A molecular compound in green tea could hold the key to preventing deaths from heart attacks and strokes caused by atherosclerosis, according to new research.
Scientists from the University of Leeds and Lancaster University have discovered that a compound which is found within the popular drink and is currently being studied for its ability to reduce amyloid plaques in the brain in Alzheimer’s disease, also dissolves potentially dangerous protein plaques found in blood vessels.
Atherosclerosis is the build-up of fatty material inside arteries that can reduce the flow of blood to the heart and brain.
In advanced stages of the condition, a protein called apolipoprotein A-1 (apoA-1) can form amyloid deposits, which are similar in structure to those associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
These deposits build up within atherosclerotic plaques. Here, they increase the size of the plaques, further restricting blood flow, and may also make the plaques less stable, increasing the risk of a heart attack or stroke.
Researchers found that epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), most commonly associated with green tea, binds to the amyloid fibres of apoA-1. This converts the fibres to smaller soluble molecules that are less likely to be damaging to blood vessels.
Now, the team is working on finding ways of introducing effective amounts of EGCG into the bloodstream without it being necessary to drink large and potentially harmful quantities of green tea.
This could involve modifying the chemical structure of EGCG, making it easier to be absorbed from the stomach and more resistant to metabolism, or developing new methods to deliver the molecule to the plaques – such as via an injection.
Professor Sheena Radford, Director of the Astbury Centre for Structural Molecular Biology at the University of Leeds and co-author of the research, said: “The findings of this round of studies are very encouraging.
“We now need to apply the best scientific techniques to find how we can take the molecular ECGC element from green tea, and turn it into a functioning tool to combat life-limiting health issues.”
David Middleton, Professor in Chemistry at Lancaster University, said: “The health benefits of green tea have been widely promoted and it has been known for some time that EGCG can alter the structures of amyloid plaques associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
“Our results show that this intriguing compound might also be effective against the types of plaques which can cause heart attacks and strokes.”
The British Heart Foundation said drinking green tea itself was unlikely to make a big difference with respect to heart health but by engineering the molecule slightly, as the researchers suggest, it may be possible to make new medicines to treat heart attacks and strokes.