Tuesday 9 August 2011

Cup of green tea anyone?

Whilst the recent riots witnessed on the streets of London and other English cities are making all the headlines at the moment, normal British culture tends to be a far more relaxed affair. Think England and most people would traditionally think cricket, Wimbledon tennis and afternoon tea a la Hugh Grant style. Although we don't all go around quaffing our favourite brew in our best Etonian blazers, tea drinking is very widely practiced here and we continue to drink quite a lot of it.

As well as being a pleasant drink, quite a large body of evidence has suggested that drinking tea, various types of tea, might also confer some health benefits. Rather than me list them all, this page does quite a good job of demonstrating how tea might help. I would perhaps reiterate the well-used adage 'correlation does not imply causation' for your guidance when reading about the potential health benefits of tea.

Tea drinking in relation to autism is perhaps not something that I ever envisaged myself talking about but this recent article* by Banji and colleagues based in Andhra Pradesh State in India has appeared. The study described the effects of supplementation with green tea extract on mice exposed to valproate; valproate exposure in mice previously being used to model autistic-like behaviour. The outcomes reported by the authors suggest a few things; primarily that green tea extract might offer some ameliorative properties to the valproate-exposed animals in terms of behaviour and in particular a role for oxidative stress in the valproate model. Green tea extract carries some significant antioxidant (and pro-oxidant) capability although most likely this may not be its only beneficial effect.

Whilst this is just a preliminary study carried out in one of the major tea exporting countries on mice with experimentally-induced autistic-like behaviours, I am intrigued by the findings. Experimental animal models of autism, whilst carrying certain ethical dilemmas, are providing some important clues about autism and its origins and biochemical course. Ideas about oxidative stress in relation to autism have been around for quite a while. Reducing that oxidative burden may potentially affect symptoms; even some of the medications commonly used in autism and other conditions can act as quite potent antioxidants.

So whilst there is panic on the streets of London, would anyone like a relaxing cup of tea?

* Banji D. et al. Amelioration of behavioral aberrations and oxidative markers by green tea extract in valproate induced autism in animals. Brain Research. July 2011.

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