Green tea is a rich source of catechins, compounds suggested to play a beneficial role in reducing the risk of various diseases, including Alzheimer's, certain cancers, cardiovascular and oral health, with some, namely epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), now emerging as particularly powerful.
Last year the FDA poured cold water on the claims that green tea could protect against certain types of cancer, and has followed this with similar conclusions about supposed benefits for heart health.
"FDA concludes that there is no credible evidence to support qualified health claims for green tea or green tea extract and a reduction of a number of risk factors associated with CVD," said the FDA letter.
The Japanese company, Ito En, the self-proclaimed largest green tea company in the world, and its U.S. subsidiary, had petitioned FDA in June 2005, as they sought to make the claim that five ounces (150 mL) or more of green tea every day could reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD).
But Barbara Schneeman, Ph.D. director of the Office of Nutritional Products, Labeling, and Dietary Supplements, rejected the claim, saying: "FDA has determined that the evidence is supportive, but not conclusive, for this claim. (Green tea provides 125 mg catechins per serving when brewed from tea and 125 mg catechins as a pre-prepared beverage)."
However, FDA did not close the door on reversing the claim in the future, saying that "scientific information is subject to change, as are consumer consumption patterns. FDA intends to evaluate new information that becomes available to determine whether it necessitates a change in this decision. For example, scientific evidence may become available that will support the use of a qualified health claim or that will support significant scientific agreement."
It is not known if this decision by FDA will significantly affect sales, particularly with the statement that the evidence is "supportive, but not conclusive."
The Tea Association of the USA has predicted that the US market will continue to grow. Packaged Facts, a division of MarketResearch.com, put the domestic market for tea and ready-to-drink tea at $6.8bn in 2005, a 9.4 percent increase over last year. By 2010 it projects that it will reach $10bn.
Seventy-two percent of overall sales are accounted for by ready-to-drink bottled and canned ice teas, but loose tea and tea bags for future brewing comes second with 20 percent of sales. Within this category green tea is the most dynamic variety and is imbuing it with new life.
The association predicts that the ready-to-drink tea market will continue to grow by 10 to 12 percent annually.