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Clarkson PhD student wins award for green tea study

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POTSDAM - Erica Sharpe set out to find the healthiest cup of green tea on the market.

She discovered that not all green tea is created equal: when, where, and how the leaves grow factor into its health benefits.

Sharpe, a chemistry Ph.D. student at Clarkson, recently won the Young Investigator’s Award at the Linus Pauling Institute’s Diet and Optimum Health conference in Corvallis, Oregon. She completed the green tea research during a pre-doctoral fellowship at Bastyr University in Washington state during fall 2012.

Sharpe, who works in the lab of Chemistry and Biomolecular Science Professor Silvana Andreescu, studied 24 varieties of green tea during the fellowship. Tea leaves grown in the Zhejiang province of China and harvested in the early spring could be reused at least six times and still maintain high levels of antioxidants, which have been researched for their role in preventing cancers, heart disease and other illnesses, as well as promoting weight loss and even preventing bad breath.

Loose tea leaves could generally be re-used more times than bagged tea. Conversely, green teabags showed greater antioxidant levels than loose leaves after a single use. Leaves harvested during autumn and those dried through high temperature roasting tended to have lower first-brew antioxidant levels. These types of green tea also lost nearly all of their antioxidant benefits after being reused only two to three times.

The best tea for single use according to Sharpe’s tests is choice green tea. Gunpowder green tea, sold locally at the Potsdam Co-op, was a close second to Buddhist Tea for its capacity to be re-used and continuously release antioxidants. Lipton was the only bagged green tea that made it into the top 10 re-usable green teas, but several bagged varieties had high antioxidant levels after a single use.

“Depending on which green tea you drink, there’s a wide range of antioxidant activity,” Sharpe said. “The same product, coming from different sources, can actually be very different.”

Sharpe began drinking green tea in high school and enjoyed researching the beverage. She hoped her work could be useful for health care providers and consumers who want to make more informed decisions about green tea. She has also created nanoparticle-based paper sensors as part of her Ph.D. project in Andreescu’s lab that can be used as a portable test kit to examine plants’ antioxidant activity and chemical composition.

“Erica’s research is important in that she is designing some simple, field portable and easy-to-use detection tests that can measure the antioxidant capacity of dietary products, while also assessing the composition and health benefits of these products,” said Sharpe’s advisor, Andreescu. “Her research on green tea has gained significant attention by the food industry, nutritionists and the general public.”

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