Green Tea May Ameliorate Brain Drain Linked to Western Diets

by Christopher Bergland

The EGCG in green tea may protect the brain from high-fat, high-fructose diets.

A molecular compound in green tea called Epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG) appears to have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and neuroprotective properties that may ameliorate memory impairment associated with a high-fat, high-fructose diet (HFFD), according to a new study on mice. This first-of-its-kind research on EGCG was published online before print July 24 by the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology in The FASEB Journal. 

“Many reports, anecdotal and to some extent research-based, are now greatly strengthened by this more penetrating study,” Thoru Pederson, UMass Medical School professor of cell biology and professor of biochemistry & molecular pharmacology, and the editor-in-chief of FASEB said in a statement.

Before diving into the details of the latest green tea study, there is an important disclaimer: As a public health advocate and science-based wellness writer, I am always cautious when reporting about any new research that might be misinterpreted as implying that a specific food, beverage, or supplement is some type of “magic elixir” for the body, mind, and/or brain.

We all know that dietary fads will come and go. And, when it comes to any type of nutritional advice, there tend to be lots of strong opinions supported by very little empirical evidence. All too often, dietary research is funded by industry lobbyists with a profit motive and should be taken with a grain of salt. Of course, radically changing your diet based on a singular scientific study or societal trends—such as strictly eating “gluten-free” (if you don’t have celiac disease)—is never a good idea.

Clearly, human studies on the potential neuroprotective benefits of EGCG and green tea are necessary before drawing any ironclad conclusions or giving prescriptive dietary advice. Additionally, if EGCG does prove to ameliorate the brain drain of a Western diet in humans, please use common sense and don’t misconstrue this discovery as a license to drink copious amounts of green tea and then pig out on junk food.

All that being said, the new green tea study by researchers at the College of Food Science and Engineering, Northwest A&F University, in Yangling, China seems noteworthy. When designing this study, Xuebo Liu and colleagues were curious to investigate the previously unexplored protective effects of EGCG treatment on insulin resistance and memory impairment in response to Western (HFFD) diets.

For this experiment, Liu et al. randomly assigned young mice to one of 3 groups that were each fed different diets: (1) Control group, (2) HFFD group, and (3) HFFD plus EGCG group. Then, mice were tested on a wide range of parameters including a water maze memory test. Most notably, consuming EGCG appeared to prevent HFFD-elicited memory impairment and neuronal loss (also known as “brain drain”) in mice consuming a high-fat, high-fructose diet.

Consistent with these results, the researchers also found that EGCG attenuated HFFD-induced neuronal damage. In the abstract of this study, the researchers conclude “To our knowledge, this study is the first to provide compelling evidence that the nutritional compound EGCG has the potential to ameliorate HFFD-triggered learning and memory loss.”

These findings suggest that there may be heretofore unknown cognitive benefits to be gained from EGCG, which is green tea’s most biologically active component. Green tea ceremonies are an ancient tradition in many cultures and green tea is the second most widely consumed beverage in the world (after water). But green tea isn’t part of a typical Western diet, which tends to be high in fat and fructose. Please stay tuned for more clinical research and human studies on the possible brain benefits of EGCG.

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