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The news today is all about the extraordinary growth of the Chinese economy, but is there a danger that in importing Western affluence the Chinese may also import our levels of the characteristic diseases of affluence obesity, diabetes, heart attack, stroke and even cancer?

Perhaps, but probably not, so long as traditional Chinese medicine retains its focus on promoting the balance and harmony of the entire human organism; on unleashing and then harnessing the bodys own incredible healing powers.

The Chinese approach is becoming increasingly popular in the West, but fortunately there's no need for you wait until youre ill or to consult a specialist practitioner to derive the benefits. As amazing as it may seem, as simple a change as incorporating a few cups of green tea a day in your routine can deliver dramatic improvements in your well being.

Tea became widely known in China during the Tang dynasty (AD 618907) but theres evidence that its health promoting qualities had been known to the enlightened for at least four thousand years.

It was used first as an aid to good digestion, stimulating the absorption of nutrients from food; and also became known as a powerful anti-oxidant and detoxifying agent. These qualities alone, common to all teas, would be more than enough to make it a very valuable health supplement. But theres much more to green tea than this.

What makes green tea different from the more common black varieties is the method of production. Crucially, leaves for green tea are steamed rather than fermented, preventing the destruction of the vital EGCG compound. If youll forgive a little scientific jargon, EGCG is short for Epigallocatechin Gallate, one of a number of catechin polyphenols that occur naturally in tea. EGCG is a very powerful anti-oxidant, the preservation of which has been indicated by research to make green tea anything up to ten times more potent than the more common fermented varieties.

The power of EGCG and related compounds in green tea may be illustrated by comparison with the so-called French paradox. Reputable recent research has indicated that the relatively low incidence of heart disease in France, despite the traditionally high fat national diet, is due to the significant quantities of resveratrol found in the red wine which is also liberally consumed.

Like EGCG, resveratrol is an anti-oxidant polyphenol, but a 1997 study at the University of Kansas demonstrated that EGCG is up to twice as powerful. Other research has credited EGCG with the ability to reduce total levels of cholesterol as well as improving the ratio of good (HDL) cholesterol to bad (LDL) cholesterol and protecting against the abnormal blood clotting which is a major risk factor for both heart attacks and strokes - still two of the biggest causes of premature death and disablement in the Western world.

But if there's one single disease that's most characteristic of Western society today it must surely be obesity; as a look around your local gym or shopping mall will quickly confirm. And in truth, many of the killer diseases of affluence, most notably diabetes and cardio-vascular problems, have chronic obesity at their root. Swiss research published by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in November 1999 suggested that green tea possessed thermogenic properties and promoted fat metabolism at a faster rate than could be explained by its caffeine content alone. Or in laymans terms, green tea is a powerful fat burner which can be a very useful tool in any weight loss program.

Finally, and perhaps most excitingly of all, theres increasing evidence that the anti-oxidant effects of green tea may even have positive effects in the fight against cancer. In a major step forward, University of Purdue researchers recently isolated EGCG as the compound responsible, suggesting that the amount contained in as few as four or five cups of green tea a day may inhibit the growth of cancer cells without apparently harming healthy tissue.

Now of course, no one is claiming green tea as a cure for cancer, obesity or any of the conditions mentioned above. But there no longer seems any doubt that just a few cups a day of this very inexpensive and simplest of drinks can be an invaluable addition to your daily health regime.

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