Green tea could hold the key to preventing deaths from heart attacks and strokes caused by atherosclerosis, according to research funded by the British Heart Foundation and published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.
Scientists from Lancaster University and the University of Leeds have discovered that a compound found in green tea, currently being studied for its ability to reduce amyloid plaques in the brain in Alzheimer’s disease, also breaks up and dissolves potentially dangerous protein plaques found in the blood vessels.
Amyloid plaques increase heart attack risk
Atherosclerosis is the build-up of fatty material inside our arteries that can reduce the flow of blood to the heart and brain. In advanced stages of the condition, a protein called apolipoprotein A-1 (apoA-1) can form amyloid deposits, which are similar in structure to those associated with Alzheimer’s disease. These deposits build up within atherosclerotic plaques. Here, they increase the size of the plaques, further restricting blood flow, and may also make the plaques less stable, increasing the risk of a heart attack or stroke.
Preventing blood vessel damage
Researchers found that epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), most commonly associated with green tea, binds to the amyloid fibres of apoA-1. This converts the fibres to smaller soluble molecules that are less likely to be damaging to blood vessels.
Now, the team are working on finding ways of introducing effective amounts of EGCG into the bloodstream without it being necessary to drink large and potentially harmful quantities of green tea. This could involve modifying the chemical structure of EGCG, making it easier to be absorbed from the stomach and more resistant to metabolism, or developing new methods to deliver the molecule to the plaques – such as via an injection.
Don't ditch the Earl Grey just yet
Our Associate Medical Director, Professor Jeremy Pearson, tells us why it's not time to start drinking green tea just yet:
“Our bodies are very good at breaking down EGCG so swapping your cuppa for green tea is unlikely to make a big difference with respect to your heart health.
“But by engineering the molecule slightly, we might be able to make new medicines to treat heart attack and stroke.”