Green Tea Helpful for Certain Leukemia

Healthnotes Newswire (January 12, 2006)—People with chronic lymphocytic leukemia might fare better if they drink green tea or take green tea extract as a supplement, according to a report in Leukemia Research (2005, Nov 30 [E-pub ahead of print]).

Leukemia is a cancer involving white blood cells and the cells that produce them in the bone marrow and lymph tissues. It is characterized by excessive numbers of white blood cells and often low numbers of red blood cells. In addition to being too numerous, the cancerous white blood cells do not function properly. Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) is a type of leukemia marked by high levels of white cells known as lymphocytes and enlargement of lymph nodes. CLL typically affects older people and progresses slowly, sometimes over years. A person with CLL will often have no symptoms other than intermittent fatigue. After several years, however, the symptoms increase and the disease ultimately causes death. There is no effective treatment for CLL.

Green tea is made from the fresh or dried leaves of the plant Camellia sinensis. Green tea has been an important part of Chinese culture for centuries as both an herbal medicine and a popular beverage. Rich in polyphenols, potent antioxidant plant chemicals, a number of studies have found that green tea can kill cancer cells in a test tube and might have anticancer effects in humans. The most widely studied of the green tea polyphenols are the catechins, and of these, epigallocatechin gallate appears to be the strongest.

The current report focused on four women between ages 50 and 60 who were being monitored but not treated for CLL. Based on reports in popular literature, they each made individual decisions to use green tea and chose the form and amount without guidance from healthcare providers.

In the first case, a woman who had had CLL for 33 months began using a green tea supplement providing 315 mg of polyphenols twice per day. After one year, her most enlarged lymph nodes were 50% smaller and other enlarged lymph nodes had normalized.

The second case involved a woman who had been diagnosed with a type of lymphoma that is similar to CLL 17 months prior to beginning green tea. She used the tea as a beverage, drinking one cup made with two green tea bags per day. The enlargement of her lymph nodes decreased 50% in 10 months.

The third woman was more than five years past her CLL diagnosis when she began using a green tea patch on her skin, providing 300 mg of polyphenols per day, and drinking three cups of green tea per day, each made from a packet containing 300 mg of polyphenols. She stopped using the patch after one month but continued drinking the tea. After 15 months of drinking green tea, her lab tests had improved, and her disease had not progressed.

The final case was a woman who had been diagnosed with CLL five years prior. When a lab test showed a worsening of the disease, she began drinking eight cups of green tea per day. One week later, lab tests already showed improvement; lab tests after four and a half months showed further improvement.

The four cases highlighted in this report add to the evidence that green tea might be useful in the treatment of CLL. Clinical trials are needed to confirm these observations, and further research should be done to determine the form and amount of green tea needed to achieve the greatest benefit in people with various cancers.

Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice in Quechee, VT, and does extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.

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