IP Information & News

Tea — a simple cuppa, or the elixir of youth?

Dr Clair Curran

By Dr Clair Curran

Senior Patent Attorney

We all love a good cuppa. Many of the things we enjoy in life turn out to be bad for us, but there are actually a whole host of health benefits associated with our favourite hot drink, such as preventing disease and even fighting ageing.

So relax and put the kettle on for a scientific celebration of the humble cup of tea…

A brief history

2737 BCE

According to legend, when Chinese Emperor Shen Nung sat beneath a Camellia sinensis tree, leaves drifted into the water that his servants were boiling. Going unnoticed, the water was served to the Emperor — and the concept of drinking tea was born.


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2018 CE

Today, we British have something of a legendary appetite for tea, insatiably drinking around 165 million cups of this once accidental infusion each day.

Yet whether you’ve dunked a teabag into a mug for a ‘builder’s brew’ or prepared Darjeeling, ‘the champagne of teas’, with reverence in an antique teapot — all tea started life as a leaf on the Camellia sinensis tree.

A quick guide to the potent brew

Tea can be divided into six basic categories: black, dark (including puer), oolong, yellow, green and white. The differences between teas arise from processing, growing conditions and geography and all tea leaves are withered, rolled and heated before they’re consumed in a drink.

Tea really does provide a potent brew of health benefits for the drinker. Tea leaves are rich in nutrients such as vitamin C, chlorophyll, carotene and polyphenols. You may have heard about tea’s properties as an antioxidant and this is thanks to the polyphenols, which are a type of antioxidant. These work to reduce cell damage as a result of oxidative stress, which is caused by excessive amounts of ‘free radicals’ within a cell. Antioxidants act as radical ‘scavengers’, reacting with and neutralising free radicals so that they can’t cause further cell damage.

Tea polyphenols include catechins, which include epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), epigallocatechin (EGC), epicatechin gallate (ECG) and epicatechin (EG). Catechins generally impart an astringent quality and a bitter taste to tea. When tea is oxidised during processing, the catechins are converted to other chemicals called theaflavins and thearubigins. Green teas are considered healthy as they’re the least processed and tend to have the highest amounts of catechins.


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Patents for nutraceuticals

Nutraceutical is a broad, umbrella term used to describe any product derived from food sources with additional health benefits which go above and beyond the basic nutritional value found in foods.

We can find many of the medicinal properties associated with the active ingredients found within tea by looking at patents. Here are a few examples:


Green tea — treating tumours and a remedy for those under-eye shadows

Compositions containing catechins for use in the prevention or treatment of malignant tumours in a hematopoietic system, such as multiple myeloma and leukemia, are patented in EP2263668. The composition mainly consists of 50-60% EGCG, 20-25% ECG and 8-10% EGC by weight of catechins.

The composition is available as a green tea capsule sold under the brand name Tegreen97® (Pharmanex Inc, USA). Each capsule contains the same amount of catechins found in seven cups of traditionally-brewed green tea.

Angiogenesis is the process of producing new blood capillaries. EP1162968 is a patent that relates to the topical application of compositions that include the green tea-derived catechins EGCG and ECG to treat skin conditions that are angiogenesis-related, such as the treatment of undereye circles.


Black tea — neutralising nausea

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are the competitor inhibitors of cyclooxygenase (COX) — an enzyme which mediates the bioconversion of arachidonic acid to inflammatory prostaglandins. NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen and diclofenac, are among the most widely used therapeutics. Through their anti-inflammatory, anti-pyretic and analgesic activities, they represent a first line of treatment for relieving pain, reducing inflammation and bringing down a fever.

The use of a nutraceutical composition based on a black tea extract containing theaflavin-3-galate and theaflavin-3’-gallate — referred to as “TF-2” in preventing or treating diseases associated with cyclooxygenase -2 (Cox-2) gene expression — is patented in EP1349560. TF-2 was shown to specifically inhibit expression of the Cox-2 gene at both the mRNA and protein level. This is advantageous, as specific inhibition of Cox-2 reduces or eliminates the side effects (heartburn, sickness) associated with NSAIDS as a result of inhibition of Cox-1.


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Mushroom tea — anti-ageing

Dermal fillers are injections used to fill out wrinkles and creases in the skin, often as anti-aging treatments. They’re also used to increase the volume and definition of the lips and cheeks. Conventionally made from substances such as collagen and hyaluronic acid, one disadvantage is that they may be recognised as being ‘foreign’ by the body, initiating an allergic reaction.

Kombucha or ‘mushroom tea’ is a fermented and sweetened tea, often made with black or green tea. The process of preparing kombucha involves a double fermentation process in which a symbiotic culture of yeast and bacteria (SCOBY) is placed in a sweetened tea mixture and left to ferment for one to three weeks.

EP1555999 describes the cosmetic use of this fermented tea to fight skin ageing. In particular, to prevent or inhibit protein glycation and to stimulate subcutaneous lipid synthesis. Kombucha can therefore be used to restore suppleness and elasticity to the skin and to restore the brightness of the complexion without initiating allergic reactions.

Tea — the elixir of youth?

It’s easy to forget just how many magical properties there are within a cup of tea. While it might be too soon to dub tea ‘the elixir of youth’, tea-related patent activity is certainly rising. So, in your quest to stay young and healthy forever, why not start by pouring yourself a cuppa.

If you have a food product and want to find out how you might be able to protect it with IP rights, please feel free to drop me an email at cxc@udl.co.uk.

You may also want to find out more about Catechins in green tea from a paper I wrote in 2002: Catechins from Green Tea (Camellia sinensis) Inhibit Bovine and Human Cartilage Proteoglycan and Type II Collagen Degradation In Vitro, The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 132, Issue 3, 1 March 2002, Pages 341–346.

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