Tea’s Probiotic and Prebotic Benefits Fit Global Needs

Amorepacific launches Green Tea Probiotics Research Center

Probiotic food set. (Getty Images/Ekaterina Kapranova)

In a time when the global population is eager for information on ways to boost the immune system, “probiotics” is once again in the news. Marketing claims for yogurt and fermented foods, including kombucha, have made the word familiar to many consumers. The World Health Organization issued a report in 2001 defining probiotics as “live microorganisms that when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host.”

InFebruary, the South Korean luxury cosmetics line Amorepacific announced itsR&D Center was opening a Green Tea Probiotics Research Center. This newventure, according to business journal Nutrition Insight, will study anewly discovered lactobacillus in Korea’s Jeju Island-grown green tea. (Lactobacillusis a naturally occurring bacteria found in the human digestive system,where it is known to fight pathogens.) The same report states that Amorepacificplans to use the research to develop products in the “health, food andcosmetics” markets, and to “globally expandcompetitive microorganism research and its related technologies.”

Aresearch paper released by Amorepacific, documenting the R&D Center’s collaborationwith Professor Dr. Wilhelm Heinrich Holzapfel, one of the world's most renownedscholars in the field of gut microbiota, notes that the specific strain of lactobacillus “is adapted todiverse environments and provides a promising potential for variousapplications.” The paper goes onto say that thejoint research “also confirmed thatthe probiotic strain from green tea leaves originally discovered byAmorepacific Group decreases the level of inflammation factors in the stomach.”

Jeju green tea field (Getty Images/yongsuk son)

Amorepacifichas successfully used and promoted the properties of green tea for decades. Thecompany, which is based on the island of Jeju, was founded in 1945 and hasalways specialized in skincare products created with their own green tea.Founder Sung-Hwan-Suh researched the benefits of Korean botanicals and investedin agriculture on the island. The company manages a 1,000-acre organic greentea farm that exports to the United States, Germany and Asia. It began studyingthe benefits of green tea in the 1980s, and research produced a new variety ofgreen tea with cosmetic (specifically skin) benefits in the 2000s. According toa release published on prnewswire.com, in 2010, the R&DCenter discovered a “green tea probiotic strain, Lactobacillus plantarum(APsulloc),which facilitates green tea fermentation, from richly flavored,fermented green tea leaves from green tea grown organically in Jeju Island.”

The release goes on to state that this particular strain “survivesand persists” more successfully in theintestinal tract and “has excellent antibacterial, antibiotic resistant propertyaccording to genome analysis.”

Amorepacific’s R&D Center is oneof many research facilities worldwide that have confirmed the multiplebeneficial substances found in green tea. Matt Malek, director ofresearch and development for 21st Century Research Laboratories, whichformulates products for multiple beauty companies, noted that, because of themethods used to harvest and preserve green tea, preventing oxidation, “Greenteas have a much higher concentration of chlorophyll, polyphenols andantioxidants than other tea types.” Thisincludes, he explained, epigallocatechin-3-gallate, orEGCG,which is naturally present in green tea, and is being studied forits many health benefits.

Yet another area of research already being conducted focuses on “prebiotics.”As early as 1995, one scientific research paper defined aprebiotic as “a nondigestible food ingredient that beneficially affects thehost by selectively stimulating the growth and/or activity of one or a limitednumber of bacteria in the colon, and thus improves host health.”A 2016 paper, “Prebiotics: WhyDefinitions Matter,” quotes that definition,notes that definition of the term continues to evolve, but goes on to state:

“The food industryis interested in prebiotics for their application and promise as functionalingredients in foods targeted toward health-conscious consumers. Benefits,ranging from maintaining and enhancing gut health, modulating the immunesystem, lowering glycemic response, and reducing insulin resistance are ofinterest to consumers and therefore attractive targets for new functionalfoods.”

Thetea industry has a stake in this research as well. As quoted by nutraingredients.com in an October 2017post, a European Journal of Nutrition report stated that the results ofa study “suggest that bothgreen and black tea are prebiotics, substances that induce the growth of goodmicroorganisms that contribute to a person’swell-being.”

Aswell-being, along with a strong immune system, are being sought throughout theworld, it stands to reason that tea growers, marketers and retailers will bepaying marked attention to their products as a natural source of bothprobiotics and prebiotics.