Matcha: Benefits, Side Effects, and Preparations

Matcha tea powder
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Matcha tea is more than just a trendy beverage. It is part of many Asian cultures, dating back to the Tang dynasty in China (from 618 to 907). Beyond its use in traditional ceremonies and skyrocketing popularity in Western culture, matcha offers an array of potential health benefits from the promotion of weight loss to the avoidance of many aging-related diseases.

What Is Matcha?

Matcha comes from the same plant as green tea, known as Camellia sinensis. However, unlike green tea, the farmers will cover the plant for 20 to 30 days before harvesting. The absence of light increases the production of chlorophyll, the green pigment in plants rich in amino acids, vitamins, and antioxidants. The harvested leaves are then dried and ground into a fine powder.

The farming technique not only gives matcha its vibrant green color, but it is also believed to imbue it with a variety of unique health benefits. These include:

  • Promoting alertness, energy, and memory
  • Encouraging weight loss
  • Improving liver function
  • Preventing cardiovascular disease and cancer

How to Prepare

Matcha tea can be found today in many neighborhood grocery stores. Higher grade matcha can usually be sourced online or at higher-end specialty food retailers. Gourmands will search out ceremonial, first-harvest grade teas. Other high-grade brands are described as latte grade (first harvest) and culinary grade (premium second harvest).

Matcha tea is easily made by sifting 1 to 2 teaspoons of matcha powder into a cup, adding 2 fluid ounces (¼ cup) of hot water, and mixing with a bamboo whisk. Bamboo whisks are available at specialty tea or Japanese stores.

Other people enjoy adding matcha to specialty smoothies, swirling it into yogurt, baking it into a green tea pound cake, or creating a matcha latte with steamed milk.

Green tea extracts, concentrates, and supplements can also be found online or at health food stores.

Caffeine Content

Because matcha is made from crushed whole leaves, the caffeine content is higher than that of bagged tea. In fact, matcha tea can deliver as much as 70 milligrams of caffeine per cup, compared to the 95 milligrams in a cup of coffee.

The caffeine content can vary by the type, grade, and quality of matcha tea, as well as the preparation method. Thick koicha matcha tea, for example, uses twice the amount of matcha per cup. Higher-grade matcha teas tend to be finer and pack more caffeine per teaspoon.

Health Benefits

There has not been a lot of research correlating the use of matcha to any of the above-listed benefits. Most of the research is either small, anecdotal, or supported by epidemiological (population-based) evidence. Some of it is strong; others are less so.

Improved Energy and Cognition

Certainly one of the more viable claims is that matcha can boost energy. This is because a teaspoon of matcha powder will provide anywhere from 35 to 70 milligrams of caffeine, depending on the quality of the tea. That's roughly half the amount of caffeine as a cup of coffee and about the same amount as a shot of espresso.

Not only is caffeine known to give you a burst of energy, but it can improve your cognition, concentration, and mental function.

A 2012 study from Japan reported that 2 grams of matcha given daily for two months helped improve brain function in elderly people, including attention spans, reaction times, and memory.

Matcha contains the amino acid L-theanine. L-theanine has a calming effect that can aid with sleep and reduce anxiety. It is these properties that appear to temper the jitteriness and irritability that many people experience with caffeine. In doing so, you can get the energy boost with less impact on your mood.

Weight Loss

Despite claims to the contrary, the benefits of matcha on weight loss remain unclear. It has been suggested that matcha can speed up your metabolism and burn calories faster if consumed with meals.

With that said, its ability to boost metabolism seems no more robust that coffee, and coffee has never been considered a part of a weight loss plan.

A small study conducted in 2018 reported that matcha improved oxygen exchange and fat burning during a brisk 30-minute walk. However, the effect was mild at best and wasn't consider substantial enough to trigger additional weight loss.

Improved Liver Function

Matcha appears to have a protective effect liver, reducing many of the enzymes associated with liver function.

While some of the evidence is contradictory, a 2016 study published in the International Journal of Preventive Medicine reported that a green tea extract, given daily for 12 weeks, caused a significant drop in the alanine aminotransferase (ALT) and aspartate aminotransferase (AST) of people with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. (Elevated ALTs and ASTs are both suggestive of disease progression.)

On the flip side, a 2017 study from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine showed the opposite effect. Among the 1,021 women in the double-blind study, those given a green tea extract experienced an increase in their ALT and AST after 12 months. Just over 5 percent of these women experienced severe abnormalities of their liver enzymes.

The causes of these differences remain unclear.

Disease Prevention

One of the biggest perks of matcha tea is an organic compound known as epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG). EBCG belongs to a class of compounds known as catechins that function as antioxidants, ridding the body of free radicals that contribute to cell damage and the development of aging-related disorders like heart disease, osteoarthritis, and even cancer.

Matcha is believed to have well over 100 times the amount of catechin by volume and over four times the antioxidants than other types of green tea.

While the numbers like these are impressive, it's hard to say how much matcha can actually reduce disease risk. At present, it is more presumed that real.

A 2008 study from Japan involving 40,530 people in the Miyagi prefecture suggested a decline in cardiovascular disease risk in tandem with increases in the consumption of green tea or green tea extracts. The epidemiological findings were limited by the fact that other factors were not taken into account, including a history of weight and smoking.

Similarly, most of the evidence regarding EGCG's benefits in cancer prevention is based either on epidemiological research, animal research, or test tube studies. Sill, the evidence is quite compelling.

One of the most commonly cited studies, conducted in Japan in 2000, revealed that drinking 10 4-ounce cups of green tea per day delayed the onset of cancer in women by 7.3 years.

By contrast, the benefits of green tea in treating cancer or precancer or cancer are minimal to nil. When compared to chemotherapy drugs like Adriamycin (doxorubicin), green tea is roughly 250 times less effective in impeding cancer cell growth.

Side Effects

Matcha is considered safe with few side effects. However, the overconsumption of green tea may cause headaches, insomnia, nervousness, diarrhea, rapid heartbeat, tremor, irritability, heartburn, and ringing in the ear, particularly those with severe caffeine sensitivity.

Green tea may also reduce the absorption of iron from food. Speak with your doctor if you have been prescribed iron supplements or have been diagnosed with iron deficiency.

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