Is Green Tea A Powerful Nootropic?
Green Tea Is Often Found In Nootropic Supplements – Should It Be There?
Green tea seems to have the best PR team in the world. Over the past two decades, this stuff has gone from something you only drink in obscure Chinese restaurants to something found in every health supplement, every diet advice book, and in practically every kitchen in the world.
Once found only in specialty tea shops in the Western world, it is now sold in every supermarket. It is a familiar part of our life now. Not everybody will drink it, but almost everybody will have tried it.
It is heralded as a handy tool in the fight against cancer, obesity, diabetes, and hypertension.
It is said to help with everything from insomnia to anxiety.
And increasingly, it is thought to be a kind of nootropic panacea; a cure-all for cognitive impairment.
There are, of course, the bulletproof fanatics who swear by coffee and butter (for reasons that benefit the creators bank account than the users – find a way to charge premium prices for mundane substances and you’re a millionaire).
But many people utilize green tea as an every day brain booster. They swear that it helps them focus, stay clear headed, and that it promotes long-term brain health.
In this article, we’re going to find out if any of this is true.
Does green tea offer any significant nootropic benefits?
How does it compare to coffee from the perspective of someone looking to boost focus and concentration?
Is it actually that good for your health?
What is the best way to utilize green tea for maximum mental performance?
Let’s find out. If you get the end of this article and you have questions, or if you want to challenge anything we said in this article, please let us know in the comments section. We’re always delighted to hear from our readers and we do our best to get back to you within 48 hours.
Green Tea & General Health
The claim that green tea is great for supporting and even improving general health is not hard to prove.
While the claims of some health bloggers can be outlandish (no, it can’t cure cancer), the fact that it supports overall good health and longevity has actually been well established by scientific study.
Indeed, there is an abundance of data which suggests the benefits of green tea consumption are wide ranging and extensive.
There is good reason to describe it as cardio-protective, anti-obesity, anti-diabetic, liver protective, and anti-carcinogenic (although again, being anti-carcinogenic is not the same as being cancer-curative).
The bulk of the studies conducted on green tea have focused on the catechins it contains, so that’s where we’ll focus most of our attention too.
As there are so many studies looking at green tea, we’ll take a brisk stroll through them, linking you to the most notable ones (and the ones you can access easily).
This study found that green tea catechins exert a powerful anti-obesity effect on the body. Here, researchers compared the body composition of overweight individuals after 90 days of consuming a high, medium, low, or catechin-free drink each day.
They concluded that “consumption of two servings of an extra high-catechin GT leads to improvements in body composition and reduces abdominal fatness in moderately overweight Chinese subjects.”
These results were seen again in this significantly longer study.
There is an abundance of evidence suggesting that green tea helps improve cardiovascular health.
A study of more than 40,000 participants in Japan (cited here) found that those who drank more than 5 cups of green tea per day had a 26% lower chance of dying from heart disease than those who drank fewer than 1 cup per day.
This clinical trial, published in a 2009 edition of the British Journal of Nutrition, looked at the cardio-protective nature of green tea catechins.
Here, researchers concluded that “regular intake of EGCG…did result in a modest reduction in diastolic blood pressure”. They then suggested that this “antihypertensive effect may contribute to some of the cardiovascular benefits associated with habitual green tea consumption”.
Other studies have found that green tea catechins have a profound effect on LDL cholesterol levels.
LDL cholesterol levels are a very reliable bio-marker for heart disease. In fact, it is thought to be the most serious (and possibly the only sufficient) risk factor for heart disease. So getting LDL cholesterol levels as low as possible is a sure-fire way to prevent heart disease.
This meta-analysis, published in a 2011 edition of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that “analysis of eligible studies showed that the administration of green tea beverages or extracts resulted in significant reductions in serum TC and LDL-cholesterol concentrations, but no effect on HDL cholesterol was observed.”
HDL is often referred to as “good cholesterol”. It does not seem to have the same damaging effect on cardiovascular health as LDL cholesterol.
These results were echoed in another meta-analysis, published in November of the same year.
Here, a team of researchers noted that “consumption of GTCs is associated with a statistically significant reduction in total and LDL cholesterol levels; however, there was no significant effect on HDL cholesterol or triglyceride levels.”
There is also a fair bit of evidence to the claim that regular, long-term consumption of green tea catechins may reduce the risk of developing cancer.
We want to say from the off that this is not the same as curing or getting rid of cancer altogether.
With that caveat out of the way, let’s list a few studies.
This animal study found that green tea catechins (EGCG in particular) reduced the damage inflicted on DNA strands by a high fat diet. The study was carried out on male mice.
This trial, conducted on mice, looked at the ability of a green tea catechin (EGCG) to increase immune cell (phagocytic and natural killer cells) activity. This would in effect increase the immune system efficiency of a living organism, allowing it to better deal with things like cancer (in theory). The researchers found that “EGTE administration increased NK cell cytolysis and peritoneal cell phagocytosis”.
That was, quite frankly, enough to convince us to start consuming green tea on a regular basis.
This in vivo study noted that “EGCG might exhibit an immune response in the murine WEHI-3 cell line-induced leukemia in vivo”. That is a pretty excited thing to turn up.
This clinical trial (again conducted on mice for obvious reasons) found that green tea catechin consumption was associated with a prolonged lifespan.
We could go on and on listing studies showing that green tea helps reduce oxidation, prevents DNA damage, increases lifespan, and so on for days.
But we think we’ve given you enough of a range here to make it easy for you to do more research on your own.
We therefore wont spend any more time on this section.
After all, you’ve found your way on to Natural Nootropic, so you aren’t primarily interested in green tea’s health-promoting properties.
You’re interested in its effects on cognition.
So let’s not waste any more of your time. Let’s take a look at how green tea affects mental performance, long-term brain health, and overall cognition.
Green Tea & Cognitive Performance
We have covered how green tea affects overall health and longevity.
It seems pretty potent in the areas of cardiovascular health, life-span promotion, and obesity. It also seems promising in warding off cancer.
So what about green tea’s ability to improve cognition?
Here, it seems significantly less impressive.
There is a lot of anecdotal data to suggest that green tea catechins improve cognitive function, reduce anxiety, and so on.
Studies have been conducted looking at exactly these mechanisms, and results have been very disappointing.
Take this double-blind, placebo-controlled study for example. The researchers looked at the effect of green tea consumption on mood, cognition, and localised cerebral blood flow. They concluded:
“These results demonstrate that a single dose of orally administered EGCG can modulate CBF parameters in healthy humans but that this is not associated with changes in cognitive performance or mood.”
Indeed, an increase in cerebral blood flow is conducive to better cognitive performance. But the researchers ruled out any carry-over benefit as they noted no improvements in mental function or mood.
This study, published in Brain Research in 2006, looked at the anxiolytic (anxiety-reducing) potential of green tea. Here, researchers turned up some very mixed results:
“Behavioral tests indicated that EGCG exerted both anxiolytic and amnesic effects just like the benzodiazepine drug, chlordiazepoxide.”
That isn’t a decisively positive result for green tea as far as cognitive enhancement goes. Yes, the study was conducted on mice. However, the fact that an amnesic effect was observed does not bode well for the suitability of green tea as a nootropic in humans.
There are some very potent anxiolytics which do not have any kind of adverse effect on cognition. Clearly, then, green tea does not stand out as a good option here.
The one area where green tea does seem to stand out is the way in which it delivers caffeine.
That is because it is relatively high in theanine. In fact, to our knowledge, theanine is only found in tea.
Theanine is a superb natural nootropic substance. It is usually taken for its anxiolytic, stress-busting properties.
However, on its own it seems to be pretty unreliable and weak.
This study looked at theanine’s anxiolytic effects on humans who are exposed to anticipatory stress. The study looked at its effectiveness in comparison to a known anxiolytic drug. The researchers found that L-theanine was unable to produce meaningful reductions in anxiety. They concluded:
“The findings suggest that while L-theanine may have some relaxing effects under resting conditions, neither L-theanine not alprazolam demonstrate any acute anxiolytic effects under conditions of increased anxiety in the AA model.”
This study actually found that theanine had no effect on anxiety relative to placebo.
This is why theanine is rarely used on its own. It is usually utilized alongside caffeine.
Theanine works in conjunction with caffeine. It acts as a relaxant without interfering with the focus-boosting effects of caffeine.
It is often therefore said to work in synergy with caffeine.
Since it promotes relaxation without dulling the stimulatory effects of caffeine, it can be said to reduce all of the negative effects associated with caffeine consumption while allowing the positive effects to flourish.
As such, it is the ideal addition to a nootropic stack which contains caffeine, or in a stack used by people who already consume large amounts of caffeine throughout the day.
Of course, this is effectively us saying that caffeine is a powerful nootropic, and theanine just makes it work better.
But we think it’s fair to say that anything which enhances the effects of a powerful nootropic, allowing you to get more out of it while also making it safer, is in itself a great natural nootropic.
Is It As Potent As A Nootropic Supplement?
Green tea seems to have a mild effect on cognition via an enhanced delivery of caffeine. This is down to the relative abundance of theanine in green tea.
However, these benefits are mild and should be read in the context of regular food and drinks.
If we compare green tea to specialist extracts, concentrates, compounds and so on, we find that it is nowhere near one of the most potent natural nootropics we have access to.
Even when we concentrate the catechins in green tea which give it its cognition-boosting properties, we don’t see the same kind of effect that we see with the likes of Citicoline, Bacopa monnieri, Lion’s Mane Mushroom, and rhodiola rosea.
Nor do we see the same kind of long-term performance enhancing effects as DHA supplements (such as Krill Oil and the algae-derived alternatives we prefer).
Should You Ditch The Coffee For Green Tea?
Whether you ditch your regular morning cup (or cups) of coffee for green tea is entirely down to what your priorities are.
If your main concern is getting a quick energy boost, then there’s no real reason to opt for green tea over coffee.
Green tea’s ability to promote better cognitive function, increase relaxation, and improve mood have all been shown to be pretty much non-existent.
However, there are two big reasons why you might want to replace the cafetiere on your desk for a pot of green tea.
If you struggle sometimes with the negative effects of coffee consumption, then green tea might represent a much better alternative. The theanine content seems to work wonders for dulling down the side effects of caffeine (assuming you are taking a reasonable amount of each).
Secondly, if you are interested in improving your overall health and increasing your lifespan, then green tea seems like a good place to start.
While it is not the miracle-worker some people like to make it out to be, it is definitely effective at lowering cholesterol, reducing the risk of hart disease, and it may be effective at reducing the risk of certain types of cancer.
We know that the “it’s up to you” answer is never satisfying.
But now you know that green tea isn’t the amazing, cognition-boosting miracle drink it is sometimes made out to be.
It seems to be great for keeping you healthy. It is good for a mental energy boost if caffeine hits you hard (although theanine can only do so much, so take it easy still).
But as far as nootropic powers go, it is less than special.