Even if you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard of matcha. This relatively new drink craze is centered around the matcha tea powder – a form of green tea that is made by grinding and processing specially-grown tea leaves that have been grown in the shade to nurture the caffeine, theanine, and catechin content. What does all this mean? Matcha tea has some bold claims made about it, but we’re going to simplify the scientific research and theory on matcha to give you a simple guide to whether it is really that good for you.
The main difference between matcha and regular green tea is that matcha is a powder and does not “brew” like a regular tea. Instead, matcha powder is combined with other liquids and ingredients to provide a smooth, light green tea or coffee (depending on what you mix it with. In this respect, matcha tea isn’t a brewed tea – it is more similar to a green tea smoothie or milkshake! This has some interesting implications for the health benefits and risks that we’re going to discuss in this article, but just remember that matcha and green tea have some important qualitative differences.
If you’re sick of the hype around matcha and want to know the facts, stick with us and keep reading: you might be surprised at the results, but also why we come to these conclusions. We’ll give you a full guide on when you should add matcha to your diet, how you might do so safely, and other practical, actionable guidelines for use.
Matcha for Weight Loss
Disregarding the cultural trends and bohemian culture that made matcha tea an overnight sensation, the potential health benefits of this “new” type of “tea” are varied but are all significant in their effect. As with many other green teas, matcha contains many green-tea catechins that are fantastic for improving a number of health markers and combatting common illness. However, one of the main roles that these amazing plant-based compounds have is an increased capacity of weight loss.
EGCG is the most potent form of green tea catechin, found in every type of tea. This catechin is prized for its direct and indirect abilities to stimulate fat loss, as well as having profound effects on some of the most common and serious health conditions in the United States (discussed below). EGCG sounds like a miraculous nutrient, but it is very real and is found in higher concentrations in matcha than in any form of “brewed” green tea.
EGCG improves the weight loss process by increasing the peroxidation of fat cells, improving the overall speed of their metabolism. One of the best effects of this fat loss is that it preferentially boosts the metabolism of visceral fat, especially fat on important organs like the liver. This makes EGCG a great way to kickstart a fat-loss diet, especially for the obese, as it can contribute to rapid fat loss in the areas where fat poses the greatest risk to health and quality of life.
The fat-loss effects of EGCG are important and the reduction of visceral fat is a great way to boost healthy weight loss while improving body composition and the aesthetics that come along with it. However, it is important to note that obesity and body fat are not a problem that can be fought off with tea alone: obesity is the result of caloric surplus and poor dietary choices, and a calorie-restricted diet is also necessary for weight loss. Green tea, even matcha, can aid the speed and health of your weight loss, but it should not be a replacement for proper diet and nutrition.
The key fact here is that matcha is likely to have a greater efficiency in improving weight loss than other forms of tea (such as classical green tea or Oolong). This is most likely due to the use of the whole leaf in matcha, compared to regular brewing, where the beneficial compounds may remain in the tea leaves rather than the drink itself.
Matcha and Common Killers (CVD, Cancer, and Hepato-Renal Conditions)
Matcha and Heart Health
If you only think about one thing when considering buying matcha, it should be the considerable health benefits it can have for your heart. Cardiovascular disease kills almost 9 times as many Americans as the 2nd leading cause of death, and is only increasing as a public health risk.
Matcha has been shown to affect many indirect mechanisms for protecting against cardiovascular disease. First, it is an exceptionally potent bloodstream antioxidant, with huge reductions in the oxidation of LDL cholesterols, and thereby reducing the risk of hardening arterial walls or “clogging” arteries.
EGCG also seems to reduce the conversion of certain pre-cholesterol fats into cholesterol, reducing the concentration of these compounds in the blood overall. This makes matcha a great choice for bringing down cholesterol and combatting high blood pressure – a common predictor of heart problems like cardiovascular disease and stroke. One of the best things about the use of matcha tea for these cardiovascular disease risk factors is that it is a simple, pleasant way to improve your health without much effort and it tastes fantastic. As part of a healthy diet and lifestyle, you can markedly improve your cardiovascular risk profile by simply swapping your regular drinks to matcha tea.
Matcha and Cancer Risk
Another health benefit of matcha is the potency and volume of antioxidant compounds in the tea. As a plant product, especially one made from ground tea leaves, matcha has a much higher concentration of antioxidants than regular green tea, and even higher than many other plant products. Antioxidants contribute to cancer resilience and promote the health of cells and their DNA. This makes matcha a great option for improving the contribution of your diet to your overall health and boosting your longevity and quality of life.
Matcha and Liver or Kidney Disease
Despite the buzz around matcha, there has been a considerable backlash against the product with others claiming that the product is a sham or fad. The differences in manufacturing between matcha and regular brewed teas are enough for some critics to point out the increased lead content of matcha tea (found in the tea plants themselves), which is a serious medical condition and can damage the liver and kidneys. If this is the case, matcha would be incredibly hazardous to health.
However, not only is matcha tea okay for consumption in relatively large doses, but also has a protective effect on the liver and kidneys, combatting the growths and tumors, as well as preventing chronic disease. The aforementioned reductions seen in visceral fat (particularly liver fat associated with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease) are only part of the story. Both EGCG and the chlorophyll found in matcha (the same compound that makes plants green and turns sunlight into energy) contribute to improved liver and kidney function.
With fatty liver disease and kidney disease being common killers in the United States, there is a lot to be said for adopting the Japanese custom of drinking teas to improve health and longevity in these organs. The consumption of matcha may be obscured by the presence of lead, but other compounds suggest that it will decrease the risk of liver cancer (by up to as much as 50% in some studies), reduce the prevalence of fatty liver disease, reduce the damage caused by alcohol and anabolic steroid abuse, and improving the body’s ability to filter and respond to dangerous toxic substances.
It is worth mentioning that the content of lead in matcha tea is incredibly low, with the protective benefits out-weighing the dangers of lead poisoning. It is important, however, to consult your doctor about the risks of very high doses of matcha during pregnancy or breastfeeding.
The Psychological Effects of Matcha Tea
Matcha has a high oral GABA content. This amino acid is a huge part of the regulation of mood, stress hormones, and sleep quality. GABA plays the role of bringing you “down” and works in opposition to compounds like caffeine which bring you “up”. This means that it is a great antagonist to caffeine and makes an excellent drink for increased relaxation. The combination of GABA, caffeine and theanine in matcha contribute to a pattern of psychological effects that are appropriate for a “gentle” energy boost, as it has been described.
One criticism of matcha tea is that the oral ingestion of GABA isn’t useful, as it has problems passing into the brain where it can have positive health effects. This is a serious problem for matcha, as well as other green teas: the bioavailability and recruitment of GABA for mental health and de-stressing is a real concern and could make matcha far less useful than it has been lauded
This is a real concern, with circulating GABA uptake being labelled “minimal” by studies on rodents. There are several ways that you can increase the uptake of GABA into the brain, but the most effective seems to be combining it with exercise, as this boosts the nitric oxide concentration in the bloodstream and improves absorption. Another way to improve the uptake of GABA is to combine high-GABA teas with NO2-boosting supplements like L-Citrulline.
As with any other compound, the minimal uptake of GABA can be combatted by simply taking more. While the brain has efficient mechanisms for removing GABA, increasing the circulating GABA is a great way to give yourself the best chances to gain the health-promoting effects. Circulating GABA is also a key player in the regulation of endogenous human growth hormone, especially when combined with resistance training. This means that, at the very least, matcha is going to improve your recovery from exercise and have small benefits to muscle growth and fat loss!
When discussing effective dosage and the effects of oral GABA, it’s also important to remember that matcha is cheap and delicious with a variety of applications and culinary uses. Skepticism is always important when looking at the hype surrounding new “wonder” foods, but for as little as $15 for a container of matcha powder, this is a small investment with some great confirmed and potential benefits. Even if GABA uptake is low and the benefits have been exaggerated, there are some proven benefits, at a relatively low cost.
Summary: What Should You Do Now?
Matcha’s greatest benefit is that it can start to help you put your mistakes right. Matcha tea is not only a great choice for a clear majority of Americans, but also seems to have amazing effects on some of the most common health problems that you’ll face if you’re new to health and fitness or have lived a sedentary lifestyle. If you want to undo some of the damage that you’ve done to your body by reducing body fat, improving organ health, reducing cancer risk, and even improving psychological health, this tea will help you start your new, healthier lifestyle.
You can find matcha powder from many vendors online. Do your research and be sure to pick a powder that contains as much pure leaf as possible, while keeping the lead content as low as possible (just in case). The best choice is to add steamed milk to matcha powder and whisk, giving a beautifully-smooth finish and mild flavor. Alternatively, you can try our matcha morning shake to get the most out of your morning, and your matcha!
Action Steps: Tips for Using Matcha
Consult your doctor if you have any pre-existing conditions that make lead consumption (even low-level) more dangerous, or if you’re pregnant/breastfeeding.
- Shop around for a high-quality, low-lead matcha powder.
- Practice recipes for matcha powder with steamed milk (or plant milk) and replace your sugary, or alcoholic drinks, with matcha.
- Read our article on how to make the Ultimate Matcha Protein shake, to improve your mornings and get the best “bang for your buck” with your powder.
- Remember that matcha powder is a great addition to a healthy diet and lifestyle: don’t expect it to fix all your problems, especially long-term problems like weight management or heart health.
-  Bose, M et al. “The major green tea polyphenols (-)-Epigallocatechin-3-gallate, inhibits obesity, metabolic syndrome, and fatty liver disease in high-fat-fed mice”. The Journal of Nutrition. 2008, 138(9): 1677-1683. <http://jn.nutrition.org/content/138/9/1677.short>
-  Weiss, DJ and Anderton, CR. “Determination of catechins in Matcha green tea by micellar electrokinetic chromatography”. Journal of Chromatography A. 2003, 1011(1-2): 173-180. <http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0021967303011336>
-  Bose, M et al. See ‘1’.
-  Durnin JVGA. “Basic physiological factors affecting calorie balance”. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society. 1961, 20(1): 52-58. <https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/proceedings-of-the-nutrition-society/article/basic-physiological-factors-affecting-calorie-balance/BE198D2A3A6FE27FA9A0F7354270FCD5>
-  Suzuki-Sugihara, N et al. “Green tea catechins prevent low-density lipoprotein oxidation via their accumulation in low-density lipoprotein particles in humans”. 2016, 36(1): 16-23. < https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26773777>
Luke is a freelance writer inspired by health, wellness and life!