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Tea polyphenols may cause liver toxicity, EU introduces new regulations to limit intake, can we still drink more green tea?

Let me start by saying that green tea is a good thing.

Green tea contains a variety of active ingredients, the most important of which is tea polyphenols (abbreviated as GTP), a complex of multi-hydroxyphenolic chemicals in green tea, consisting of more than 30 phenolic substances, the main component is catechins and their derivatives. Tea polyphenols have antioxidant, anti-radiation, anti-aging, hypolipidemic, hypoglycemic, anti-bacterial and enzyme inhibiting physiological activities.

For this reason, green tea extracts are widely used in medicine, food, household products and almost everywhere, bringing many benefits to people's lives and health. However, green tea, a highly sought-after substance that has been going well, has suddenly been poured out by the European Union, which says that EGCG, the main active ingredient in green tea, is hepatotoxic and can cause liver damage if consumed in excess.

Many people who have been drinking green tea for a long time are unsure and fearful whether they should continue to drink it or give it up. There are also some people who are dismissive of the EU's claims, believing that these foreigners are just too busy, popping a stinky bubble every now and then.

Specifically, the ripple effect was caused by a new Commission Regulation (EU) 2022/2340 of 30 November 022, amending Annex III to Regulation (EC) No 1925/2006 of the European Parliament and of the Council to include green tea extracts containing EGCG in the list of restricted substances.

The new regulations already in force require that all relevant products that do not comply with the regulations will be restricted from sale from 21 June 2023.

This is the first regulation in the world to restrict the active ingredients in green tea products. Some people may think that the green tea of our ancient country has a long history, what does it matter to the EU? In fact, this idea is too small, nowadays the world market has a whole body involved, this new regulation will certainly greatly affect the future export of green tea products in China, but also many enterprises to re-establish the production standards.

So, is this restriction a warning that we should also be careful about drinking green tea in the future, as too much of it can damage our health? Let's analyse.

Green tea is rich in tea polyphenols, this active ingredient accounts for 20-30% of the dry weight of tea leaves, and the main chemical components inside the tea polyphenols are divided into four categories of substances such as catechins, flavonoids, anthocyanins, phenolic acids, etc., in particular, the highest content of catechins, accounting for 60-80% of tea polyphenols.

Within the catechins, there are four substances: epigallocatechin, epigallocatechin, epigallocatechin gallate and epigallocatechin gallate, of which epigallocatechin gallate is the one with the highest EGCG content, accounting for 50-80% of the total catechins, and it is this EGCG that is the most active.

Overall, the most effective component of green tea for human health is EGCG, an active ingredient that accounts for approximately 6 to 20% of the dry weight of the tea leaves. The new EU Regulation (EU) 2022/2340 also restricts EGCG, requiring all tea products to contain less than 800mg of EGCG per day.

This means that all tea products should have a daily intake of less than 800 mg of EGCG per person for the serving size indicated in the instructions.

This conclusion was reached because back in 2015, Norway, Sweden and Denmark had already proposed to the EU that EGCG be included in the restricted use list regarding the potential risks that could be associated with its ingestion. Based on this, the EU requested the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to conduct a safety assessment on green tea catechins.

The EFSA has evaluated in various tests that EGCG in amounts greater than or equal to 800 mg per day can cause an increase in serum transaminases and cause liver damage. As a result, the new EU regulation sets 800 mg as a limit for the amount of EGCG in tea products.

So should we stop drinking green tea in the future, or be careful not to drink too much every day?

In fact, we will be able to see the impact of this restriction on drinking green tea by doing some casual calculations. Based on the calculation that EGCG accounts for about 10% of the dry weight of tea leaves, 1 tael of tea contains about 5 grams of EGCG, or 5,000 mg. This figure seems horrible, and at the 800 mg limit, the EGCG in 1 tael of tea can cause liver damage to 6 people.

However, the reality is that the EGCG content in green tea varies greatly depending on the texture of the tea variety and the production process, and these levels are all extracted levels, which do not all dissolve in the tea brew and, depending on the temperature of the water, can cause the EGCG to lose its activity.

Therefore, the EU and various studies do not give data on how much tea is safe for people to drink on a daily basis. Some people calculate, based on relevant data published by the EU, that to consume 800 mg of EGCG, they would need to consume 50 to 100 g of dried tea leaves completely, or to drink about 34,000 ml of brewed green tea.

If a person has the habit of chewing 1 tael of tea dry every day or drinking 34,000 ml of brewed strong tea broth every day, it is time to get the liver checked and it is likely that liver damage has been caused. But it seems that there are very few or no such people, so not only is there no harm in people keeping up the habit of drinking green tea on a daily basis, there are many benefits.

The important thing to note here is that people who have a penchant for dry chewing tea or drinking too much strong tea throughout the day should moderate. More importantly of course is that people who are in the habit of taking supplements that contain green tea extracts such as catechins or EGCG should read the label carefully to see if they will exceed 800 mg of EGCG per day so that they can guard against the risk.

In summary, the new EU regulations are mainly for green tea extract products and will have little impact on our daily drinking habits.

Post time: Feb-24-2023
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