Researchers have found that an antioxidant (EGCG, Epigallocatechin Gallate) in green tea neutralizes a protein in sperm that can carry the HIV and thus may serve as protection against the transmission of AIDS.
It’s fun to imagine the conversation that led to the discovery that applying green tea to the vagina blocks the transmission of AIDS. (“Sweetheart, are you going to drink your Sencha or use it vaginally?”) But in fact, the research that found that an antioxidant in green tea neutralizes a protein in sperm that can carry the HIV virus took place in the lab, not at high tea. In fact, back in 2003, an article in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology reported that Epigallocatechin Gallate (EGCG), found in green tea, prevents HIV from binding to T-cells. EGCG is the same component that confers the various other health benefits derived from green tea, such as cancer prevention. Although the researchers knew back then that EGCG inhibited HIV in test tubes, they didn’t yet have a formulation that could be used in real life.
But now it looks like researchers at the University of Heidelberg in Germany have developed a practical way to use EGCG to fend off AIDS. After finding that sperm contains a peptide that essentially escorts the HIV virus to the entry point in healthy cells so that it can infect them, they ran tests in the lab and verified that when HIV-infected semen was exposed to healthy cells in the presence of ECCG, the EGCG blocked the HIV-enhancing peptide. The researchers believe that topical vaginal creams containing EGCG could be developed and used as a “simple and affordable prevention method.”
“EGCG, a natural ingredient of green tea, may be a valuable and cost-efficient inhibitor of semen-mediated enhancement of virus infection, and hence of sexual transmission of HIV,” the scientists wrote in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Scientists have been experimenting with the derivatives of many natural substances as HIV inhibitors, but most fail when moved from the lab to living subjects, or else they only work at toxic doses. In lab tests, it appears that low doses of EGCG are effective, and that EGCG is non-toxic even at very high doses, and so human tests are on the horizon. Plus, scientists hope that because EGCG derives from a natural substance, it will remain effective even if the virus undergoes changes.
Like all viruses, the HIV virus has the capacity to mutate. This means that synthetic drugs, which typically contain just one active ingredient, eventually fail when the virus finds a way around that ingredient. And so, researchers have been investigating a host of natural substances — not just EGCG — as HIV solutions. Bevirimat, found in birch-tree bark, currently is being looked at as a possible AIDS intervention, and raltegravir, an existing AIDS medication, derives from green coffee beans.
But researchers may be missing the point. Natural substances such as green tea or birch bark “each” contain multiple active ingredients and so they stand up to viral mutations — including HIV mutations — far better than single bullet approaches. However, it should be pointed out that if the cream is based on an extract of pure EGCG, rather than the full polyphenol complex as found in green tea, the chances of the HIV virus being able to mutate around it increase exponentially. The value of natural substances lies in the diversity of biochemicals they each contain. When natural extracts are purified down to a single bio-chemical, they have been effectively turned into one dimensional drugs and lost much of their value. Doing this for multiple natural substances does not change the fundamental underlying equation.
Meanwhile, researchers are looking to EGCG for applications beyond AIDS prevention. In a study published this week in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, a team from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota announced that in clinical tests, leukemia patients given high doses of EGCG experienced significant improvements, including a 50-percent reduction in the size of swollen lymph nodes and a lowered lymphocyte count.
A 2008 study out of the University of Mississippi found that EGCG reduced the growth of breast tumors in mice by more than 65 percent. In that study, the EGCG simply was infused into water that the mice drank. Earlier studies have found EGCG effective against Alzheimer’s disease, prostate tumor growth, obesity, clogged arteries, diabetes, arthritis, and more.
Scientists caution that drinking green tea by the bucketful won’t necessarily cure cancer nor prevent AIDS, although they do note that two cups of tea contain enough EGCG to cut the binding action of HIV by 40 percent. But, they warn, to prevent AIDS, the EGCG needs to be delivered to the HIV-binding cells and not dispersed throughout the system, and so a more targeted approach is necessary — thus the vaginal crème methodology. The same principal applies to using EGCG to shrink tumors, according to the scientific community.
But you don’t need a vaginal cream (particularly if you’re male), or a pharmaceutical derivative to reap the benefits of EGCG. Plenty of studies have shown that those who drink lots of green tea or who take the full complex in supplement form do experience powerful health benefits. How nice that I’ve included it in my ultimate antioxidant formulas for nigh on two decades.