Can drinking green tea reduce lung damage from smoking? According to a new study published in Respiratory Medicine, green tea extract may help to offset some of the damaging effects seen in the lungs of a smoker after exposure to cigarette smoke.
Green Tea and Lung Damage From Smoking: The Study
Researchers exposed one group of rats to both cigarette smoke and green tea extract and another group to cigarette smoke only. Two control groups were exposed to air and to air and green tea extract for a period of fifty-six days. The results? The rats exposed to cigarette smoke and green tea extract didn’t develop the type of lung damage that usually occurs with exposure to cigarette smoke. The rats only exposed to cigarette smoke clearly showed lung damage typical of a smoker’s lung. The rats given green tea also showed fewer markers of oxidative stress than did the mice exposed to cigarette smoke and no green tea extract.
Why Was This Effect Seen?
Why would green tea extract reduce lung damage from smoking cigarettes? Researchers believe that the polyphenols, particularly EGCG, found in green tea may help to offset oxidative damage seen in the lungs of a smoker. Cigarette smoke contains multiple compounds that can damage healthy lung tissue – not to mention many of these compounds are known cancer causing agents. Because EGCG and the other polyphenols in green tea function are antioxidants, they may help to reduce lung damage from smoking.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that green tea negates all of the negative effects of smoking. For one thing, this study was done in rats and it’s unclear whether green tea has any effect on the lungs of a human smoker. Secondly, just because green tea extract reduces lung damage from a tissue standpoint, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it reduces the risk of lung disease or cancer.
Lung Damage From Smoking: What Other Dietary Factors Play a Role?
When it comes to reducing lung damage from smoking, black tea may also have some effect. A study published in the Journal of Nutrition showed that black tea prevented oxidative lung damage in guinea pigs exposed to cigarette smoke. Black tea has lower levels of polyphenols than green tea, so it would seem that green tea would be of greater overall benefit. Other nutrients that have been associated with a lower risk of lung cancer are lycopenes found in processed tomatoes and lutein found in green vegetables such as leafy greens and broccoli.
The bottom line? Don’t use green tea as an excuse to keep smoking, but if you have a history of smoking in the past, sipping green tea may have positive benefits. Ex-smokers often have microscopic lung damage from smoking that persist even after they quit – although lung cancer risk significantly drops once a person has been smoke-free for ten years. Getting natural antioxidants from green tea, fruits, and vegetables could help to protect lungs from further damage due to exposure to secondary cigarette smoke and pollutants in the environment. The first priority should be to quit smoking, but even after you do, consider adding green tea to your diet.