Nearly 10 percent of people in the United States have diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Foundation.
When you have diabetes, life becomes all about regulating your blood sugar to stay healthy. And while many must turn to medication and insulin injections, there is evidence to suggest that drinking green tea could make diabetes management easier.
Several studies have pointed to green tea as a potentially effective method of controlling diabetes, and even improving insulin sensitivity. Just how it works isn’t completely clear, but it’s believed catechins within the tea — also responsible for its anticancer and heart health benefits — may be responsible.
How Diabetes Works
When you eat foods with carbohydrates, they are digested into sugar. In response, the pancreas releases insulin to help cells absorb glucose to be used as fuel. However, when you have diabetes, the process is hindered.
People with type 2 diabetes have cells that are desensitized to insulin, which is known as insulin resistance. This, and the fact that the pancreas often stops releasing enough insulin, makes their blood sugar levels difficult to control.
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease; the cells of the pancreas that produce insulin are attacked and killed by the body’s immune system, and simply do not produce insulin at all.
Most studies on the effects of green tea in people with diabetes have focused on type 2 diabetes, as it is more common, accounting for 90 to 95 percent of the diabetes seen in the United States.
Green Tea and Diabetes Prevention
There are indications that green tea can reduce the risk of developing diabetes. According to one study in Japan, people who drank six or more cups of green tea daily were 33 percent less likely to develop type 2 diabetes than people who drank just one cup per week.
Another study found that people who drank green tea consistently for a period of 10 years had smaller waist circumferences and lower body fat levels, showing that the tea may play a role in reducing obesity risk.
Green Tea and Diabetes Management
But tea’s benefits don’t stop at prevention. For people already diagnosed with diabetes, green tea may be able to help manage blood sugar levels.
According to a comprehensive review, green tea consumption is associated with decreased fasting glucose levels and A1C levels, as well as reduced fasting insulin levels, which are a measurement of diabetes health. While not all studies have shown these positive results, green tea has still been shown to be beneficial in other ways.
The Pacific College of Oriental Medicine suggests that the antioxidant activity of polyphenols and polysaccharides are to credit for these benefits. These same antioxidants are credited with anticancer, cholesterol lowering, and blood pressure management benefits.
Making the Most of Green Tea
If you have diabetes and want to reap the potential benefits of green tea, steer clear of additions that can cause blood glucose changes. It’s best to drink the mild-tasting tea plain, instead of diluting it with milk or sweetening it with sugar.
Teabags are just fine (loose leaf is best), but if you want to enjoy a fresher, green flavor, you can buy traditional matcha green tea online and in specialty shops. Matcha is a green tea powder, traditionally used in Chinese tea ceremonies. It is prepared with a small bowl and bamboo whisk, though a spoon or wire whisk can work in a pinch. Because the tea is more concentrated in a matcha powder, you may reap additional benefits over bagged green tea.