Green Tea’s Anti-Cancer Agent Revealed

News Note

By Lara Evans Bracciante

Originally published in Massage & Bodywork magazine, June/July 2005.

A compound in green tea has been singled out by Spanish and British researchers for its ability to fight certain types of cancer. The active agent, epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), is found in high concentrations of green tea. EGCG has long been known as an anti-cancer beverage, but it wasn’t understood exactly why. Now, researchers have discovered that EGCG binds to and inhibits the proliferation of an enzyme called dihydrofolate reductase (DHFR), which is found in both healthy and cancerous cells and appears to contribute to cancer cell growth.

Researchers first decided to specifically study EGCG when they noticed its structure was similar to the anti-cancer drug methotrexate, which also targets DHFR. Methotrexate works in the same way, binding to DHFR. However, the green tea compound doesn’t bind as tightly to DHFR as does methotrexate. Consequently, researchers speculate that its side effects could be less severe than those of the drug. It is possible EGCG will be the basis for new anti-cancer drugs.

A few words of caution for women of child-bearing age: Folic acid is given to conceiving and pregnant women to ensure healthy levels of DHFR, necessary in the prevention of spina bifida. This new finding could explain why women who consume large amounts of green tea early in their pregnancy are at higher risk for birth defects, because the EGCG in the tea is inhibiting the necessary DHFR.