Fact or Myth: Do Green Tea and Iron Cancel Each Other Out?

This is FACT.

A new study in the American Journal of Pathology suggests that drinking green tea with an iron-rich meal (or iron supplement) negates the antioxidant and anti-inflammation benefits of green tea’s main compound EGCG.

The Health Benefits of Green Tea tea

After water, tea is the most widely consumed beverage in the world. Made from unfermented tealeaves, green tea contains a plentiful concentration of polyphenols. Polyphenols are antioxidants that neutralize damaging compounds called free radicals that destroy our cells and DNA, accelerate aging, and contribute to chronic diseases such as cancer and heart disease.

Studies indicate that green tea may help stave off:

  • Atherosclerosis and coronary artery disease
  • High cholesterol
  • Cancers of the bladder, breast, ovarian, colon, esophagus, lung, pancreas, prostate, skin, and stomach
  • Diabetes
  • Liver disease
  • Weight gain
  • Dental cavities

Green tea also acts as an anti-inflammatory, helping to reduce the inflammation associated with arthritis and irritable bowel disease (IBD). But how and when you drink green tea matters. According to the latest research based on a laboratory mouse model, iron cancels out green tea’s anti-inflammatory benefits.

The Relationship Between IBD, Green Tea, and Iron

IBD is a condition marked by chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. Symptoms include bloody diarrhea, pain, fatigue, weight loss, and iron deficiency. For this reason, many IBD sufferers take iron supplements. Green tea is also a common alternative treatment for IBD. It helps reduce the inflammation associated with two of the most common forms of IBD: Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

EGCG, one of the primary nutritive components of green tea, suppresses the release of an inflammatory enzyme called myeloperoxidase. This enzyme is activated by white blood cells during the inflammation response. By helping to inhibit the release of myeloperoxidase, EGCG subsequently helps prevent IBD flare-ups. However, when combined with iron, EGCG loses its anti-inflammatory benefit and is unable to inhibit myeloperoxidase.

Matam Vijay-Kumar, assistant professor of nutritional sciences, Penn State, explains: “It is important that IBD patients who take both iron supplements and green tea know how one nutrient affects the other. The information from the study could be helpful for both people who enjoy green tea and drink it for its general benefits, as well as people who use it specifically to treat illnesses and conditions.”

The moral of the study? Avoid drinking green tea with a meal high in iron, such as when consuming red meat or dark green, leafy vegetables.