Health benefits of drinking tea may be more than skin-deep. Researchers from the University of Minnesota in Austin have developed a new cream, made of tea, they say could fight skin cancer.
Tea contains polyphenols, which researchers say appear to block skin tumors. Polyphenols are found in both black and green teas and, unlike sunblock, work after the skin is exposed to sunlight. The chemicals are thought to decrease levels of the enzyme JNK-2, which naturally increases after skin is exposed to sunlight. Because JNK-2 levels are decreased, researchers believe the polyphenols help inhibit tumor growth. Studies in mice show green tea polyphenols block the skin's response to UV light.
Zigang Dong, M.D., from University of Minnesota in Austin's Hormel Institute, says the new cream is an important step in improving skin cancer prevention. He says, "Topical application of certain tea polyphenols appears to block a key process that leads to skin cancer."
Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States. About 1 million new cases are reported each year. Previous studies show drinking tea may prevent the disease, but researchers say a topical cream is probably more effective. Dr. Dong says: "Drinking tea may help, but you'd have to drink a large amount to accumulate in the skin, perhaps as many as 10 cups a day. It's easier to concentrate it in a cream form."
The skin cream could be used alone or combined with sunscreen to maximize skin protection. Dr. Dong says testing in humans could begin within the next few years.