Green tea, lemon balm and mammograms: what’s the connection?

I had my yearly mammogram yesterday.  During the consult portion of the exam, my doctor commented on how I was in a very low risk category.  I lightheartedly added, “yes, and I drink a few cups of green tea every day!”  Knowing I am an herbalist, she paused, and then asked, “are there any studies suggesting that green tea is protective against breast cancer?” 

Yes, there are!

I love the science of herbalism, and nothing excites me more than sharing the latest research.

Green tea and anti-cancer research:

Over the past three decades, green tea has attracted attention for its health benefits, especially anti-cancer effects.  In general, laboratory and animal studies have shown that one of the constituents of green tea (called EGCG) has been shown to limit the growth of breast cancer cells and other types of cancer cells. One study of Asian-American women found that those who drank more green tea were less likely to develop breast cancer. A meta-analysis of observational studies found that women who drank the most green tea had a 20-30% lower risk of developing breast cancer.  This review of recent studies published in the World Journal of Clinical Oncology provides more details.  

Green tea has a whole host of additional benefits:  it is loaded with antioxidants, boosts metabolism (helps manage weight!) helps control blood sugar levels, helps lower cholesterol, improves brain function, and boosts immunity. One study showed that one-half cup of green tea contains the same antioxidant potential as nearly 2.5 pounds of fresh fruit. The high level of antioxidants are what’s believed to give green tea its immune-boosting effects. Another study suggested that a particular type of polyphenols called catechins may kill influenza viruses. 

Aim for 2-3 cups of green tea per day.  To maximize benefits and minimize bitterness, use just-below-boiling water and steep green tea no more than 3 minutes.  Here are some of my favorite brands and blends:

How does lemon balm fit into this discussion?

Lemon balm and radiation protection:

We are all exposed to radiation throughout our daily activities, and mammography equipment uses low doses of radiation to produce breast images.  For comparison purposes, the radiation dose from a mammogram is a little more than from a chest x-ray. 

A 2011 a study suggests lemon balm shields our DNA from radiation-induced damage. Researchers gave 55 radiology workers 2 cups of lemon balm tea a day for a month. They found that after just one month, the antioxidant activity increased and DNA damage decreased.

Taking lemon balm when we are exposed to radiation (X-rays, CT scan, mammography, etc) has become a standard practice in our home.  It’s a wonderful herb that has also been shown to improve mood, relieve anxiety, insomnia, enhance cognitive function and help with hyperactivity.  One study showed improved cognition and mood with as little as one dose in 1 hour.  It is also a strong anti-viral and is particularly good at killing the herpes virus (cold sores and the related chicken pox and shingles).

Enjoy lemon balm as a tea, tincture, or fresh from your garden.  Below are some of my favorite brands:

Herbs are wonderful, long-term allies in our overall health and wellness.  Our bodies need herbs; they are essential nutrients for a healthy body.  Having my yearly mammography reminded me of how much I rely on the plants around us… and how thankful I am to have these herbs to help optimize my health and wellness.

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