Catechins and epicatechins are powerful bioactive plant compounds, or phytochemicals found in a variety of plant-based foods and beverages, most notably green tea. Research suggests that catechins and epicatechins are associated with an abundant array of health benefits, including antioxidant effects, fat oxidation, and the promotion of heart health. We’re going to talk more about the benefits of catechins, epicatechins, and what the current research shows on human health.
What Are Catechins and Epicatechins
Catechins and epicatechins are a well study group of bioactive plant compounds, called polyphenols. Polyphenols are organic compounds primarily found in plants. They compromise a wide family of molecules bearing one or more phenolic rings. A growing body of research indicates that polyphenols may play a vital role in health through the regulation of metabolism, weight, chronic disease, and cell proliferation. Over 8,000 polyphenols have been identified, yet research is still needed to determine their short- and long-term health effects. Studies show that polyphenols have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that could have preventative and or therapeutic effects on cardiovascular disease, neurodegenerative disorders, cancer, and obesity [R].
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Major sources of epicatechins and catechins are found in green tea, cocoa, dark chocolate, and red wine. Catechins exert incredibly powerful antioxidant effects, eradicating free radicals found to be associated with age related disease including heart disease, diabetes, obesity, metabolic disorder, and cancer.
Benefits Of Catechins And Epicatechins
1. May Support Weight Loss
Obesity affects over 800 million people with an estimated 40% of the US population. Research suggests that catechins may help the process of fat oxidation and insulin resistance, resulting in greater weight loss.
Green tea, which contains four types of epicatechins: epicatechin, epigallocatechin, epicatechin-3-gallate, and epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) has found to help support weight loss results [R].
EGCG has a direct effect on increasing fat oxidation, the body’s ability to use body fat for energy and boosts your ability to burn more calories at rest through promoting thermogenesis. In other words, EGCG boosts your metabolic rate. Research indicates, that by combining green tea extract with moderate-intense training, fat oxidation will increase from 17-20%, in addition to the increase of fat-oxidation from exercise alone. Therefore, green tea extract can help you lose weight by utilizing your body fat for fuel and helping you burn more calories.
The exact mechanism of action of EGCG is not directly known. However, EGCG is thought to have a direct effect on the sympathetic nervous system stimulation lipolysis, thus increasing fat oxidation.
A systematic review, which analyzed 14 randomized control trials to determine the effects of green tea extract on weight loss, concluded that study participants lost 0.5-7.7 more pounds on average than the control groups, when supplementing with green tea extract for 12 weeks [R]. Therefore, by increasing the rate of fat oxidation, you burn more body fat as energy.
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Research also suggests that the pairing of caffeine with catechins found in green tea promotes increased fat oxidation and energy expenditure, via the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and peripheral tissues increasing thermogenesis to burn more calories throughout the day.
2. Promotes Heart Health
Antioxidants have been shown to promote better heart health, by reducing inflammation. Epidemiological evidence suggests that consumption of green tea is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease [R].
Catechins found in green tea have the ability to prevent atherosclerosis, hypertension, endothelial dysfunction, ischemic heart diseases, cardiomyopathy, cardiac hypertrophy and congestive heart failure by decreasing oxidative stress, preventing inflammatory events, reducing platelet aggregation and halting the proliferation of vascular smooth muscle cells [R].
Consumption of flavonoid rich chocolate or cocoa has also been shown to reduce the incidence of heart disease and mortality from cardiovascular events. Yes, I am talking about chocolate. Studies have shown that chocolate may provide benefits that support heart health through several different mechanisms including
- decreased LDL oxidation
- Improved HDL concentration
- decreased platelet aggregation
- decreased oxidative stress (an imbalance in the ratio of antioxidants to free radicals
- increased levels of prostacyclin (a signaling molecule involved in the prevention of blood clot formation)
- decreased levels of leukotriene (a signaling molecule involved in inflammation and allergic reactions)
- increased nitric oxide production
- improved endothelial function
- lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure
- improved insulin sensitivity, decreased insulin resistance
- decreased free radical induced hemolysis (breakdown or red blood cells)
- improved brachial artery dilation
- and decreased LDL cholesterol concentrations [R]
Before you go eating chocolate bars, remember everything in moderation. A piece of chocolate a day is fine, but in no way are we advocating for you to eat chcolate bars everyday for better heart health.
Antioxidant Capacity Of Chocolate By Type
Antioxidant Capacity (mmol Trolox Equivalents) per 100 g
Antioxidant Capacity (mmol Trolox Equivalents) per 100 kcals
Dark (Semisweet) Chocolate
A triple-blind randomized controlled trial found administered 350mg of resveratrol extract found in red wine to 75 patients for six months, grape extract (with no resveratrol), or placebo and found that the resveratrol groups LDL had gone down by 4.5% and their oxidized LDL had gone down by 20% compared to participants who took an unenriched grape extract or a placebo [R].
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3. May Reduce The Risk Of Cancer
Epicatechins and catechins have also been shown to benefit some type of cancer. Flavonoids found in red wine, for example red wine has been found to inhibits the expression and activity of certain cytochrome P450 enzymes and could help prevent cancer by limiting the activation of procarcinogen [R]. Catechins have also been found to induce cell cycle arrest and/or apoptosis (programmed cell death) in a number of cancer cell lines [R]. This ultimately means that flavonoids found in red wine may inhibit the proliferation of cancer cells the basis for how cancer evolves.
Epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), the most abundant and active tea catechin has demonstrated in several studies to have an anti-carcinogenic effect and the growth of cancer cells [R].
Epicatechins and Catechins: Takeaway
It's evident that catechins and epicatechins have a profound impact and can greatly benefit human health. Adding some green tea, a glass of wine, and a small bite of chocolate into your nightly routine, can be a great addition to your healthy lifestyle.
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