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Alert Number 148

Green Tea Extracts (EGCG) and Weight Loss

Date: February 7, 2006

I received a lot of emails in response to yesterday's Alert as well as the latest green tea (EGCG) update article — Latest on Green Tea.

There have been several reports suggesting that green tea extracts cause weight loss. I do not think this is entirely due to the caffeine in some of the products: the polyphenols (such as EGCG) in the green tea are supposed to cause weight loss as well. In fact, the recent flood of various green tea products available on the Internet has been due, mostly, to our obsession with weight loss.

Whether or not you have been taking green tea extracts, unexplained weight loss is serious business in cancer patients. There is a specific name for it, "cachexia", and it is often seen as an indication of increasing tumor load. You should know that the lymphocyte count measured by your monthly WBC is just the tip of the iceberg in CLL, since as much as 80-90% of the tumor cells reside in the bone marrow, lymph nodes, spleen, etc. If you have observed changes in your lymph nodes and your doctor felt your spleen or liver were getting enlarged, it is an indication of proliferating disease whether or not it is reflected in your monthly blood test. If the nodes are growing faster than you and your doctor expected, it might be a good idea to get a CAT scan done to get a better idea of the situation. Abdominal nodes are often buried deep within and hard to judge by a mere physical examination. Bottom line, unexplained weight loss in cancer patients is a serious issue and should not be ignored. Not too many things work for deep-seated cachexia, and it has a strong correlation with treatment failure and death. Fish oil (not fish liver oil!) has been suggested as beneficial. Omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil are also good for you in reducing cardiac risks. Most cancer patients must endure a lot of not-very-heart-friendly drugs at some time in their future and it really helps to be in fighting trim on the cardiac front.

If the weight loss is indeed solely due to the green tea extract, and you feel it has done you some good in controlling the rate of growth of your CLL, you might want to consider taking a good quality decaf version of it. I think you would be better off if you stick with the major national brands that have been around for a while. The Johnny-come-lately Internet hawkers looking to make a quick buck are rarely a good choice, even if they have glowing testimonials. My advice is to start slow, with small doses, and protect yourself with monthly monitoring of your CBC and CMET (comprehensive metabolic panel, to look for liver enzyme levels). Look for any trends over time, rather than getting worked up over small variations from one month to the next. These can be just random fluctuations and/or statistical error in the testing procedures. Last but not least, please do this with your doctor's permission and under medical supervision.

If you have experienced significant and unexplained weight loss, please report this to your oncologist. You can read a lot more about 'cachexia' on our website, just type it in as the keyword in the search box on the home page and elsewhere.

Be well,

Chaya
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