But is the bulk of the mind- and mood-boosting magic credited to a single compound in green tea? And what precise benefits does green tea offer that translates to happier, healthier days and years? These questions and more, answered below.
4 mind and mood benefits of green tea
Green tea’s mood-boosting potential can yield same-day and long-term benefits, courtesy of a team effort from its impressive bioactive ingredients. “The major components of green tea are EGCG—i.e., the major catechin in green tea, which are a kind of flavonoid, under the umbrella category of polyphenols—plus caffeine, theanine, and arginine,” Moon says. Altogether, they won’t only elevate mood and mental functioning but also offer anti-inflammatory, longevity-promoting potential. Here’s what some of the most interesting research shows.
“Culturally, green tea is often tied to quiet moments of calm."
—Maggie Moon, MS, RD, brain health and nutrition expert
1. Green tea can help keep depression at bay
“Culturally, green tea is often tied to quiet moments of calm,” Moon shares, and the habits and rituals associated with it surely aren’t limited to Okinawa alone. Green tea consumption is popular across many other parts of East Asia, as well as the world over. Plus, it’s linked to staving off long-term mental health imbalances. For instance, a 2018 study published in the journal Nutrients investigated the effects of green tea intake in more than 9,500 generally healthy South Korean adults. Those who drank at least three cups of green tea per week had a 21 percent less likelihood of developing depression than those who didn’t include the drink in their diets.
2. It strikes a balance between calm and focus
If you get the jitters from coffee, there’s a chance you’ll better tolerate the lower caffeine content per serving in green tea—especially since the stimulant is paired with L-theanine, an amino acid associated with happiness and chill vibes aplenty. “Green tea’s excitatory caffeine and relaxing L-theanine work together to produce a calm yet alert mind,” Moon shares. Per a 2017 review in the journal Phytomedicine, this potent pairing contributes to its abilities to reduce anxiety, boost memory and attention, and positively influence brain function. “This is all the more reason for people to enjoy green tea instead of one of its components in isolation,” Moon adds.
3. It’s anti-inflammatory
Excess inflammation spells trouble for your mind and body alike. As such, anti-inflammatory foods, drinks, and lifestyle practices are key to a longer, healthier, and happier life. “Another reason you may want to reach for a cup of green tea is that its polyphenols have anti-inflammatory properties,” Moon explains. She cites a 2023 meta-analysis published in the journal Nutrition Reviews: “It found that people whose diets had the lowest inflammatory load (as measured by the Dietary Inflammatory Index) reduced their risk of depression by 29 percent.” In this case, green tea could be one piece of a larger puzzle to stave off mood disorders and broader manifestations of inflammation.
4. It keeps your brain healthy and happy
Moon calls out much of green tea’s powers to flavonoids. “They are known to increase brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which helps new brain cells grow and keeps existing brain cells healthy by suppressing brain inflammation and offsetting negative effects of stress on the brain,” she explains. Moreover, flavonoids boost blow flow to the prefrontal cortex, which is the home base for regulating emotions. “Better blood to this area may strengthen neural circuitry and inhibit cognitive behaviors like rumination that are associated with depression,” Moon continues. In short, the flavonoids in green tea promote healthy brain function, all the while helping you to stay calm, cool, and collected.
In short, the flavonoids in green tea promote healthy brain function, all the while helping you to stay calm, cool, and collected.
Final tips and FYIs on green tea and happiness
To yield the benefits of green tea for a healthy mind and happy mood, Moon suggests enjoying a cup of green tea anywhere from a few times a week (as seen in the earlier South Korean study) to a few times a day. As far as daily consumption goes, she advises keeping tabs on your overall caffeine intake, tolerance, and timing. Doing so will also ensure you can have jitter-free days and don’t have a buzz going well into nightfall. In terms of brewing, Moon says most of the polyphenols will take three to five minutes to infuse—and the caffeine, even less than that. “The tannins in green tea will make it more bitter the longer you steep it,” she adds. “I’d advise people to experiment with what level of flavor they prefer within that time frame.” Moreover, aim to use hot water that’s steaming but not boiling.
“Green tea alone is not an elixir of happiness. No single food is,” Moon reminds us.
As healthy and beneficial as green tea can be for your mood and overall health, it’s not a one-and-done ticket to beating the blues and staying sharp as time flies by. Moreover, Moon takes care to call out that much of the research in this field has been performed on generally healthy individuals.
That said, people with clinical depression and/or more chronic health conditions shouldn’t put their full faith in these findings, and of course should continue treatment protocols under medical supervision. “Green tea alone is not an elixir of happiness. No single food is,” Moon reminds us. That said, it’s surely one of the many worthy staples of an anti-inflammatory diet, which should be enjoyed alongside lifestyle practices that promote the health of your brain and body alike. “That includes regular movement, social interaction, stress management, quality sleep, and last but not least, engaging your brain,” she concludes.
- Neshatdoust, Sara et al. “High-flavonoid intake induces cognitive improvements linked to changes in serum brain-derived neurotrophic factor: Two randomised, controlled trials.” Nutrition and healthy aging vol. 4,1 81-93. 27 Oct. 2016, doi:10.3233/NHA-1615
- Gianfredi, Vincenza et al. “Association between dietary patterns and depression: an umbrella review of meta-analyses of observational studies and intervention trials.” Nutrition reviews vol. 81,3 (2023): 346-359. doi:10.1093/nutrit/nuac058
- Mancini, Edele et al. “Green tea effects on cognition, mood and human brain function: A systematic review.” Phytomedicine : international journal of phytotherapy and phytopharmacology vol. 34 (2017): 26-37. doi:10.1016/j.phymed.2017.07.008
- Kim, Jiwon, and Jihye Kim. “Green Tea, Coffee, and Caffeine Consumption Are Inversely Associated with Self-Report Lifetime Depression in the Korean Population.” Nutrients vol. 10,9 1201. 1 Sep. 2018, doi:10.3390/nu10091201
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