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posted: 11/14/2011 12:01 AM

Green tea may boost flu protection in kids

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The flu season is upon us and our front-line defense, the flu vaccine, does not protect us 30 percent to 40 percent of the time (sometimes more). However, a recent medical study indicates that simply drinking a cup of green tea every day may prevent influenza infection, especially for school-age children.

Influenza is a viral illness characterized by high fevers, chill, severe muscle pains, headache and a profound feeling of fatigue. Influenza can be transmitted by coughs and sneezes, but also by touch. Frequent hand washing significantly reduces the risk of infection. In the U.S., thousands of people die each year from complications caused by influenza. It is especially serious for those with underlying medical conditions.

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The medical approach for the influenza encourages hand washing, disinfectant use and vaccinations. Some anti-viral medications, like Tamiflu and Relenza, may also be recommended. However, in most years, the influenza vaccine is not very effective.

A recent medical study, published in the Journal of Nutrition, looked at the relationship between green tea consumption and how it can reduce influenza infection. This study explored the hypothesis that children who regularly drank green tea would have fewer cases of influenza those children who did not drink green tea. They chose children for two reasons: there is little research with children and influenza prevention; the children lived on or near tea plantations in Japan.

With over 2,600 children in the study, the researchers discovered that children who drank, on average, five cups of green tea per week had significantly fewer cases of influenza when compared to those who drank almost no green tea. Those who drank the most green tea (about one cup per day) also had significantly fewer sick days from school. The results were so conclusive that the researchers concluded that the regular consumption of green tea is protective against influenza infections during the influenza season.

Green tea contains many compounds. One of the most researched is a family of compounds called catechins and the amino acid theanine. Catechins inhibit the attachment of the influenza virus to cells and may interfere with viral replication. The combination of tea catechins and theanine enhance systemic immunity, especially those cells that are directly involved in fighting viruses, T cells. In healthy adults, catechins and theanine actually have been demonstrated to prevent the symptoms of influenza.

There are a number of studies demonstrating the benefits of drinking tea as a preventive measure against influenza in adults. Now it can be strongly suggested this may also be the case with school-age children. Although green tea contains caffeine, none of the children in this study reported side effects commonly associated with too much caffeine.

Protecting yourself against influenza is much more than simply getting vaccinated. A daily cup of green tea may be just what the doctor ordered.

Patrick B. Massey, M.D., Ph.D is medical director for complementary and alternative medicine for the Alexian Brothers Hospital Network. His website is alt-med.org.

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