Researchers at the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University have discovered that one of the beneficial compounds found in green tea has a powerful ability to fight autoimmune disease.
They found that the compound increases the number of ‘regulatory T cells’ that play a key role in immune function.
This may be one of the underlying mechanisms for the health benefits of green tea, which has attracted wide interest for its ability to help control inflammation, improve immune function and prevent cancer.
Though pharmaceutical drugs are available that perform similar roles and have been the subject of much research, they have problems with toxicity. A natural food product might provide a long-term, sustainable way to accomplish this same goal without toxicity, said the researchers.
“This appears to be a natural, plant-derived compound that can affect the number of regulatory T cells, and in the process improve immune function,” said Emily Ho, an LPI principal investigator and associate professor in the OSU department of nutrition and exercise sciences.
“When fully understood, this could provide an easy and safe way to help control autoimmune problems and address various diseases,” she said.
In this study, OSU scientists did experiments with a compound in green tea, a polyphenol called EGCG, which is believed to be responsible for much of its health benefits and has both anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer characteristics.
They found it could cause a higher production of regulatory T cells. Its effects were not as potent as some of those produced by prescription drugs, but it also had few concerns about long-term use or toxicity.
“EGCG may have health benefits through an epigenetic mechanism, meaning we aren’t changing the underlying DNA codes, but just influencing what gets expressed, what cells get turned on,” Ho said. “And we may be able to do this with a simple, whole-food approach.”
The findings have been published in Immunology Letters.