So, what’s all the hype about matcha? You can find the trendy new superfood in teas, powders, shots, bars, lattes, and even desserts. But, does it live up to the buzz, and what exactly is it?

Matcha comes from the Camellia sinensis plant, the same plant used to make green, black, white, and oolong teas, but it’s grown differently and has a unique nutrient profile. Matcha leaves are grown on green tea bushes maintained in the shade and kept in the dark a month prior to harvesting, which increases its chlorophyll content. This accounts for the bright green color and the robust nutrients. The leaves are picked by hand, the stems and veins are removed, and then they are ground into a super fine powder.

Matcha powder provides a wide array of healthy nutrients from the entire tea leaf, thus resulting in greater amounts of caffeine and antioxidants compared to other general green teas.

Studies show that matcha provides the following health benefits:

Energy Boost

Matcha provides an energy boost without the jitters that often come from caffeine, making it a great alternative to coffee. The leaves contain both caffeine and a rare amino acid called L-theanine. While these substances boost alertness, L-theanine prevents the anxiety some people experience when they consume coffee or other caffeinated drinks. This is because L-theanine reduces stress responses in humans, creating feelings of calm and softening the sometimes-harsh effects of caffeine.

Stress Reduction

While the matcha craze is relatively new, the tea was discovered over 1,000 years ago in Japan, where it was specifically used for meditation. The L-Theanine in the tea produces alpha waves in the brain and provides enhanced relaxation while remaining alert. L-Theanine in the matcha produces 5 times more amino acids compared to other black and green teas, also helping with memory and concentration. 

Antioxidants

Matcha has the highest antioxidant potential of any type of tea. Tea leaves are known for their antioxidant properties, thanks to their high concentrations of catechins, including epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). Unlike other tea, which is brewed by soaking the leaves and removing them before consumption, matcha powder is completely absorbed, offering three times more EGCG than steeped green tea. Increasing your intake of antioxidants may help prevent cell damage and even lower your risk of several chronic diseases.

Clearer Skin

Matcha helps treat acne when consumed and when applied to the skin. It is an anti-bacterial that contains incredibly high levels of epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), which is helpful in reducing inflammation, balancing skin tone, and giving skin a natural glow. The antioxidants are also known for reducing acne and increasing skin elasticity.

Weight Loss

Green tea extract is found in most weight loss supplements because it’s well known for its ability to enhance weight loss, speed up metabolism, and boost fat burning. Drinking matcha increases thermogenesis, which is the body’s ability to burn calories. In fact, one study found taking green tea extract during exercise increased fat burning by 17 percent.

Improved Cognitive Function

Matcha’s antioxidants and anti-inflammatory effects offer protection for your brain, with studies suggesting that it can help slow the aging of the brain and possibly ward off Alzheimer’s disease. Multiple studies link caffeine consumption to improved brain function, citing faster reaction times, increased attention span, and enhanced memory, and matcha packs in 35 mg of caffeine per half teaspoon of matcha powder. In one study, participants who consumed either matcha tea or a bar containing 4 grams of matcha showed improvements in attention, reaction time, and memory.

Micronutrients That May Help Fight Disease

Matcha contains micronutrients such as vitamin C, selenium, chromium, zinc and magnesium. It detoxifies the body naturally, which can help prevent disease and lower cholesterol. Matcha is especially high in epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), a type of catechin that has been shown to have powerful anti-cancer properties.

As you can see, matcha offers a number of health benefits, but some people may experience unpleasant side effects such as heartburn, upset stomach, headache, or constipation. It is best to drink it in moderation and select a good quality tea. Some green teas grown in China may contain small amounts of lead that has been soaked up from the environment. Also, some matcha powders may already be combined with sweeteners and milk, which diminish the health benefits. Read the label carefully.



Authored by Zach Meeker, Research Assistant for Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush University Medical Center

References:

Venables MC, Hulston CJ, Cox HR, Jeukendrup AE. Green tea extract ingestion, fat oxidation, and glucose tolerance in healthy humans. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008 Mar;87(3):778-84. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/87.3.778. PMID: 18326618.

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