Green Tea May Zap Cancer Cells In Your Mouth

Molly Shea
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Sipping green tea may do more than just whittle your waistline. (Photo: Getty Images)

A new Pennsylvania State University study published in Molecular Nutrition and Food Research found that green tea might kill oral cancer cells — and boost healthy cells.

This is the latest research to tap green tea as a potential cancer-fighter.

Oral cancer and green tea were first linked in a 2002 study that found that green tea could induce cancer cell death, and suggested “regular consumption of green tea could be beneficial in the prevention of oral cancer.” In these latest findings, the study authors determined that a compound in green tea triggers a process in the cancerous cells’ mitochondria that leads to early cell death.

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The research team grew cancerous oral cells and normal oral cells, and exposed both to epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), a compound found in green tea. “We designed the study to use concentrations of EGCG that are achievable in the oral cavity, and we looked at normal, oral leukoplakia (a precancerous lesion), and oral cancer cells to get an idea of what the effect of EGCG would be on different stages in the oral cancer development process,” study author Joshua Lambert, MD, tells Yahoo Health.

The kicker: EGCG killed only the cancerous cells, leaving the non-cancerous cells alone.

In fact, study authors say, there were indications that ECGC actually strengthened normal cells’ defense mechanisms. Still, Lambert cautions, “since there is limited human clinical data, it is premature to say that green tea can prevent oral cancer. That being said, data from human epidemiological and animal model studies are promising and indicate that green tea and EGCG have a preventive effect.”

How will these new findings be put to action?

“If future human clinical trials are positive,” says Lambert, “I think green tea could be useful in preventing the development of oral cancer, as well as preventing recurrence in people that have had surgical or chemotherapy treatments. I do not think green tea will become a first line treatment to cure oral cancer patients."

Treatment for oral cancer, which kills over 8,000 Americans per year and affects more than 43,000, is currently limited to a combination of chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation. While traditional chemotherapy can cause hair loss and muscular atrophy, green tea consumption has few side effects.

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