Busting the Matcha Myth - Matcha Tea Whisking Chawan MA Blog

Busting the Matcha Myth: Does matcha really have 137 times more antioxidants (EGCG) than green tea? Part 3 Antiox Series

Posted by Stephany Morgan


Welcome to Part 3 of our series on antioxidants! To read Part 2, click here. To read Part 4, all about the antioxidants in green and black teas, click here.

Marketing has its perks, and can be a very helpful tool. But, it can also be an insidious mechanism used to mislead the public, particularly when they quote the results of studies. Now, if you are thinking, “Wait, how can it be bad if they are quoting scientific studies?”, let me explain: All scientific studies are not equal!

I will preface this by stating that I have eleven years of research experience under my belt - that’s eleven years of picking apart scientific studies, looking at the oh-so-important methods sections and dissecting just how they conducted their studies, the materials they used and the ways in which they gathered and reported data. I even do this for fun in my spare time! (I know… I need to get a hobby). 

Most articles that reference a study report a single sentence from the abstract or results, and that’s where things get hairy - they often misrepresent the findings, and when that happens, they can use almost any “scientific evidence” for their own agenda.

Case-in-point: The Matcha industry

Matcha Industry Claims of 137 times Antioxidants

Screenshots from a quick Google search for antioxidant levels of matcha - perpetuating the 137x myth...

Unfortunately, they are playing on public ignorance of how scientific data reporting works, or perhaps they themselves just don’t know how to properly read a scientific study. Either way, my point is that the above headlines and claims are wrong. Very wrong.

Where did this 137x figure come from?

Now, most claims suggest that matcha contains 137 times the EGCG as green tea, but what the article actually reported was that it contained 137x greater than that found in a single brand of green tea (Tazo Chinese Green Tip bagged tea)....and not even that was done well as you will soon see. The study was conducted in 2003 and can be found here.


 Definition: EGCG is short for Epigallocatechin gallate and is a compound found in plants, famously in green tea. Specifically, it is a catechin, which is a type of polyphenol, which is an antioxidant. Clear as mud? The core takehome is that EGCG is the powerful antioxidant that has made green tea famous for its health benefits.

Learn more in our Brief Introduction to Green Teas

 

Green Tea Leaves on Table

The Green Tea Mess-odology

1) Recall that bagged tea is typically made with lower quality dust and fannings (totally crushed and super dried tea from the older lower quality leaves), plus the age and storage processes cannot be guaranteed allowing constituents to break down over time. Amounts of constituents (such as EGCG) can also vary from plant to plant, based on growing conditions and the preparation processes so any large scale declaration based on just one tea by readers of the study are seriously stretching credulity.

 2) The amount of EGCG they found in the Tazo teabag was waaaay lower than expected, and not representative of a typical green tea. This was due to very strange methodology. Need proof? Just check the USDA’s own figures for expected EGCG in green tea which I highlight later in this article.

The Matcha Tea Mess-odology

The study’s matcha levels are significantly skewed for two main reasons: 

1) They measured the EGCG content using two methods: In the first, the matcha was prepared in the traditional Japanese way, by whisking the powder into water; this is the expected measurement method. The second was a 100% methanolic extract. A “methanolic” extract is the process of extracting constituents with alcohol (and sometimes an added acid). This concentrates many of the constituents, as alcohol is a stronger solvent than water.

However, this is not a preparation that is something anyone would drink, but is used to find the absolute maximum amount of antioxidants in a compound, rather than what level is available to be used by the human body. So...of scientific value but not relevant to a regular consumer of matcha (unless you take your matcha with vodka!).

2) Prior to evaluating the water preparation of matcha, they removed leaf precipitates (as matcha is leaf powder is blended into water and consumed), as they were having difficulty with the leaf particles clogging their equipment. This factor alone will majorly skew results, as they are removing portions of the test sample which contain EGCG (the compound they were attempting to measure!).

The result: the amount of EGCG found in the matcha prepared with water was actually lower than that found in the steeped bagged tea (and much lower than average EGCG levels analyzed in matcha by the USDA). By definition, matcha *should* have more EGCG than steeped tea because you consume the whole leaf, so that evaluation was not reflective of EGCG in the “real world” - at all. And of course, no matcha drinker would ever filter the matcha out of their matcha!

It gets worse...

The study’s claim, that there is 137x more EGCG in matcha than the Tazo green tea sample, came from the comparison of the alcohol (methanolic) extract of matcha (which was higher than matcha made with water), with the green tea extracted with water (which was somehow faaaar lower than the USDA’s  own green tea figures). What happens when you compare unrealistically high numbers with unrealistically low ones? You get big numbers like 137 that don’t make any sense in reality. 

An analogy would be like claiming that Ford trucks are 20x faster than Toyota trucks…. BUT for the Toyota you find an old broken 1992 version with a max speed of 10mph, measured on a pot-holed road, and for the Ford you get a special souped-up edition that can go 200mph, measured on a race track!

So now that’s settled (honestly it’s very very clear - the study found specific results that may be true for the exact criteria they were measuring but the 137x comparison is not valid). They also concluded their paper by saying that, in their study, the ECGC of drinking matcha was found to be “at least three times higher than the largest literature value for other green teas” - recognizing that their own green tea values were strangely low. This quote tends to be ignored by the matcha industry though!

Let’s move on to discussing why EGCG in levels of that amount would not actually be healthy at all… but deadly instead.

Green Tea with Bag

What does the antioxidant EGCG do? What’s a safe level of EGCG?

We all know that just because something is good in one amount, it doesn’t necessarily mean that more is better. Some vitamins and minerals exhibit toxicity if taken excessively. Even too much water can be toxic, as we all know. The same is true with antioxidants. Recall the blog post where I had a Q and A chat with ya’ll about antioxidants? That article discussed how high doses of isolated antioxidants are associated with certain health problems. But in balanced amounts found in food, they are extremely good for us. The same is true of EGCG.

 Health benefits in appropriate amounts of EGCG include:

Antioxidant

May prevent cirrhosis and liver fibrosis
Anti-inflammatory Has a suppressive effect on the growth of certain types of cells
Anticarcinogenic May exert an effect on autoimmunity with excessive T cell activation
Improves tissue integrity May be beneficial in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease
Has shown ability to prevent and treat some forms of cancer May help lower cholesterol
Helps reduce potential liver injury due to alcohol May improve insulin resistance and lower blood (though in past articles it appears glucose mediation is specifically in regard to starchy foods, only).
May protect against alcoholic neuropathy Helps reduce weight gain and fat tissue gain


Reference: EGCG (Epigallocatechin Gallate): Benefits, Dosage, and Safety, Healthline

 

Green Tea SupplementsWhen EGCG is taken in excessive amounts, though, it is associated with liver damage, liver and kidney failure, anemia, and dizziness. These cases are mainly associated with green tea extracts (concentrates). Green tea pills can contain catechins (EGCG is a catechin) with amounts varying  from 5-1000 mg. Although some accounts suggest the liver damage occurred from the adulturation of the supplements with other constituents, we do have enough evidence to show that EGCG can cause liver damage in amounts greater than 800mg/day (adults). For comparison, a typical cup of green tea contains 40-80mg, and a typical cup of matcha contains 100-220 mg, so don’t worry unless you’re drinking liters of the stuff!

What if matcha did have 137x more EGCG than green tea?

As I just showed, matcha definitely does not contain 137 times the amount of EGCG found in other green teas. In fact, these levels will vary quite a bit, but it can generally be understood that matcha has about 2-3x the EGCG compared to green teas. Consumers Lab reports EGCG in a typical cup of matcha contains 100/110 to 200/220 mg, whereas they found that a typical cup of green tea contains 40-80 mg (the range is from 1 to 2 teaspoons).

If matcha had 137x the amount of EGCG in green teas, you’d been consuming 5,480 mg per cup of matcha at the LEAST! This is about 7.3 times the safe daily intake level, and would make matcha a poison. Which we know isn’t the case!

EGCG Levels in Different Tea Types

Tea type

EGCG content mg per 100 grams

Green tea, brewed

77.81

Oolong tea, brewed

34.48

Green tea, brewed, decaffeinated

26.05

Black tea, brewed

9.26

Green tea, ready-to-drink

3.96

Black tea, ready to drink, decaffeinated, flavored and plain

1.01

Black tea, ready to drink, flavored and plain

0.51

Tea, instant, diet, prepared

0.49

 

Tea, instant, decaffeinated, prepared

0.45

Black tea, ready to drink, diet, flavored and plain

0.12

Reference: USDA Database for the Flavonoid Content of Selected Foods

Looking at the chart above, it is interesting to note that bottled teas and instant teas lose a huge amount of their EGCG content. Important to note for anyone thinking they were getting this particular antioxidant from prepackaged tea.

Be Your Own Advocate: How to recognize false marketing

Now that you know the elusive EGCG truth, how do you know if you can trust a vendor? Here are some tips I live by, that will stand you in good stead for assessing the truth in all marketing, not just for matcha! (Except for the last one)

Statue of Man with Newspaper

1) Always look at their claims

Many companies have claims plastered all over their sites. These should be structure/function claims such as, “supports a healthy circulatory system”, but should not state “matcha lowers blood pressure”. These are nuances of legality but if you see a company specifically connecting their product to the treatment of a disease or health condition (either directly or implied), there are two possibilities: either approved by the FDA explicitly for that specific product at that specific company (however likely you think that is) OR it’s illegal. 

They should also not be making outrageous claims. While herbs do have many benefits, sometimes so many that they seem too good to be true, a company can still be unethical about it (example: weight loss supplements that show before-and-afters of the body of the model but no face - how do you know that they’re both the same person or that they haven’t also completed a grueling exercise regime for weeks or months?). 

2) Do they have accessible references?

For example, with the claim that there is 137x more EGCG in matcha than in green tea - they always say something like, “the authors of a clinical study found…” and yet, they give the reader no way to find the article. That’s fishy. I cannot tell you how many times I have read blog or website claims and I cannot find any way to track down where they got their information! That is plagiarism at best, and made-up, false claims at worst. 

3) Are they selling matcha or green tea powder?

Green tea powder is NOT the same as matcha: it’s called mogo and is grown and produced using different methods, and contains fewer antioxidants. However, it’s quite common to see ‘green tea powder’ and ‘matcha’ being used interchangeably by unscrupulous stores. Another common trick is to cut matcha with mogo to make the matcha go further!

~

You can find our references for everything we say, at the bottom of each article on this blog. I am a scientist and then a blog writer, not a blog writer who Googles about science.

A Note From The Herbalist...

I am profoundly happy to be writing for a company like Matcha Alternatives. Their dedication to science-based evidence, facts, and quality speaks to my “professor-heart”. References for blog articles are a must, and they are always accessible to the reader. If there are any broken links, you can let us know and I’ll personally track the reference down for you.

The truth of the information presented is always reinforced with reliable data (and I am reading all of those references and studies top to bottom). If I should hear of new findings or information, I will update to keep the information current. Matcha Alternatives is the picture of transparent marketing, and I am beyond impressed with their commitment to quality, ethics, and information.

~

Want to dig deeper?

Read my piece on The Dark Truth About Matcha Tea where I go into what matcha is, how the matcha industry works and more about why other antioxidant-rich teas are better!

Try some of our green teas, plus our Moringa powder:

The 'Purist' Rare Purple Tea - Matcha Alternatives  'The Purist' Rare Purple Tea - $10 for 1oz of this rare tea (~10-14 cups). It's actually a type of green tea, but so full of anthocyanins (the antioxidant that makes blueberries blue) that it's purple instead
Sea Air Sencha Decaf Green Tea - Matcha Alternatives Sea Air Decaf Sencha Green Tea - $7.50 for 1oz, or ~10-14 cups. It's not easy to find decaf Sencha, and this tea makes it worth the search!
Superior Moringa Tea Powder - Matcha Alternatives Superior Moringa Tea Powder - $7.50 for 1oz, or ~10-14 cups. Although not a green tea, it is a direct matcha substitute due to its delightful powdered form! Grassy and sweet with a hint of spice at the end. 

 or...

Shop all Matcha Alternatives' Green Teas here!

  

If you enjoyed this piece, subscribe to the MA Blog so you never miss another! It's all about tea, alternatives to matcha, antioxidants and smashing the pseudo-science myths peddled by the wellness industry. Also, don’t worry we hate spam as much as you do: any new teas or offers are simply included in the regular "latest blog" notifications :-)

 

A final note...

And of course... All of the information regarding the herbs, botanicals, minerals, vitamins, etc., is information drawn from traditional use data or academic research and should be regarded as such. If you, the reader, has a health or medical concern, please consult your healthcare professional. The information found here is not meant to diagnose, treat, prescribe or cure and has not been evaluated by the FDA. The information here is for educational use only.

Busting the 137x Matcha Myth - References and Further Reading

Weiss DJ, Anderton CR. 2003 Sep 5;1011(1-2):173-80. Determination of catechins in matcha green tea by micellar electrokinetic chromatography. J Chromatogr A. - This is the study that started in all!

Morgan, S. What Are Antioxidants and How Do They Work? Part 1. The MA Blog. 

Morgan, S. All About Antioxidants: A Chat with the Herbalist. Part 2. The MA Blog.

Int J Mol Sci. 2011; 12(9): 5592–5603. Epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG) for Clinical Trials: More Pitfalls than Promises? Derliz Mereles1,* and Werner Hunstein, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3189735/

Science Direct, Epigallocatechin Gallate, https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/neuroscience/epigallocatechin-gallate

J Nutr Biochem. 2003 Jun;14(6):326-32. Effect of EGCG on lipid absorption and plasma lipid levels in rats. Raederstorff DG, Schlachter MF, Elste V, Weber P., https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12873714

Mol Nutr Food Res. 2016 Jan; 60(1): 160–174. Mechanisms of Body Weight Reduction and Metabolic Syndrome Alleviation by Tea Chung S. Yang, Jinsong Zhang, Le Zhang, Jinbao Huang, and Yijun Wang, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4991829/

Green Tea Guide, What matcha green tea sellers don't want you to know, February 28, 2014, http://www.green-tea-guide.com/green-tea-capsules.html

Green Tea Guide, Are green tea capsules good for you? April 29, 2013, http://www.green-tea-guide.com/matcha-green-tea.html

USDA Database for the Flavonoid Content of Selected Foods, Release 2.1. (2007). Retrieved from http://www.ars.usda.gov/services/docs.htm?docid=6231

Eur J Clin Pharmacol. 2009 Apr;65(4):331-41. Hepatotoxicity from green tea: a review of the literature and two unpublished cases. Mazzanti G1, Menniti-Ippolito F, Moro PA, Cassetti F, Raschetti R, Santuccio C, Mastrangelo S., https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19198822

EFSA, 2018, Scientific opinion on the safety of green tea catechins,, https://efsa.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.2903/j.efsa.2018.5239

EGCG warning: EFSA safety assessment suggests green tea supplements should come with warning 19-Apr-2018 By Nathan Gray, https://www.nutraingredients.com/Article/2018/04/19/EGCG-warning-EFSA-safety-assessment-suggests-green-tea-supplements-should-come-with-warning

Is Matcha a Better Form of Green Tea? ConsumerLab.com Answers the Question White Plains, New York, October 14, 2015, https://www.consumerlab.com/news/is+matcha+a+better+form+of+green+tea/10-14-2015/

EGCG (Epigallocatechin Gallate): Benefits, Dosage, and Safety, https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/egcg-epigallocatechin-gallate#dosage-and-side-effects

Kohei, 2013, Measuring green tea, Tales of Japanese tea, http://everyonestea.blogspot.com/2013/03/measuring-green-tea.html

Amazing-Green-Tea.com, EGCG Content USDA Study Reveals Healthiest Green Tea, https://www.amazing-green-tea.com/egcg-content-in-green-tea.html

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1 comment
  • Wow!! Methodology 101 thrown in with wonderful tea!! During this lockdown your blog is so welcome: the pictures, the writing—everything. I think next I would like to try your purple tea. Looks amazing!

    Nalini



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