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The Key to Healthy Aging: Can White Tea Prevent Cancer?

by Cindy Gray

Many people take low-dose aspirin, ibuprofen or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to promote healthy aging, as well as prevent cancer and heart disease. However, new research shows that white tea may have just as many cancer-prevention benefits without the harmful side effects of these over-the-counter drugs.

Is white tea the key to healthy aging?Green tea has been widely hailed as an excellent health drink due to its high levels of polyphenol antioxidants. It is even more beneficial than black tea because white tea undergoes less processing, keeping more of those important catechins and nutrients intact from tea bush to teacup.

Scientists followed the logic of this process and decided to investigate the less well-known white tea which has the least processing of all teas.

Differences Between Black Tea, Green Tea, White Tea and Herbal Tea

All teas begin as leaves on the tea bushes of the camellia sinensis family. Once picked, the leaves quickly begin to wilt and oxidize as the leaves dry and are broken down by natural enzymes. Once the leaves are fully oxidized and sufficiently dark for black tea, heating is applied to stop the enzyme process.

Green tea is made much faster from non-wilted green tea leaves which are processed before they have time to oxidize and ferment. 

White tea is made from the youngest leaves and buds of the tea bush which are covered in fine silvery down, giving the leaves a white appearance. These buds are subjected to dry heat or steam to quickly halt oxidation and then dried and made into white tea.

Herbal teas are infusions of fruit, herbs and flowers and do not have the antioxidant properties or catechins found in traditional tea.

All tea leaves must be brewed in water that has reached the boiling point in order to release the flavor along with the polyphenols, alkaloids, caffeine, amino acids, proteins and trace elements contained in a teaspoonful of leaves. Black tea has lower levels of these than green tea, but white tea has the highest concentrations of all.

Polyphenols in Tea

The main polyphenols in tea are known as EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate). These plant-sourced antioxidants have powerful free-radical scavenging activity, protect cells from free-radical damage and have cancer-fighting properties.

In addition, green teas have a detoxifying effect, cleansing the body of harmful toxins while protecting against tumor development and colon cancer.

Related: Beware of Foods that Accelerate Aging

Research has shown that tea catechins inhibit tumor cell proliferation and encourage natural cell death through a process called apoptosis. They slow angiogenesis of cells and reduce tumor cell invasiveness. Polyphenols in tea also strengthen the immune system and protect against UVB radiation from the sun.

Comparative Studies on White Tea

A Study at the University of Malaya looked at the effects of white tea on all types of cells. It was found to inhibit to spread of colorectal cancer cells (HT-29) and increased caspase-3, -8, and -9 activity in the cells. The white tea extract also protected normal cells from DNA damage making it a powerful yet inexpensive way to protect the body.

Laboratory tests on bacteria at Oregon State University (OSU) showed that white tea inhibited cancer cell mutations even more efficiently than green tea. This suggests that white tea is even more effective in fighting cancer cells than green tea.

A further study by an OSU researcher used tea on mice that were genetically predisposed to developing intestinal tumors. Results showed that mice receiving no tea treatment developed 30 tumors over a 12 week study compared to 17 tumors in mice consuming green tea and 13 tumors in mice given white tea. However, by combining white tea and the NSAID sulindac, the tumor rate dropped to just six. The study concluded that tea, particularly white tea, can potentially block some cancers and help prevent intestinal cancer with just three mugs of tea a day.

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