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Human salivary tea catechin levels and catechin esterase activities: implication in human cancer prevention studies.

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  • 1College of Pharmacy, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, Piscataway 08854-8020, USA.


Because of the possible application of tea in the prevention of oral and esophageal cancers, the salivary levels of tea catechins were determined in six human volunteers after drinking tea. Saliva samples were collected after thoroughly rinsing the mouth with water. After drinking green tea preparations equivalent to two to three cups of tea, peak saliva levels of (-)-epigallocatechin (EGC; 11.7-43.9 microg/ml), EGC-3-gallate (EGCG; 4.8-22 microg/ml), and (-)-epicatechin (EC; 1.8-7.5 microg/ml) were observed after a few minutes. These levels were 2 orders of magnitude higher than those in the plasma. The elimination half-life (t(1/2)) of the salivary catechins was 10-20 min, much shorter than that of the plasma. Holding a tea solution in the mouth for a few minutes without swallowing produced even higher salivary catechin levels, but taking tea solids in capsules resulted in no detectable salivary catechin level. Holding an EGCG solution in the mouth resulted in EGCG and EGC in the saliva and, subsequently, EGC in the urine. The results suggest that EGCG was converted to EGC in the oral cavity, and both catechins were absorbed through the oral mucosa. A catechin esterase activity that converts EGCG to EGC was found in the saliva. The enzyme was likely of human origin, but the activity was not inhibited by common human esterase inhibitor. The present results suggest that slowly drinking tea is a very effective way of delivering rather high concentrations of catechins to the oral cavity and then the esophagus.

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