Green tea shows small effect on cholesterol

Green tea, in a cup or a capsule, may shave off a few points of your “bad” cholesterol, a new research review suggests.

Looking at 20 past clinical trials, researchers found that green tea trimmed 5 to 6 points more from people’s total cholesterol and “bad” LDL cholesterol levels than dummy capsules or other inactive treatments.

The trials tested either green tea itself or capsules containing green-tea compounds called catechins, which are thought to decrease cholesterol absorption in the gut.

In general, green tea in a cup was more consistently effective than capsules. But the benefits overall were fairly small.

“The analysis suggests there is only a modest effect of green tea on cholesterol levels,” said senior researcher Olivia J. Phung, an assistant professor of pharmacy at Western University of Health Sciences in Pomona, California.

LDL cholesterol is considered optimal when it is below 100 milligrams per deciliter, whereas 160 mg/dL or more is considered high.

The researchers found no strong evidence that green tea boosted “good” HDL cholesterol, or cut triglycerides, another type of blood fat. So for people who have High cholesterol, green tea is no replacement for medication, Phung told Reuters Health in an email.

“If someone is already taking medication for their cholesterol,” she said, “they should stick with it and not try to trade it for green tea - either capsules or the beverage.”

On the other hand, Phung noted, adding green tea to your diet could be one way to further improve your cholesterol numbers.

But green tea is not a dietary magic bullet. To keep your cholesterol in check, experts recommend getting plenty of high-fiber grains, fruits and vegetables, and limiting saturated fat (from meat and full-fat dairy) in favor of “good” fats from fish and vegetable oils.

A good number of clinical trials have examined whether green tea, or green tea extracts, can benefit people’s cholesterol levels. But they have come to mixed conclusions. One problem is that most of those trials have been small, which makes the findings less reliable.

So for their study, published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, Phung’s team pooled the results of 20 clinical trials that involved a total of 1,415 adults.

In all of the trials, participants were randomly assigned to either use green tea everyday (as a beverage or capsule) or be part of “control” groups that took placebo capsules, drank a low-catechin tea or downed water in lieu of tea.

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