Let’s begin at the beginning… unpaired electrons are unstable. They want to react with other entities to form pairs. These “free radicals,” or “oxidants” are formed in many ways, like UV radiation or as intermediary steps in the break-up of more complex molecules in chemical reactions, such as when our mitochondria convert food into energy.
Thus, anti-oxidants are good. They bond with free radicals so free radicals can be flushed out of your system before they can bond with something that was supposed to be part of your natural functioning, in turn causing abnormal cell growth, which is cancer.
The components in plants that are responsible for secondary functions (such as colorful pigments or scents meant to communicate to pollinators and predators, or like hormones that regulate cell metabolism) tend to contain lots of antioxidants and tea in particular contains many types of antioxidants, some of which also trigger enzymes that influence the way DNA is transcribed into RNA such as
- Stimulating protective genes.
- Inhibiting tumor cell proliferation.
- Blocking the blood vessels that feed tumors.
- Triggering other anticancer and detoxification mechanisms.
So why do we still say tea “may” help fight cancer rather than it “does” help fight cancer? Because it is all very complicated, we don’t understand it completely, and good science operates on very high standards. Some studies don’t match up with others, which can happen because of different procedures and criteria. (Which types of teas were tested and in what ways? What types of cancer? Etc.) For another thing, many studies are animal studies rather than human, and are therefore “inconclusive.”
- It is abundantly clear that tea does several things that help maintain healthy cells in general, so in this way, tea does help to fight cancer.
- Evidence is growing that there are also additional mechanisms which fight or inhibit specific cancers, though they are not yet fully understood or proven.