How To (Yet Again) Get 3 Times More Out Of Your Tea – Hack Your Tea Part 2

Tea drinkers are big losers. With that I of course mean that 80% or more of the antioxidants in tea are wasted. That’s nothing short of a disaster, if you drink green tea for acne or other health reasons. Because antioxidants are where all the health action is.

We have two problems at our hands. The major issue is the absolutely abysmal bioavailability of green tea catechins (antioxidants). 80% of total catechins are destroyed during digestion. And the situation is even worse for the most important catechin, epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), 90 – 95% of which perish before it can do you any good.

The other problem is the rapid destruction of catechins in brewed tea, which can be an issue if you store tea in fridge or use it topically.

Luckily scientists have figured out ways to fix this. So don’t be a loser. Join in me figuring out quick, simple and ‘less than a penny’ solutions to these problems.

In the previous tea hacking post I showed how to optimizing your brewing techniques gives you 5 times more antioxidants per cup. Add to that what you’ll learn in this post for a really powerful cup of acne-smashing goodness.

Fresh tea doesn’t stay fresh for long

Some people consider brewing tea a chore. So they brew it in a large batch and store in the fridge. If this is you, then perhaps I can persuade you to change your habits.

Chart showing stability of green tea catechins in different pH levelsThe problem is that the antioxidants in green tea interact with oxygen and degrade over time. I found a study that looked at degradation of green tea catechins (antioxidants).

This graph shows stability under various pH-levels. Source: Stability of tea theaflavins and catechins

The pH 7 line probably best represents what happens at home.

I know that green tea is slightly acid, so the pH 6.5 line is theoretically a better fit. But researchers in this study used extremely purified water, something that’s not easily available for you and me. Even filtered water contains metal ions and minerals that over time degrade the catechins.

So consider the pH 6.5 line as the best case scenario and the pH 7 line as what happens under everyday conditions.

The problem with storing tea for a long time is that these antioxidants don’t just degrade. Another study (PDF) showed they turn into hydrogen peroxide, which is a highly inflammatory substance. However this didn’t happen when pH level was below 6.

Another study showed that adding vitamin C protects green tea catechins and significantly improves stability. With 50mg of vitamin C per cup of tea (250 ml) under pH 7.4 and 80% of catechins remained after 8 hours, as compared to only 30% in the above graph. Vitamin C being antioxidant protects the precious green tea catechins from degradation. And as we’ll see later extending stability is not the only reason to spike your tea with some vitamin C.

Take away: Don’t store your tea for more than a few hours, or at least add some vitamin C to improve stability.

Abysmal bioavailability

It doesn’t matter how much antioxidants your tea contains if they don’t survive digestion. And if you thought what happens to your tea in storage was bad, wait till you see what happens to it in your gut.

The unfortunate reality is that only a fraction of green tea’s antioxidant goodness actually makes it through the digestive system. The fraction can be as small as 5 – 10% for epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), the most important catechin in green tea.

The digestive system is far more inhospitable environment than your tea pot. The small intestine is slightly alkaline, and from the graph above you saw what happens to your tea in alkaline conditions.

80% of antioxidants are lost in transition

Simulated digestion studies show that 80 – 90% of the antioxidants in green tea are destroyed before they even make it to your bloodstream. Worryingly, the situation is even worse for the EGCG.

Chart showing bioavailability of green tea catechins
Digestion destroys >80% of EGCG

Take a look at this graph (source: Formulation with ascorbic acid and sucrose modulates catechin bioavailability from green tea). It shows the amount of various catechins in green tea pre- and post-digestion. The first two bars shows catechins pre (white bar) and post-digestion (the first black bar). The other bars are not relevant here.

The key takeaway from this is that over 80% of EGCG is lost in digestion. This is not an outlier study, several others have found similar results.

Don’t get me wrong, drinking green tea is still healthy, but wouldn’t it be cool if you could ‘hack’ your tea for maximum absorption and bioavailability. Yeah, I think so too. The really cool thing is how simple it is.

Fasted vs. fed state

Or why your morning cup of green tea just might be the most important meal of the day. This next study really surprised me. In this study the researchers wanted to know how food in the digestive system affects EGCG bioavailability. They took a group of people and asked them to fast overnight. Then to half of the participants they gave a small breakfast (1 or 2 muffins and a glass of water, which makes me to think that sometimes ‘free lunch’ just isn’t worth it).

So we have one group of people who got a breakfast (fed state) and another one that had not eaten for 12 hours (fasted state). Then they gave the participants a supplement containing EGCG and measured blood levels of those antioxidants several times during the following 24 hours.

Chart showing absorption of EGCG in fasted and fed states
EGCG is absorbed 3 times better when your stomach is empty

This graph shows EGCG blood levels at various points(source: Effects of Dosing Condition on the Oral Bioavailability of Green Tea Catechins after Single-Dose Administration of Polyphenon E in Healthy Individuals). The three different graphs correspond to 3 different strengths of the supplement. That’s not really relevant though. What’s relevant is that in all the graphs the curve with the higher spike represents the fasted state.

As you can see the difference in bioavailability is striking. The ‘area under curve‘ (AUC) was about 3 times higher during fasted than fed state. Roughly speaking, AUC reflects total absorption. So you’ll 3 times more bang for your cup when you drink green in empty stomach.

Why this is, I’m not quite sure. My guess is that having food in the stomach and the small intestine slows down the passage of tea and increases exposure to free radicals.

Of course there’s only so much you can do with this. I’m by no means suggesting you keep fasting all day just to take advantage of this. But it might be worth it to have a cup of freshly-brewed green tea before breakfast. And that cup just might be your most important anti-acne meal of the day. Another possibility is to have a cup before your meal. That should also work to some degree.

Have some sugar and vitamin C with your tea

Commercial, ready-to-drink green tea mixtures often contain quite a bit of sugar and vitamin C. Sugar to make them taste better and vitamin C as preservative. There’s a reason food companies add these things.

A study done at the Purdue University shows this clearly. In the study the researchers gave rats different formulations of green tea drinks. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to find human studies for this, but this study should anyway give us a ballpark idea.

Here are the drinks they tested.

  • Pure green tea (GT)
  • GT mixed with vitamin C (GT + C)
  • GT mixed with sugar (GT + S)
  • GT mixed with sugar and vitamin C (GT + S + C)

The formulations were similar to what you would find from commonly available green tea drinks.

They then measured EGCG concentrations in the blood at various times and plotted it into a chart (similar to the fasted vs. fed state graph) and calculated ‘area under curve’ figures for each green tea drink formulation.

Chart showing absorption of EGCG from different formulations
Adding sugar and vitamin C increases EGCG absorption by 3 times

I plotted the AUC figures for this graph. As you can see the total absorption of EGCG from pure green tea was quite poor, but addition of sugar and vitamin C significantly increased it, especially for sugar.

Total EGCG absorption from the formulation with sugar and vitamin C was roughly 3 times higher than from pure green tea.

Not sure exactly why sugar had such a dramatic effect. Perhaps the sugar also acted as antioxidant. Sugar is normally absorbed rapidly from the small intestine, so it’s possible that EGCG got along for the ride.

None of this means that ready-to-drink green teas are good for you. My previous tea hacking post showed their overall EGCG content is very low. This is probably because who knows how long the tea leaves have been sitting around before brewing. Sugar and vitamin C just protects the little that’s left.

Practical application

So what does this mean for you? How much vitamin C and sugar you have to mix into your cup of tea? The report didn’t mention this, but we can estimate from the ratio of EGCG to vitamin C and sugar.

The drink contained 30mg of EGCG, 10mg of vitamin C and 1.2g of sugar. Your average cup of good quality green tea might contain 200mg of EGCG. So to reach the same ratio you would need 67mg of vitamin C and about two teaspoons of sugar.

Lemon with your tea, Sir?

These figures line up quite nicely with those from another study from Purdue University. This time they studied the absorption of green tea antioxidants under simulated digestion. Here’s what they found.

  • Only 20% of total green tea antioxidants survived digestion. EGCG was the most fragile, with only 10% bioavailability.
  • Add 30mg of vitamin C to a cup of tea and EGCG bioavailability shoots up to 54%
  • Mixing citrus juice with tea increased EGCG bioavailability to 56% – 76%. Improvement varied by juice with lemon > orange > lime > grapefruit.

There’s just one problem with the juice-tea mixture. To reach meaningful bioavailability improvement you have to mix in a lot of juice. For 56% – 76% bioavailability the researchers mixed tea and juice in 1:1 mixture, and I’m not sure how palatable 1:1 mixture of lemon juice and green tea is.

They also tested 20% juice 80% tea mixture, and while the juice helped the improvement wasn’t particularly impressive. So adding a dash of lemon to your tea might improve the taste, but that’s as far as it goes.

So again your best option is to mix in a bit of vitamin C.

Other options

Other things that affect bioavailability of EGCG:

  • Caffeine (40mg per cup, a bit more than naturally found in green tea), improved blood levels by 60%.
  • Nutrient mixture normally given to cancer patients combined with black grapes improved bioavailability by 27%.
  • Mixture of xylitol and vitamin C increased bioavailability by 2 to 3 times, an option if you want to avoid sugar.
  • Adding Quercetin (a common flavonoid) increased bioavailability by 40%.

And here’s something for fun.

Black pepper with your tea?

Other blogger wrote about a study showing black pepper compound piperine also improves EGCG bioavailability. You apparently need about 1.5 teaspoons of black pepper per cup of tea to double EGCG bioavailability. Again something we can chunk into the less palatable options group.

Conclusions and recommendations

Many people drink green tea because of its health benefits, and those primarily comes from antioxidants (catechins). But the sad truth is that over 80% of those benefits are wasted during digestion.

Luckily for us, science has shown how to protect the precious antioxidants, such as these simple tips.

  • Adding almost any antioxidants to green tea protects catechins during digestion and significantly increases bioavailability and blood levels, giving you more bang for you cup.
  • Vitamin C is probably the cheapest option. Ascorbic acid power is dirt cheap and you only need tiny amounts of it.
  • Have a cup of green tea before breakfast. You absorb 3 times more antioxidants when you drink it to empty stomach. Having a cup before your meal should also work.
  • Adding some sugar or xylitol further improves absorption. Research shows best results with a combination of vitamin C and sweetener.
  • Don’t store your tea for too long. A significant portion of antioxidants are destroyed in 3 hours. Add some vitamin C and you can store your tea for about 8 hours without significant degradation.

That’s it for this post. Did you learn something new? Let me know what you think in the comments section, and be sure to subscribe to get more ‘face saving’ information like this.

Don’t know how to get over acne? Let me help.

Feel like you’ve tried everything but acne still won’t budge? Read this page to understand why you get acne and what you can do to get over it.

Learn more

About Me

Hi, I am Acne Einstein(a.k.a. Seppo Puusa). I'm a bit of a science nerd who is also passionate about health. I enjoy digging through medical journals for acne treatment gems I can share here. You can read more about my journey through acne and how I eventually ended up creating this.

43 thoughts on “How To (Yet Again) Get 3 Times More Out Of Your Tea – Hack Your Tea Part 2

  1. Did the research indicate what it was about sugar that made it beneficial in this aspect? I try to avoid sugar, so do you think honey or stevia would have the same effect?

    • No, they didn’t mention why sugar helped absorption. I presume it’s because sugar is absorbed rapidly and the catechins just get along for the ride. Perhaps I didn’t make it clear enough in the post, but xylitol in combination with vitamin C also helped absorption. I presume honey would also help, it’s more or less pure sugar anyway.

  2. Great stuff this. Just as nerdy and thorough as one would expect by now 😉

    it would be interesting with a write up that focused on optimizing nutrition/antioxidants from other foods, and dealing with (myths of?) food combining, time between meals, protein/carbs/fat-digestion and things related to this (meats and starches, fruits, is it better to avoid eating late in the evening, early on in the morning..etc). Are these things relevant in the struggle against acne?

    • Tim, happy to hear I live up to my usual standard of nerdiness!

      Are the things you mentioned relevant to acne? At first blush I would say no. I can take a look at some of the things you mentioned, like food combining. But I doubt I can find much published research on them.

  3. Hey Seppo.

    Great site, great methodology. Keep up the good work, and thanks for sharing all your research!

    I see a contradiction here, however, which this article doesn’t seem to address. Adding sugar, honey, etc. to your green tea seems to help the body absorb more EGCG, which is good. But, sugar, as you state elsewhere on this site, leads to spikes in IGF-1, which boosts sebum production, which is bad. If you’re consuming between 3-6 cups of green tea a day, as you recommend, then the sugar intake adds up pretty quickly. So the question is, do you think the potential benefit of delivering the maximum amount of EGCG to the body offsets or outweighs the risk of using sugar to do it?

    Also, you mention xylitol as an alternative to sugar. Do you know of any research that suggests that stuff doesn’t lead to spikes in IGF-1 in the same way sugar does? Thanks!

    • Bryan,

      Good point. Science is messy and we should expect some contradictions. To be honest, there’s no way to say whether the benefits from additional absorption of EGCG outweight the negative effects of added sugar.

      I simply report any interesting results I see in the research and it’s up to you to decide what to do about them. I don’t like to add sugar or sweeteners to my green tea, but that’s just a taste preference.

      I did some quick research on the effect of xylitol on blood sugar and insulin levels. There’s very little human research available, this was the only study I found:

      https://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/65/4/947.long

      That study showed that a xylitol did slightly increase both blood sugar and insulin levels. According to this study the effect was only about 7% that of glucose. So in practical terms xylitol has only a minor effect on insulin, IGF-1 and blood sugar. I wouldn’t worry about it.

      I did see some animal studies that all showed xylitol has a positive effect on insulin and blood sugar levels.

  4. Great man. Very good info. I found most of those scientific papers but not unified like here and with a methodic explanation.

  5. Very well researched and written article. Two questions:

    1. Does decaffeination always decrease EGCG? I know that a chemical process has that effect, but what about a “natural” process, which uses CO2 to remove caffeine? I thought that was supposed to keep more of the good qualities of green tea.

    2. Have you seen any research on green tea extracts, like those found in green tea capsules? I’m curious whether those improve bioavailability, or whether fresh green tea is best.

    On the sugar issue, I can’t imagine a teaspoon of sugar will really aggravate acne. Two teaspoons of sugar is only 8 grams of carbs.

    • Thanks for your comment, Patrick.

      1. I don’t know. I haven’t looked into this in detail. The figures for decaffeinated tea come from the USDA report. I haven’t looked beyond that.

      2. Most of the research I cite is done with green tea extracts, not on actual green tea. That’s because it’s very difficult to standardize the EGCG doses using brewed green tea, but with extracts you always know how much EGCG there is to begin with.

      I just extended the findings to brewed green tea. I don’t think that’s an unreasonable assumption to make as both are in liquid form and have very similar nutritional profile.

      I also don’t think a teaspoon or two of sugar is a problem. We are talking about quite small amounts anyway. Of course those teaspoons add up if you drink 5 cups per day and add 2 teaspoons for each cup. It’s still not that much, though.

  6. I’m new to this blog, and have found I very helpful so far. Question…I picked up a green tea extract supplement pill (dry pill, as opposed to liquid capsul). It says that it contains 630 mg of green tea extract per servings, standardized to contain 15%polyphenols, or 94.5 mg. it also contains 25 mg of hoodia gordonii. My question is…do you think that supplementation like this would be as effective as brewed tea,as and what should my dosage bet for maximum effectiveness? I’m having difficulty converting “polyphenols” into EGCG. Thanks.

    • EGCG is the predominant polyphenol in green tea, usually accounting for 75% or so of the total polyphenol content (if I remember correctly). I’m not that familiar with green tea supplements, but 15% polyphenols sounds quite low. If my memory serves me correct (you can confirm this from the other green tea posts), studies have seen good results with 500mg of EGCG per day. So I would aim to that ballpark.

      • Now foods supplement with green tea seems to be alright. I can’t drink green tea anymore because I have to bleach my teeth. 😛

  7. I have to ask you Seppa, what brand of green tea do you use? The stuff I use, is an Asian brand. Sen-cha Green Tea by yamamotoyama and when I brew this stuff, it comes out reddish, brownish, yellowish, Not really green at all! I know before oyu have talked about the color and its oxidation issue. Literally right after I brew it, it will be those colors. Yellow, then quickly turn brown, red. I’m wondering if I’m getting a quality product.

    • I use some Japanese tea brand available here in Thailand. The packaging is mostly Japanese so I couldn’t tell you what it is 🙂 I think it’s classified as bancha or sencha. It’s nothing fancy, priced towards the lower end of Japanese loose leaf green teas available here. But I’m happy with the resulting tea. The color is nice light green and tastes mild. It sounds like you got a bad quality tea. It’s possible that the leaves have oxidized during storage. I would try some other brand.

  8. How long do you think you should ideally wait, after taking in your green tea in the morning? I get bout 8 hours of sleep a night, and make sure that I don’t eat 4 hours before bed, so that I hit that nice 12 hour mark before drinking my green tea with Vit C. Of course though, I’m pretty hungry right after I drink the tea but am not sure how long would be best to wait before eating the first meal.

    • I’m not quite sure what you are asking. Are asking how many hours you should wait, or fast, before drinking green tea in the morning? If so, then I would just eat as you normally eat, there’s no need to do extra fasting to get additional benefits from green tea. Overnight is more than enough for that.

      Or are you asking how long to wait after you drink your tea in the morning? If so, feel free to more or less immediately afterwards. The point is to get the tea into empty stomach so that there’s as little other stuff in the stomach as possible. The tea should pass through the stomach very quickly, so there’s no need to wait.

      Here’s what I do. I make cold brewed green tea overnight. I drink about 1/2 liter of it in the morning as I’m preparing my breakfast and the rest with breakfast.

  9. ^^:;;; Hey thanks a lot for this! I’ll try it out. It seems a lot more credible than all those other “Get Rid of Acne Fast” scams. The internet appreciates you 😀

  10. I don’t think it would hurt if we heard it from Seppo, though. So… how exactly do you administer the vitamin C along with the tea? If it’s a tablet, should you take the tablet some time before, during, or after you drink the tea?

    • It’s the dose that makes the poison. A teaspoon or two of sugar has no real effect on insulin levels and it’s not something you should worry about. Of course if you drink 5 to 6 cups of tea then it starts adding up.

      Just to make it clear, I’m not saying you have to add sugar to green tea. It’s just something that improves catechin absorption and thus could be helpful. If you are concerned about insulin, then you can use xylitol, aspartame or other non-caloric sweeteners. Or, do like I do, and have your tea unsweetened.

  11. Hi Seppo,
    Thnx for your answer. What about replacing sugar for honey? It makes the tea less bitter, but does’t it affect it the tea in a bad way?
    I’m a skin specialist from Holland and i’ m trying to help a 17 years old boy with server acne. Not only in his face but also on his back and chest. The dermatologist want’s to start with Roacutane but no other treatments have been tryed before. So i hope to be aible to help him in a more healthy way.
    Money is little bit an issue, so i’m trying to help him without to much costs. Do you think spirulina of chlorella is a good supplement?Because it contains a lot of vitamines an minerals of whom i think it can have a positive affect on acne. What else can you recommend, because it’s not easy to find a good supplement which contains it all. And as you adviced, i don’t want him to take a whole lots of pills.

    • I’m not sure why you think honey would be better than sugar. Honey is more or less just sugar. Honey will probably help antioxidant absorption as well as sugar does, and probably doesn’t affect the tea in a bad way.

      I can’t really comment on your client’s case. Other than to say that you have to figure out what’s the root cause behind acne, I talked about it in my acne types post.

      For supplements, I would recommend trying zinc, omega-3 (DHA & EPA) and NAC or sillymarin. There’s some evidence to show those supplements are helpful in people with moderate/severe acne. Other supplements might be helpful, but it’s difficult to say with no research to draw from.

  12. I love reading the post! im just as nerdy as you!
    is it possible to add a herb to the tea with a high content of vit. C to get the same results as with a vit C powder? i know powder comes in higher doses but one could argue about the bioavailibillity of (cheap) vit c powders. your thoughts?

    • I doubt it. It’s not really about bioavailability of vitamin C. It’s about it protecting green tea catechins while they are in the gut. That said, perhaps there’s some herbs that has plenty of antioxidants that do the same thing.

  13. Hmmm interesting. Any herbs that come to mind?
    Where i buy the tea you can let it me mixed the way you want! so if i want some japanse green tea with some hibiscus in it. He just mixes it! and then you have to hope it tastes good 😉
    So with herbs would you recommend for maximum vit c combined with green tea

      • I have a fairly strict comment moderation policy to keep the spammers out. That’s why many comments go to moderation. It helps if you don’t put anything to the ‘website/URL’ field.

    • No, sorry. Herbal medicine is fraught with quackery and as such I haven’t been that interested in herbs and don’t know much about them. I know hisbiscus tea allegedly has higher antioxidant potential than green tea and might be helpful in acne.

      I’m not quite sure why you are looking for alternatives to vitamin C powder. It’s a cheap and convenient solution that has been shown to work. So I don’t really see a point in looking for alternative solutions that will be, for sure, be more expensive and less convenient and we don’t know they’ll work any better than vitamin C – or if they even work.

  14. Hello again, Seppo!

    After a year of reading/following your free advice, I finally had it in my budget to become a gold member. I’ve been loving your book! I especially like your analogy of the hundred-sided die; it really communicates the multifaceted nature of acne.

    I also love these green tea hacks. How strange about sugar! I haven’t seen a question on this yet, so I wanted to ask—re: drinking tea on an empty stomach, has that ever made you nauseous, or have you heard of that happening? I typically drink 2-3 cups of my tea well before I eat each day, but it seems that if I make it too strong nausea sets in, almost without fail. After reading that sugar helps with the bioavailability, I started adding a tiny bit of honey to the tea, but that didn’t mitigate it. The obvious solution is to make a weaker tea, but I was just wondering if this problem was familiar to you. Let me know!

    Alma

    • Thank you very much. I appreciate the trust and hope you find the book informative.

      Yes, some people say that drinking green tea on empty stomach makes them nauseous. It doesn’t happen to me. I usually drink about 1 litre of cold brewed green tea every morning. 1/2 of it before breakfast on empty stomach and the other 1/2 with breakfast.

      In your case it’s probably better to make weaker tea. It’s possible that the nausea is caused by tannins or other non-antioxidant substances in the tea. Also, make sure you don’t let ‘getting over acne’ overrule your life and remember to enjoy it also. So no point to make strong tea if you don’t enjoy it or it makes you feel bad.

  15. Hi Seppo,

    New member posting my first question here – hopefully it’s a worthwhile one. 😉

    The quick start guide’s section on green tea hacking talks about adding powdered vitamin C directly to the tea. It’s much better value for me to buy vitamin C tablets than powder.

    If I swallow a vitamin c tablet just before drinking the tea, would it still have the same protective effects on the tea’s antioxidant properties?

    • Honestly speaking, I don’t know. I would assume that it would work equally well, but can’t say for sure. Not sure you are going to save a lot of money that way. I bought powdered vitamin C for $10 a bottle that lasts well over a year. So the cost is negligible.

      • Hi seppo,

        I just realized some thing cool that might make powdered vitamin c a much better choice.

        I usually add about 100mg to my litre of green tea in the morning (probably much more than that cause i err on the side of too much and 1/40 tsp is hard to be precise). This will yield around a 0.0005 Molar solution of ascorbic acid(vit C) which roughly has a PH of 3-4 (don’t have the precision to be more detailed). Regardless, it is still much lower than the PH of 5 needed for protection of egcg over time so I think it might really benefit the shelf life.

        Therefore, the vitamin C powder I use to help with absorption will actually also be the perfect preservative for my green tea. Therefore, I think hot steeping my tea the night before and drinking it the whole day might be viable.

Leave a Comment