Purpose of review
Tea is considered to be one of the most promising dietary chemopreventive agents and, consequently, it is being studied extensively worldwide. Despite the fact that tea has proved very efficient in affording protection against chemical-induced cancer in animal models of the disease, epidemiological studies do not always support the laboratory findings, so that the value of tea as a human anticarcinogen may be considered as ‘not proven’. A major mechanism of the anticarcinogenic activity of tea in animals is impairment of the interaction of carcinogens with DNA leading to mutations. The antimutagenic activity of tea as well as the underlying mechanisms will be reviewed, and the role of polyphenols, the postulated bioactive components, and caffeine will be critically evaluated.
In rats, exposure to tea modulated the disposition of heterocyclic amines, a major group of food-borne carcinogens, stimulating the pathways that lead to deactivation, and this is concordant with the established ability of tea to modulate the carcinogen-metabolizing enzyme systems. These observations provide a rational mechanism for the anticarcinogenic activity of tea in animals.
The beneficial activities of tea have always been attributed to the polyphenols, as these are present in tea at substantial concentrations and are endowed with antioxidant activity. It is becoming increasingly evident, however, that the bioavailability of these compounds is poor as a result of limited absorption and presystemic metabolism by mammalian and microbial enzymes. We propose that the biological activity of tea may be mediated by caffeine and microbial metabolites of polyphenols.