug that switches off the mTOR pathway, the researchers hope.
Professor Lisanti added: ‘Matcha green tea is a natural product used as a dietary supplement with great potential for a range of treatments.
‘The effects on human breast cancer cells were very striking; the active ingredients in matcha having a surgical effect in knocking out certain signalling pathways.
‘Our results are consistent with the idea that matcha may have significant therapeutic potential, mediating the metabolic reprogramming of cancer cells.’
Professor Lisanti and colleagues have previously found that bergamot, the ingredient in Earl Grey tea, kills cancer stem cells.
Matcha is a type of green tea in a powdered form. It originates from Japan, where it’s best known for its use in tea ceremonies.
Martin Ledwick, Cancer Research UK’s head information nurse, said: ‘There is no strong evidence that green tea can help treat cancer in patients.
‘Although this early study shows that matcha green tea can kill breast cancer cells grown in the lab, this is very different to drinking the tea.
‘Other early stage research suggests that extracts from green tea could stop cancer cells from growing.
‘But at the moment the evidence is not strong enough to know this for sure and we need verification from human studies to prove this.’
WHAT IS MATCHA TEA?
Matcha tea is a type of green tea in a powdered form.
It originates from Japan, where it’s best known for its use in tea ceremonies.
Matcha, other green teas and regular (black) tea are actually made from the same plant – Camellia sinensis.
Most green teas are simply made by steaming fresh Camellia leaves, but making matcha tea involves a more complex process.
It’s made only from the fresh leaf tips.
The plants are shaded from the sun between the time when the new leaf shoots start to appear and when they are picked.
The shade is said to increase the content of chlorophyll and other nutrients, including the amino acid L-theanine (more on L-theanine below).
After picking the best leaves, they’re steamed, gently air-dried, and then ground into a fine powder, removing any fibres.