Catechins are polyphenolic antioxidant plant metabolites. They belong to the family of flavonoids and the subgroup flavan-3-ols (or simply flavanols).
The name of the catechin chemical family derives from catechu which is the juice or boiled extract of Mimosa catechu (Acacia catechu L.f).
Epigallocatechin gallate is the most abundant catechin in tea.
Another stereoisomer, (-)-catechin, is released from the roots of the invasive weed, spotted knapweed. It acts as an herbicide to inhibit competition by a wide range of other plant species. This phytotoxic compound inhibits seed germination and growth.
Health benefits of catechins
The health benefits of catechins have been studied extensively in humans and in animal models. Reduction in atherosclerotic plaques was seen in animal models. Reduction in carcinogenesis was seen in vitro.
Many studies on health benefits have been linked to the catechin content. According to Norman Hollenberg, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, epicatechin can reduce the risk of four of the major health problems: stroke, heart failure, cancer and diabetes. He studied the Kuna people in Panama, who drink up to 40 cups of cocoa a week, and found that the prevalence of the “big four” is less than 10%. He believes that epicatechin should be considered essential to the diet and thus classed as a vitamin.
According to one researcher epigallocatechin-3-gallate is an antioxidant that helps protect the skin from UV radiation-induced damage and tumor formation.