Green Tea Compound EGCG Extends Lifespan and Healthspan by Fighting Cell Aging
Updated on 4/14/23 by Cambria Glosz, MS, RD
Aging adults accumulate dysfunctional cells that undergo irreversible growth arrest. These so-called senescent cells remain in the body, leaving a trail of inflammatory debris behind, accelerating aging and the development of age-related disorders. Aging researchers have proposed that targeting the removal of these harmful cells could promote longevity and healthy aging. To test this, researchers have started studying the use of senolytics—drugs or compounds that remove senescent cells from the body.
One such compound, EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate), is found in one of the most commonly consumed beverages in the world—green tea. In a study published in The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, researchers out of the Academy of Scientific and Innovative Research in Palampur, India, found compelling evidence of EGCG’s senolytic qualities. Authored by Sharma and colleagues, this study showed that EGCG extended lifespan in aging mice by fighting back on cellular senescence. This could one reason why some of the world’s longest-lived cultures are also known to be habitual green tea drinkers.
The ABCs of EGCG
Made from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant, green tea is known to have great potential for supporting health, primarily due to its potent antioxidant activity. The high antioxidant content of green tea and its extracts can help to protect the body against damage from oxidative stress—a strong predictor of cellular senescence progression.
Previous research has found that EGCG extended lifespan in rats and improved healthspan—the years of life lived without developing disease—in worms. However, studies on the role of EGCG in fighting senescence have been limited to cell-based research in the lab. That is, until now, with this study by Sharma and colleagues that addresses how cellular senescence progresses in various mouse organs, with an emphasis on adipose (fat) tissue, the intestines and the immune system.
EGCG Extends Lifespan and Fights Cellular Senescence
This study looked at the effects of EGCG consumption in mice aged 6, 10, 14, and 18 months old—ranging from the mid-30s to mid-60s in human age equivalence. One of the most compelling findings in this study was that EGCG consumption extended their lifespans, with the mice who received EGCG having a 46% lower risk of death than control mice.
The researchers speculated that these improved survival rates were likely due to EGCG’s senolytic qualities, which they measured via markers of senescence. They found that the rates of cellular senescence were tissue-dependent, with the adipose tissue and intestines being most affected by this inflammatory process.
Compared to young mice, the aging mice steadily accumulated DNA damage and senescence markers in their fat and intestinal tissue, while EGCG consumption markedly attenuated these age-related responses. The rates of senescence and DNA damage were not consistent throughout the lifespan—instead, the accumulation of aging markers starkly sped up between the ages of 14-18 months (approximately their 50s and 60s in human years.)
Senescent cells accelerate aging through the senescence-associated secretory phenotype (SASP), a cascade of destructive compounds that cause inflammatory damage to nearby cells. In this study, markers of SASP were most distinct in the aging adipose tissue—and were alleviated by EGCG consumption.
The immune system is also significantly affected by aging. For example, aging increases pro-inflammatory immune cell activity. Sharma and colleagues found that EGCG reduced this age-related immune inflammation and increased the activity of helpful immune cells. EGCG also promoted autophagy in the aging mice, a type of cellular trash removal that eliminates damaged or dysfunctional cells to make room for new, healthy ones.
Lastly, EGCG consumption improved the diversity of beneficial microbes in the gut. Reductions in gut microbiome diversity are common with age and can contribute to intestinal dysfunction in older adults. Further, gut dysbiosis is directly linked to the induction of cellular senescence, and microbiome modulators have exhibited anti-senescence activity.
A Green Light for Green Tea
This research is the first to assess the effects of EGCG on cellular senescence in living animals, showing that this green tea compound dramatically improves both healthspan and lifespan in mice by fighting cellular senescence. Sharma and colleagues provide evidence that the adipose tissue is a highly vulnerable site of age-associated DNA damage and cellular senescence—even in mice that were not obese.
As previous studies have found that eliminating senescent cells alleviates disorders related to excess body weight, this research further suggests the harmful implications of senescent adipose tissue. As Sharma and colleagues conclude in their paper, “Together, it is reasonable to assert that chronic EGCG consumption has the potential to counter both cellular senescence and SASP, and thus EGCG is a unique candidate for developing cellular senescence-based anti-aging strategies.”
In other words, pumping the brakes on your coffee habit and hopping on the tea train looks to be a wise choice for supporting a long and healthy life.
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Palmer AK, Xu M, Zhu Y, et al. Targeting senescent cells alleviates obesity-induced metabolic dysfunction. Aging Cell. 2019;18(3):e12950. doi:10.1111/acel.12950
Sharma R, Kumar R, Sharma A, Goel A, Padwad Y. Long-term consumption of green tea EGCG enhances murine health span by mitigating multiple aspects of cellular senescence in mitotic and post-mitotic tissues, gut dysbiosis, and immunosenescence. J Nutr Biochem. 2022;107:109068. doi:10.1016/j.jnutbio.2022.109068
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