Sometimes you just need to sit and enjoy a warm (or iced!) cup of tea. It’s soothing and delicious, and if you’re drinking green tea, you’re getting a whole host of health benefits. But there is one green tea that stands out from all the rest: matcha!
Green tea in general has been linked to a reduction in age-related muscle loss and a lower risk of heart disease, but specific variations of the tea also have their own unique health benefits. Matcha, a form of Japanese green tea that is finely ground into a powder, has garnered a great deal of attention because it can make it harder for your body to hold onto belly fat.
Now, new research is demonstrating yet another health benefit of this powerful powder: According to a study published in Nutrients, consuming matcha on a daily basis can protect against cognitive decline in older women. Investigators sought to determine how this green tea affected cognitive function and impulsivity in elderly participants. They divided a group of adults over 60 years old who did not have dementia into a group who drank matcha tea and a placebo group. They both took a cognitive physical function test at the beginning of the study and the same test after 12 weeks.
Upon completion of the study, investigators learned that matcha significantly improved the participants’ performances on memory and recall tests, but did not do much to alter impulsivity. Importantly, the results showed that those who consumed matcha performed very well on language-related portions of the test. The results were not altered when age, years of education, BMI, and gender were taken into account.
As stated by the study authors, green teas are full of polyphenols and amino acids, both of which are important in improving brain health. Polyphenols have been shown to protect neurons from harm caused by neurotoxins, while amino acids are essential to brain function. Matcha in particular is an excellent source of polyphenols. In fact, researchers stated that the same serving size of matcha contains twice the amount of polyphenols than other forms of green tea. Matcha also contains a good amount of vitamin K and lutein, both of which have been shown to slow down cognitive decline in previous studies. Other important nutrients in this powerhouse green powder that fight memory loss include epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), a form of polyphenol and catechin, L-theanine, the main amino acid in tea, and vitamin K, which is an essential vitamin of the central nervous system.
Caffeine also plays a key role in improving mental faculties. As told by the researchers, caffeine is a well-tested, naturally-occurring drug that can boost a person’s attention span and brain performance. Plus, it strengthens the effects of theanine.
But how many of the matcha benefits can be attributed to caffeine, and how many of the benefits can be attributed to the other nutrients in the powder? According to a different study published in Nutrients in 2021, a single dose of caffeine alone can improve attention during a slightly stressful situation, such as an examination. Matcha, on the other hand, can improve both attention and work performance when consumed continuously during a task, suggesting that the nutrients in matcha do play an important role on cognitive performance.
So, why is this research important? As pointed out by the authors of the 2020 Nutrients study, dementia is the second leading cause of death in people over 70 years old, and the risk of developing it increases with aging. Also, dementia is often a precursor to Alzheimer’s disease, which gradually causes cognitive decline and severe memory loss. Because no pharmacological treatment has yet been found to prevent people with normal cognitive function from developing dementia, it’s important to research lifestyle changes that could improve symptoms. Testing out the benefits of matcha and other nutrients, for instance, may be helpful in creating dietary guidelines for older adults, who are the most vulnerable in terms of cognitive decline.
If you’re thinking of adding matcha tea to your day, start with half a teaspoon of the green powder in eight ounces of hot water, the serving size used in the study. You can also add it to cold water or milk for a tasty and refreshing summer brew. No matter what way you plan to incorporate it into your diet, matcha may seriously improve your memory recall during the day.