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Green Tea and Leukemia

May 28, 2009 Written by JP    [Font too small?]

Leukemia is a form of cancer that effects bone marrow, the soft tissue inside the bones that produces blood cells. People with leukemia manufacture large amounts of abnormal white blood cells (leukemia cells). These cells differ from standard white blood cells, which the body uses to combat infections. Leukemia cells overpopulate the marrow, and thereby limit the space in which normal blood cells would typically reside. These changes can lead to anemia, bleeding problems, increased risk of infection, pain and swelling in the lymph nodes and beyond, if the leukemia cells spread.

According to The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society estimates, over 138,000 new cases of leukemia were discovered in the USA in 2008. That accounts for nearly 10% of all the new cases of cancer diagnosed last year. The two most prevalent subtypes of leukemia are: acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), which mostly affects children, and chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) which is the most common form of leukemia in adults.

Chronic lymphocytic leukemia is either an aggressive or slowly progressing variety. Roughly half of those diagnosed with CLL have the aggressive form, which can lead to “early death”. The remainder of CLL patients are often assigned a course of “watchful waiting”. The idea is to wait until the disease progresses to a point where treatment is necessary. The participants in the following study fall into the latter group. In fact, all the study volunteers had not yet received any other form of treatment for CLL.

New research presented by the Mayo Clinic in the Journal of Clinical Oncology offers encouragement for patients with CLL. In the current study, 33 patients with CLL were given a concentrated and purified green tea extract in varying dosages (400mg-2,000mg, twice daily). The green tea extract used in the trial was standardized for a high percentage of EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate), a polyphenol (plant-based antioxidant) contained in green tea that appears to have strong chemoprotective (cancer fighting) activity in the body. (1)

The key findings of the study were as follows: a) all dosages of EGCG tested were well tolerated; b) the number of leukemia cells were reduced in 1/3 of the patients; c) 11 out of 12 participants with enlarged lymph nodes saw a 50% or larger reduction in node size. Because of these promising results, a new trial is already underway that will test a similar group of patients with only the highest dosage of EGCG (2,000 mg, two times a day). I’ll keep an eye out for the results of that study and will report on it once it has been published.

One of the most important aspects of this research is how it came to pass in the first place. In December of 2005, an online article appeared in the journal Leukemia Research. It reported on four patients with CLL that had taken it upon themselves to experiment with EGCG supplements. Their physicians at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine took note of this and documented the resulting positive clinical response. These observations played a big role in establishing the above referenced scientifically controlled study. (2)

You may be wondering why these pioneering patients decided to experiment with green tea. I suspect it’s because they were staying abreast of the most cutting edge research published in a variety of medical journals. They may very well have encountered preliminary experiments that described green tea’s ability to combat leukemia in animals and human cell studies. (3,4,5)

Rate of Leukemia Incidence by State in 2005 (per 100,000 residents) (A)

In addition to laboratory evidence, there’s also been a consistent pattern found in population studies that reveals a protective effect of green tea consumption on leukemia risk. Many of these studies have focused on cultures that tend to drink copious amounts of green tea, such as China. (6,7) But a 2006 survey taken by patients based in New York discovered a similar connection between tea use and a reduction in leukemia occurrence. (8)

This leads me to wonder what the future might bring. One line of investigation that is currently under review at the Mayo Clinic and the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center is a combination of natural herbal extracts. Specifically, researchers are interested in the role that curcumin (a component of the spice turmeric) and EGCG may play in countering leukemia cells. As is often the case in nature, combining more than one healthy ingredient can result in a more powerful (synergistic) effect. (9,10)

This is the way that science works. Small pieces of the puzzle are gathered. Some of them fit and others prove to be useless. The important thing is that patients and scientists work together to help form the whole picture. By doing so, the likelihood and speed by which the mystery of illness is solved can only improve. This is the essence of “integrative medicine”, a philosophy I firmly believe in.

Be well!


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4 Comments & Updates to “Green Tea and Leukemia”

  1. Azam Mansha Says:

    Green tea is the wonder drink of the millennium; it not only has a wonderful flavor but the health benefits of the drink are so extensive that every day they are finding new reasons to drink green tea instead of coffee. Fresh green tea is the best to use because it has the greatest health benefits. Green tea has been used by steeping the leaves in boiling water as far back as 5,000,000 years ago, in India and China.

  2. Mark Kennedy Says:


    This is great information.

    Tea is the second most widely consumer beverage in the world behind water. As such, I think it warrants a lot more research.

    I think one of the big conceptions with tea is that people confuse ‘real’ tea (from the Camellia sinensis plant) and herbals teas. While both have unique health benefits, people need to educate themselves on what kind of tea they drink and what medicinal properties it may contain.

    I am curious if you have found any good research with respect to the relationship between tea and its effect on bad cholesterol levels (LDL)?



  3. JP Says:

    Thanks, Mark.

    There’s been a significant amount of study regarding teas effect on cholesterol. Here are a few recent studies that suggest a benefit with regard to LDL reduction and the prevention of LDL oxidation (which is thought to contribute to arterial plaque formation).





    Certain supplements include a black tea extract, consisting of a group of phytochemicals called ‘theaflavins’, that are intended to help manage cholesterol levels.

    Be well!


  4. Anonymous Says:

    I think green tea is good for lot of diseases. I will make sure to go for it. Thanks for the info.

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