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Attaya: Improves brain function, protects brain aging

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By Prof. Raphael Nyarkotey Obu

In recent times, I have been delving into the potency of attaya in The Gambia. This is partly due to the green tea, which science has demonstrated its abilities on our health. Another area I found to share with you is our brain health. Due to the numerous health benefits, we derive from green tea, I have been advising that we do away with the sugar we add to attaya. Attaya is akin to the Japanese version of green tea called Matcha.

Attaya and brain function – the science

Drinking attaya improves brain function. For instance, green tea does more than just keep you alert, it may also help boost brain function. The key active ingredient is caffeine, which is a known stimulant though green tea doesn’t contain as much as coffee. However, it has more to produce a response without causing the nervous effects associated with taking in too much caffeine.

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How does it work on the brain?

Two studies answer this question: Nehlig et al. 1992 and Bertil B. 1995 assert that caffeine works on the brain by blocking an inhibitory neurotransmitter called adenosine. When this happens, it raises the neurons and the concentration of neurotransmitters, like dopamine and norepinephrine.

Ruxton, (2008) also notes that caffeine may support diverse areas of brain function, including mood, vigilance, reaction time and memory. Nobre et al. (2008) emphasised that apart from caffeine that is known as a brain-boosting compound in green tea, the amino acid L-theanine is also found in green tea and this can even penetrate the blood-brain barrier. How L-theanine also works was explained in three studies: Nobre et al. 2008; Nathan et al. 2006; Egashira et al. 2007. This is done by increasing the activity of the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA, which has anti-anxiety effects. It further raises dopamine and the production of alpha waves in the brain.

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The combination of caffeine and L-theanine can have synergistic effects, and thus have a powerful effect in improving brain function (Kelly et al. 2008; Dodd et al. 2015). Due to the presence of caffeine and L-theanine, green tea could make you have a milder and different kind of buzz than coffee. Several people have reported that drinking green gives them more stable energy and makes them more productive as compared to coffee.

Schmidt et al. (2014) study employed memory tasks and an advanced imaging technology called functional MRI to evaluate cognitive functions in healthy volunteers. They found that those given green tea extract performed better on memory tasks. They also observed enhanced connectivity between areas in the brain involved in the tasks.

This implies that the subjects show physiological changes in the brain that are linked with improved mental function.

A previous study, using an electroencephalogram to monitor brain activity, found improvement in brain wave activity after taking an EGCG (green tea extract) supplement (Scholey et al. 2012).

The benefits extend beyond cognitive enhancement. For instance, in healthy adults, green tea also reduced psychological stress, including feelings of anxiety and depression, and led to a feeling of calmness (Hozawa et al. 2006; Scholey et al. 2012).

Finally, another review study (Mancini et al. 2017) assesses the current state of knowledge in the literature regarding the effects of green tea or green tea extracts. L-theanine and epigallocatechin gallate both components of green tea on general neuropsychology, on the sub-category cognition and brain functions in humans.

The study found evidence that green tea influences psychopathological symptoms (e.g. reduction of anxiety), cognition (e.g. benefits in memory and attention), and brain function (e.g. activation of working memory seen in functional MRI). The effects of green tea cannot be attributed to a single constituent of the beverage. This is exemplified in the finding that beneficial green tea effects on cognition are observed under the combined influence of both caffeine and l-theanine, whereas separate administration of either substance was found to have a lesser impact.

Attaya – protect brain ageing

Apart from improving brain function in the short term, it may also protect your brain as you age. For instance, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease – common neurodegenerative diseases in older adults – could all be protected by drinking green tea.

For instance, Ma et al. (2016) conducted one of the largest studies, a polled analysis of 52,503 participants in countries around the world, and found that tea significantly reduced the rate of multiple kinds of cognitive disorders by 35 percent.

Another large meta-analysis (Liu et al. 2017) examined the risk of cognitive disorders in 48,435 individuals. The study found that higher tea consumption was associated with a significant reduction in cognitive disorders.

They also found that green tea consumption was more reliably associated with cognitive benefits than oolong or black tea.

Two other studies (Feng et al. 2010; Kuriyama et al. 2006) report that there is a 36 percent reduction in cognitive disorders in habitual consumers of green tea as compared to non-habitual drinkers. Scientists also found a dose-response relationship: The greener tea consumed, the greater the protection from cognitive dysfunction. In practical terms, those who drank 16 ounces of green tea per day, derived nearly six times more protection from the development of cognitive disorders than those who drank 3.5 ounces.

For instance, three studies (Weinreb et al. 2004; Mandel et al. 2008; Caruana and Vassallo, 2015) demonstrate that the catechin compounds in green tea could decrease the risk of dementia by protecting neurons in test tubes and animal models.

For Parkinson’s disease, two case-control studies (Barranco Quintana et al. 2009; Hosseini et al. 2013) conducted in non-western populations found that tea consumption has a strong protective effect against Parkinson’s disease. About 41 percent were found in those who constantly drank tea more than those occasional drinkers.

A large meta-analysis (Qi et al. 2014) included 344,895 respondents globally and found that the amount of green tea drinking is associated with how one is protected from Parkinson’s disease.  The study demonstrates that about 26 percent of those who take two cups daily had a reduced risk of Parkinson’s, especially in European and Asian populations.

Finally, Tomata et al. (2012) large, prospective study evaluated the impact that green tea can have on functional disability, regardless of the underlying cause. The study used about 14,000 Japanese respondents aged 64. They reported that there is a good protective effect of greater green tea consumption, reducing the risk of disability and the need for support for daily activities.

This study also found that if we drink about five or more cups per day, we are likely to have 33 percent less functional impairment as compared to those who do not drink at all.

Take home

Large studies in humans have demonstrated the many benefits of drinking attaya (green tea) on our brains. For instance, Ma et al. (2015) meta-analysis found that the rate of cognitive disorders was 35 percent lower in people who regularly drank tea. Qi et al. (2015) also found that Parkinson’s disease risk was reduced by 26 percent for every two cups per day of tea consumed in another study. Green tea intake can reduce the risk of brain damage from strokes in multiple ways.

How much should we drink daily?

The studies reported drinking five or more cups of attaya (green tea) per day. I still reiterate the elimination of sugar in your drink. You can also buy green tea extracts in capsule form as they provide high quantities of polyphenols (catechins).

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