Is Decaf Green Tea as Healthy as Regular Green Tea?

Both regular and decaf green tea are good for you.
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Green tea is well known to have potential health benefits due to the antioxidants it contains, but it also has caffeine. If you're sensitive to caffeine or want to enjoy a cup of green tea at night, will you still get the health benefits if you choose decaffeinated green tea? Research studies suggest that you will.

What's So Great About Green Tea?

The heath benefits of green tea come from the phytochemicals, which are natural chemical compounds found in plants.

Some of those phytochemicals, called flavanols, give green tea much of its antioxidant potential and have been the focus of various research studies. Caffeine is also a phytochemical, but it doesn't have anything to do with the function of those antioxidants.

Drinking regular green tea is thought to be good for your health, but to be honest, it's hard to know just how good it is for you. One study in 2015 found that green tea drinkers had a lower risk of liver diseases compared to people who don't drink green tea, but much more research is needed to find out if drinking green tea actually reduced that risk or if green tea drinkers tend to have other healthy habits that affected the results. Other studies suggest green tea extracts may be good for your heart and promote a small amount of weight loss, but those are based on taking green tea 'pills' rather than drinking green tea.

How Does Decaffeinated Green Tea Compare to Regular Green Tea?

The processes that remove the caffeine from green tea also remove some of the polyphenols, but not all of them.

According to one study published in 2003, the flavanol content of regular teas varied from 21.2 to 103.2 mg/g (milligrams per gram), while the flavanol content of the decaf green teas ranged from 4.6 to 39.0 mg/g.

The antioxidant values varied from 728 to 1,686 Trolox equivalents/g tea for regular teas and from 507 to 845 Trolox equivalents/gram for decaffeinated teas.

So while there's a reduction in flavanols, the antioxidant activity isn't entirely lost. But beyond that, it's difficult to tell if decaffeinated green tea is more or less beneficial for humans because many green tea studies are done with lab animals rather than people. But there are a few studies done with human participants that help us understand if green tea works.

Results of Studies Using Decaffeinated Green Tea

One study published in 2011 tested decaf green tea extracts (equal to about 6 to 8 cups of hot green tea per day) in overweight or obese men. The researchers found that when the participants took the supplements, they had an increase in the levels of epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG is the best known of the green tea catechins) and lost some weight.

Another study published in 2010 looked at decaf tea and weight loss in women who had survived breast cancer. There was some weight loss during the six months, but not enough to be statistically significant. But, the women who took the green tea did have elevations in their HDL cholesterol (the good kind). 

The most recent study on decaf green tea was published in 2014 and used a proprietary green tea extract product in the hopes that it would be beneficial for women who had persistent human papillomavirus and cervical cell changes that could progress to cancer.

Unfortunately, the green tea didn't appear to offer any prevention at all.

A Word From Verywell

Decaf green tea still has antioxidant potential and may help a little with weight loss, but whether it does more for your health isn't clear. However, it has no calories and can easily be part of a healthy diet.

It's important to know that decaffeinated green tea may not be completely caffeine free, so if you're sensitive to caffeine, it may still affect you.

Sources:

Brown AL, Lane J, Holyoak C, Nicol B, Mayes AE, Dadd T. "Health effects of green tea catechins in overweight and obese men: a randomized controlled cross-over trial." Br J Nutr. 2011 Dec;106(12):1880-9. 

Garcia FA, Cornelison T, Nuño T, Greenspan DL, Byron JW, Hsu CH, Alberts DS, Chow HH. "Results of phase II randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of Polyphenon E in women with persistent high-risk HPV infection and low-grade cervical intraepithelial neoplasia." Gynecol Oncol. 2014 Feb;132(2):377-82. 

Henning SM, Fajardo-Lira C, Lee HW, Youssefian AA, Go VL, Heber D. "Catechin content of 18 teas and a green tea extract supplement correlates with the antioxidant capacity." Nutr Cancer. 2003;45(2):226-35. 

Stendell-Hollis NR, Thomson CA, Thompson PA, Bea JW, Cussler EC, Hakim IA. "Green tea improves metabolic biomarkers, not weight or body composition: a pilot study in overweight breast cancer survivors." J Hum Nutr Diet. 2010 Dec;23(6):590-600. 

Yin X, Yang J, Li T, et al. "The effect of green tea intake on risk of liver disease: a meta analysis." International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Medicine. 2015;8(6):8339-8346.

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