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7 Surprising Health Benefits of Matcha Tea

Research has found this ancient green powder may help memory and heart health, as well as promote healthy aging

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Martina Schindler / StockFood

Once considered an exotic drink central to Japanese tea ceremonies, matcha is now found in coffee shops and cafes around the world. But matcha’s vibrant green hue isn’t just good fodder for Instagram feeds. This green powder may also boost the health of older Americans. Research has found benefits for memory, heart health, immune system and healthy aging.  

Many other types of teas and foods offer these benefits as well. Learn more about what sets matcha apart and whether it’s worth adding to your routine.

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What is matcha?

Known for its distinct green color, matcha is a highly concentrated, powdered form of green tea made from the Camellia sinensis plant. Tea leaves used for matcha are grown in shade, creating a richer, sweeter flavor than other teas.

“Matcha is most readily consumed as tea and people in Asia, especially in Japan and China, have drunk matcha tea for centuries,” says Frank Hu, the chair of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Recently, matcha powders have also been added to smoothies, ice cream, desserts and infusions.

Benefits of matcha

Researchers believe matcha’s benefits primarily originate from the tea’s high concentration of polyphenols, an antioxidant-rich nutrient found in plants. Many other foods also contain polyphenols, but the concentration in matcha sets this powder apart.

“I expected matcha to have a high antioxidant potential, but the result surprised me,” Karolina Jakubczyk, a professor in the Department of Human Nutrition and Metabolomics at Pomeranian Medical University in Poland said in an email. “It is by far the strongest antioxidant I have tested in the lab.”

Jakubcyzk adds that the polyphenols are 10 times higher in matcha than in green tea.

Polyphenols are known for anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, says Ron Hills, a professor of pharmaceutical sciences who specializes in integrative nutrition at the University of New England. He says many of the potential health benefits of matcha likely come from polyphenols

1. May benefit brain health

Matcha is known for its properties that promote healthy aging, especially for brain health. Research published in 2020 study investigated the effect of matcha on older adults’ cognitive functioning in Japan. In the study, 61 participants received a daily drink with either matcha or a placebo for two weeks.

 Female participants who received matcha saw improvements for two markers of Alzheimer’s disease: overall functioning and episodic memory, the ability to remember details about everyday events. The male participants didn’t see the same results.

Other studies support matcha’s impact on memory, cognitive function and enhanced focus, though the research has found greater cognitive benefits in women than men and scientists say more large studies in humans need to be done to confirm matcha's benefits to brain health.

2. Improves gut health

The polyphenols in matcha affect gut health.  Hills credits this to the EGCG catechins, a type of polyphenol highly concentrated in matcha.

The gut microbiome plays an important role in diseases like diabetes, obesity and liver disorders.

The EGCG catechins also add healthy bacteria to the gut and may improve metabolism. After two weeks of one matcha tea a day, changes often begin in the microbiome, Hills says.


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3. Lowers heart disease risks

Some research has found the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties in matcha may strengthen heart health.

A landmark study from 2001 found green tea, including matcha, prevented atherosclerosis, the buildup of plaques in the arteries, but the study was done in animals, not humans.

Recent studies on certain vitamins in matcha, including vitamin C, support the tea’s preventative properties against atherosclerosis, but more research is needed to confirm this effect.

4. Lowers stress

A 2023 analysis of studies in Current Research in Food Science found matcha may help decrease stress and anxiety. This may be due to matcha’s high levels of L-theanine, an amino acid linked to better mood and lower stress levels.

Swapping coffee or energy drinks for matcha may be a great way to get the benefits of caffeine without the stress because matcha’s caffeine properties differ from coffee.

“Coffee can cause rapid action, but also a sudden drop in energy and drowsiness, which is known as the ‘roller-coaster’ effect,” says Jakubczyk. “The caffeine in matcha has a different effect due to the presence of L-theanine, which makes the effects of matcha longer and milder.”

5. Supports a stronger immune system

A matcha a day keeps the doctor away. At least, that’s what evidence linking matcha to a stronger immune system suggests. Matcha’s anti-inflammatory properties support a healthy immune system, while its marked improvements in gut health also strengthen immune response.

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6. May slow premature aging

The catechins found in matcha help protect cells from oxidative stress, potentially slowing the aging process. This benefit was mainly found in the brain, but matcha may slow aging in other cells too.

7. May lower risk of certain cancers

One of the newest, and most exciting, possible benefits of matcha is its potential to lower cancer risk. Early studies on animals suggest it may interrupt cancer cells’ cycle regulation. Most of the studies look at matcha’s impact on breast cancer cells. Much more research on humans needs to be done, however, to prove these benefits. Studies on animals don’t always translate to human benefits.

“Overall evidence suggests potential for preventing cancer, but I don't think we have strong enough evidence to make recommendations for cancer prevention at this point,” Hu says.

Potential negative effects of matcha

Part of what makes matcha a superfood is its high concentration of micronutrients. However, Hu notes, it also has a higher concentration of caffeine than other teas, although it doesn’t have as much caffeine as coffee. 

Hu doesn’t recommend matcha for those who are sensitive to caffeine. Drinking too much matcha  — especially for those sensitive to caffeine —  can cause anxiety, higher blood pressure, difficulty sleeping and a faster heartbeat.

Jakubczyk’s team also found high concentrations of fluoride in matcha. Large amounts of fluoride have been linked to joint pain,brittle bones and diarrhea. However, significant amounts of fluoride must be consumed to experience these negative effects. One to two cups of matcha a day shouldn’t cause them.

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Are some forms of matcha better than others?

“The important thing seems to be the introduction of matcha into the daily diet itself, the form is already secondary,” Jakubczyk says.

But not all forms of matcha are created equal. Adding sugar, cream or other processed ingredients won’t take away from matcha’s benefits, but it can negatively impact the body independent of matcha, Hu states. Matcha products without added sugars are better to consume than highly processed matcha desserts and beverages.

Ready to Try Matcha?

Here are some things to consider:

  • The most common way to consume matcha is as a tea. Experts recommend purchasing ceremonial-grade matcha for maximum benefits.
  • For a healthy take on a matcha latte, Hills suggests combining matcha, hot milk and honey.
  • If lattes and tea aren’t for you, a matcha smoothie may do the trick. Hills adds almond milk, frozen spinach, frozen bananas, honey and matcha to his smoothie.
  • Due to the high caffeine concentration, don’t consume matcha before bedtime, recommends Jakubczyk. Avoiding any caffeine four to six hours before bedtime is a good idea since that’s how long it takes to metabolize half of consumed caffeine.
  • Some forms of matcha may be contaminated by pesticides or heavy metals, Hu says. To avoid contamination, purchase reputable, quality products.
  • Matcha is an addition to a healthy diet, not a substitute. The health benefits from matcha may be more prevalent in individuals who eat a whole foods diet alongside matcha, suggests Hills.
  • If already consuming coffee, be mindful when adding matcha to your diet. Matcha on top of two to three coffees a day may be too much caffeine, Hu says.

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