A common antioxidant found in green tea might delay or prevent the onset of type 1 diabetes. The finding was an unexpected bi-product of a study focusing on Sjogren’s syndrome, a condition associated with mouth and eye dryness due to damaged moisture glands. “Our study focused on Sjogren’s syndrome, so learning that EGCG also can prevent and delay insulin-dependent type 1 diabetes was a big surprise,” says researcher Dr. Stephen Hsu.
Green tea is thought to have numerous health benefits, supported by an abundance of recent studies. The list of benefits, some supported more than others, includes increased insulin sensitivity (associated with type 2 diabetes), prevention of neurodegenerative diseases (such as Alzheimer’s disease), help in regulating LDL (bad cholesterol) levels, and prevention of cancer. Many of these proposed benefits are thought to be a result of high antioxidant contents found in green teas, which kill free radicals and limit cellular damage. The most common antioxidant found in green tea is known as EGCG, which was of primary focus in the current study.
Tests were performed on mice with genes associated with type 1 diabetes and Sjogren’s syndrome, which are both incurable autoimmune diseases. “Our study is significant because we used a mouse model with the genetic defects that cause symptoms similar to human type 1 diabetes and Sjogren’s syndrome, so the immune cells attack the pancreas and salivary glands until they are no longer functional,” says Dr. Hsu.
As for conclusions regarding the initial focus of the study, it was found that “EGCG modulates several important genes, so it suppresses the abnormality at the molecular level in the salivary gland. It also significantly lowered the serum autoantibodies, reducing the severity of Sjogren’s syndrome-like symptoms.” In other words, EGCG delayed the onset, or reduced the harmful effects of Sjogren’s syndrome.
The effect of EGCG on type 1 diabetes was equally positive. After 16 weeks, mice drinking EGCG as opposed to water, were more than 6 times less likely to have type 1 diabetes, and 4.2 times less likely after 22 weeks. This represents both the staving off of the disease, and the potential prevention.
Green tea has no known side-effects, and large consumers are some of the most healthful people in the world (namely the Japanese). The varied potential health benefits, in addition to the above specifics associated with preventing type 1 diabetes, makes the substance highly recommendable.
Source: Defeat Diabetes Foundation: Hsu, Stephen. Hinely, Paula. Medical College of Georgia news release. October 2008.