Green Tea vs. Superbugs

There are a lot of reasons to drink green tea. Study after study links the antioxidant-rich drink to a host of health benefits. Now researchers at Egypt's University of Alexandria point to a new reason to brew up some green: it boosts the effectiveness of antibiotics in fighting harmful bacteria and drug-resistant superbugs like MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus).

Egyptian researchers tested green tea in combination with antibiotics against 28 disease-causing microorganisms belonging to two different classes: green tea enhanced the bacteria-killing activity of the antibiotics in every case. The study, presented this week at a meeting of the Society for General Microbiology in Edinburgh, Scotland, showed that green tea made one in five drug-resistant bacteria susceptible to one of the cephalosporin antibiotics (a class of antibiotics that some strains of bacteria have mutated to resist).

The boost in antibiotic effectiveness may become a welcome weapon in the fight against a growing number of antibiotic-resistant infections in hospitals and community settings. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 2 million people in the U.S. are affected each year by antibiotic-resistant infections caused by bacteria, like MRSA, which survive by mutating to avoid the effects of antibiotics.

Dr. Salah Ahmed, who researches the medicinal effects of tea at the University of Michigan but was not affiliated with the Egyptian study, says this new study shows the broad benefits of green tea, which offers far more healthy antioxidants than black and oolong teas. "We're now seeing from this study that green tea can inhibit the progress of diseases," says Ahmed, whose research has shown a string of other benefits associated with green tea, like improved circulation and a delayed degradation of cartilage which can cause arthritis. And the National Institutes of Health reports that the traditional beverage has also been show to prevent or inhibit the growth of some kinds of cancer.

What's more, comparisons show that green tea has less caffeine in most varieties as compared to coffee, which is another bonus for those who want to avoid caffeine. "As a health benefit and diet supplement, [green tea] really is cheaper, more affordable and has fewer side effects [than coffee]," says Ahmed.

How much green tea should you drink? Dr. Zuo Feng Zhang, a cancer epidemiology researcher at UCLA, recommends two to three cups a day (that's teacups, not mugs), though his research related to stomach cancer shows that four to five cups can reduce disease susceptibility even more.