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Frequently Asked Questions


“I have seen on the Internet that white tea is now considered better for cancer patients than green tea. Is this true? Should I switch to white tea to help fight my breast cancer?”

Tea, a traditional beverage in many cultures, is thought to protect against many western diseases (1, 2). Human studies on the benefit of green tea have suggested positive benefits (3). Information pertaining to health benefits of white tea compared to green tea has been limited to animal and test tube experiments (1, 4). The processing of white tea appears to make it a superior product over green tea, however the high cost and light flavor may be discouraging (2, 5). Read on to learn more about the pros and cons of white tea.

The popularity of tea, the second most widely consumed beverage in the world, is attributed to a variety of cultural traditions and assorted health benefits (1). Green, black, and white tea all come from the same plant called the Camellia sinensis plant (2). The leaves, and possibly the buds of this plant, contain high levels of flavonoids, including catechins and other polyphenols that act as antioxidants. An antioxidant is a compound that can prevent activated oxygen molecules, also called free radicals, from causing cell damage, which can lead to cancer (6).

Research suggests that the antioxidant quality of tea protects against heart disease, stroke, and some cancers – including the recurrence of early stage breast cancer (1, 2). The content of flavonoids in tea is dependent on the variety of leaf, growing environment, manufacturing, particle size of ground tea leaves and infusion preparation (2).

Black tea is produced in Africa, India, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia where as green tea and white tea come from China and Japan. Black tea undergoes an oxidation process during manufacturing which strips away some of the protective flavonoids; green and white teas are not oxidized during production (2). White tea undergoes the simplest manufacturing process.

While manufacturing white tea, the leaves and buds are steamed rather than fermented, and then dried to produce a delicate flavor and light color (1, 7). Green tea uses only the leaves, which are pan-fried/steamed, then rolled/shaped, and finally dried (1). The lack of processing involved in producing white tea is thought to protect the beverage from losing many of its flavonoids and antioxidant qualities (1, 7).

The attention surrounding white tea is related to one study published in the journal, Mutation Research, May 2001 done at The Linus Pauling Institute of Oregon State University (1, 4). This is the only study to date that has compared the anti-cancer effect of white tea to green tea in a Salmonella assay (bacteria experiment). Based on test tube and rat experiments, the researchers concluded that of the four types of white tea tested, Exotica China white and Mutant white were significantly better at protecting bacteria from mutation than Premium green tea (1, 4). At the end of the study, rats fed white tea had fewer PhIP (the carcinogen found in cooked meat) induced pre-cancerous lesions in the colon (4). While the tea had a positive impact on the pre-cancerous conditions in the colon it did not have the same impact on the actual tumors. Therefore, they have concluded that white tea and other types of tea are capable of blocking DNA damage caused by some compounds used in a test tube experiment. The prevention of cancer formation in these experiments can not yet be applied to humans. This information is preliminary and, most importantly, means that additional research is needed in the area of tea and cancer prevention.

So how much tea should a person have to drink? A study published in 1999 indicated that 10 Japanese size cups of green tea per day resulted in delayed cancer development. A follow up study found that stages I and II breast cancer patients consuming over five cups green tea per day experienced a lower recurrence rate and longer disease-free period than those consuming less than 4 cups per day (3).

Switching from green tea to white tea may be of concern to your wallet. On the Internet you can purchase 25 servings of white tea between $9 and $37 (5). Locally in Ann Arbor, Michigan, 20 servings could be purchased for costs between $8 and $18. Taste is of consideration since white tea produces a very mild flavor, much different from that of green tea.

Including green or white tea in a healthful diet high in a variety of antioxidant-rich foods may be beneficial at both preventing the occurrence and recurrence of some cancers. Neither green or white tea may be the “magic bullet” some are looking for, but I do recommend including tea as regular component of an ultra-healthy diet, both for cancer prevention and recovery. I personally consume 4-6 cups of green tea (hot and iced) on most days. I only consume white tea on irregular occasions, and truthfully, I prefer the taste of green tea.

1. Santana-Rios G, Orner GA, Amantana A, Provost C, Wu SY, Dashwood RH. Potent antimutagenic activity of white tea in comparison with green tea in the Salmonella assay. Mutation Research. 2001;495:61-74.
2. The Tea Council. Available at: http://www.teacouncil.co.uk Accessed January 23, 2003.
3. Fujiki H. Two stages of cancer prevention with green tea. J Cancer Res Clin Oncol. 1999: 11; 589-597.
4. The Linus Pauling Institute. Oregon State University. Available at: http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/new/whitetea.html - Accessed January 23, 2003.
5. Golden Moon: White Tea: Available at: http://www.store.yahoo.com/goldenmoon/whiteteas.html
White Pearls Tea. Available at: http://www.stashtea.com/w-111232.htm
Accessed January 23, 2003.
6. American Cancer Society: Making Treatment Decisions: Green Tea. Available at: http://www.cancer.org Accessed January 23, 2003.
7. J.R. The power of caffeine and pale tea. Science News On Line. 2000. Available at: http://www.findarticles.com/cf_dls/m1200/16_157/62195130/p1/article.jhtml
Accessed January 23, 2003.

Article written by Rebecca McKee, RD for a graduate-level nutrition class at Eastern Michigan University. Final editing done and approved by Diana Dyer, MS, RD.



faq posted 2/03

Back to Main QandA Page


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These questions and answers are intended to be of a general informative nature. Please consult with the Registered Dietitian in your cancer center or your health care provider for nutritional advice that can be individualized to your specific medical condition.

Contact Information:
Phone/Fax: 734/996-9260

P.O. Box 130221, Ann Arbor, MI  48113

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