If you've ever found yourself caught in a conversation about superfoods—something that happens to me way more frequently than I'd like to admit—there's a good chance someone in the crowd will mention the many benefits of green tea. And though it's easy to want to wave away green tea benefits as popular science with no basis in reality or fact, there's actually a good bit of research that backs up the health benefits of green tea. So if you've ever found yourself wondering "why is green tea healthy?" wonder no more. Here are four green tea health benefits that might even convince you to switch from coffee to green tea for good.
Fight Free Radicals
The most fake-sounding health benefit of green tea is its ability to fight off free radicals, but that's a real thing that real scientists and doctors and biologists talk about. Green tea is a rich dietary source of flavonoids—and yes, "flavonoids" sound like a word made up by that scientist on The Simpsons. But they're actually a type of plant chemical that's been associated with the health benefits of many fruits and vegetables, and, in this case, tea leaves.
Favonoids are probably better known as antioxidants, and these antioxidants, sometimes referred to as catechins, are the reason green tea is so healthy. Antioxidants, according to an explanation from the National Institutes of Health, "are man-made or natural substances that may prevent or delay some types of cell damage." Free radicals, on the other hand, are basically chemicals that can damage cells or genetic material, according to a report from the Harvard School of Public Health.
The benefit of ingesting lots of natural antioxidants, then, is that it fights off those free radicals that are trying to destroy a cell's DNA structure. This is important, even if it sounds like science fiction, because damage by free radicals can be, "involved in the early stages of artery-clogging atherosclerosis and may contribute to cancer, vision loss, and a host of other chronic conditions," according to HSPH. So drinking green tea regularly can help you actually prevent damage on a cellular level, which is pretty cool.
Reduce Risk of Cardiovascular Disease
Those flavonoids can do more than fight off free radicals, though. According to a 2010 study published in the journal Molecular Aspects of Medicine, those flavonoids in tea are associated with better heart health. As the researchers explain, "Tea intake and intake of flavonoids found in tea have been associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease."
There's other research to back that assertion up. A study of 40,530 Japanese adults, published in the medical journal JAMA in 2006, found that participants who drank five or more cups of green tea per day had a 26 percent lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease, like heart attack or stroke, compared to those who drank less than one cup of green tea per day. So drink up and keep drinking if you want to keep that heart healthy.
Another heart-related benefit of drinking green tea is that it lowers cholesterol. This was demonstrated in a 2003 study of 240 men and women in China with high levels of cholesterol, published in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine. The researchers found that the antioxidants in green tea, specifically theaflavin, lowered cholesterol levels by 11 percent over the course of 12 weeks. There is some evidence that drinking green tea won't decrease cholesterol levels as drastically as this study demonstrated, and the real effect is relatively minimal, but grabbing a hot cup of green tea is still a healthy choice.
Clear and Brighten Skin
There are benefits to green tea even if you're not drinking it. As DIY skincare and beauty blogger Marie Rayma told Extra Crispy last year, the antioxidants in green tea, "tackle free radicals caused by UV exposure, helping reduce and even prevent damage." She continued, "Green tea is also anti-inflammatory, so it can help with redness in the complexion." Those catechins we just talked about, that are responsible for all of the other health benefits of green tea, "can help prevent acne, and the vitamin C & E content can help brighten your complexion and encourage healing." In other words, go HAM and slather all the green tea masks and toners on your body as you please. Your skin—and body—will thank you.