Coffee, tea, and red wine all have notable health benefits, lowering risk of diabetes, heart disease, and cancer in epidemiological and lab animal studies. There’s been a lot of debate as to how it all works, and multiple mechanisms may be involved. For instance, all three of these can evoke hormesis, the compensatory rise in cellular defense that occurs upon exposure to small doses of toxins.
A theory that they are all antioxidants via scavenging of free radicals was formerly popular, but in my opinion that mechanism is negligible, because levels of the constituents of coffee, tea, and red wine in the blood stream remain low after ingestion and are quickly cleared from the body.
However, it just so happens that these beverages all chelate (pronounced “key-late”) iron, and prevent it from being absorbed into the body from food. Hindrance of iron absorption is, in my opinion, the major way that coffee, tea, and red wine improve health.
Red wine with meals reduces the susceptibility of blood plasma to be oxidized.(1) White wine had the opposite effect. Alcohol-free red wine enhances plasma antioxidant capacity, alcohol-free white wine has little effect.(2)
Tea, both green and black, can inhibit cancer cells and lowers risk of heart disease.(3) Most studies have focused on green rather than black tea, but the theaflavins in black tea may be more effective than the catechins in green tea in preventing oxidation.(4)
Coffee has lots of health benefits that I’ve written about previously, so I’ll just refer you to my article.
Coffee, tea, and red wine all chelate iron.(5)
The best iron inhibitor
Assuming that iron chelation is the major mechanism of their health benefits, which one of these should we prefer if we’re looking after our health? Obviously drinking one doesn’t exclude the others, but which one is the healthiest, most beneficial drink?
I have your answer: it’s tea.(6)
Drinking tea with a simple meal of bread and butter lowered iron absorption, compared to no tea, by as much as 95%.
The order in which the various drinks tested inhibited iron absorption was:
black tea > cocoa > coffee > herb teas. (Red wine was not directly compared, but we’ll look at that below.)
All of these strongly inhibited iron absorption, which was dependent on the amount of polyphenols in each beverage. More polyphenols means less iron absorption.
The following graph is taken from the paper and shows polyphenol content vs iron absorption.
Black tea had the highest polyphenol content and was the most potent iron chelator, followed by cocoa, red wine, and herb teas. (One herb tea was fairly potent, but most of them were much less effective.)
We know from other data that coffee is about 2/3 as potent as tea in terms of iron chelation.
My sense of all this is that in terms of coffee, tea, and red wine, unless you’re totally gung-ho about getting your iron down, all of these work quite well. (If your iron level is very high, you should be borderline fanatical about lowering it.)
Coffee with breakfast, tea with lunch, red wine with dinner: works for me. Have some chocolate for dessert.
It should be noted that to get these effects and most of the health benefits, you should drink them with or shortly after a meal. Drinking them before a meal has no effect on iron, though it may have other health benefits.
As mentioned, most of the work on health benefits of tea has been done on green tea, although in the West, we drink black tea much more. (Judging by the researchers, I’d say ethnic and patriotic considerations motivate most green tea research.)
Since only green tea contains catechins, and only black tea contains theaflavins, and both compounds affect health beneficially, it’s difficult to decide whether green or black is more effective.
Some epidemiological studies on cancer incidence have found lower cancer rates in heavy green tea drinkers, but not black. This might not be due to any ineffectiveness of black tea, but is due perhaps to green tea drinkers having lower iron stores overall, since most of them come from cultures with lower iron consumption than in the West. It’s possible that heavy iron intake in the West overwhelms the iron-lowering effect of black tea.
But in green tea itself, a huge difference in catechin content exists, and it’s very likely that the higher the catechin content, the healthier.
Matcha is a type of green tea that’s made from top leaves of the tea plant, is finely ground, and has a high catechin content. Japanese matcha was found to have 137 times the amount of the catechin EGCG as China green tea, which is the highest known and more than 3 times the amount seen in any other tea.(7)
I haven’t tried matcha myself, but by all accounts it’s the best green tea, though a tad on the expensive side. I need to stop with my ordinary Chinese green tea bags and get some.
Green tea extract prevents prostate cancer
Prostate cancer seems like one of those mysterious things that men get but can’t do much about, or at least that’s what the mainstream would have you believe. It’s not.
In a study of men who had a prostate condition that leaves them at high risk of prostate cancer, 30 men took a green tea capsule three times a day. The capsules contained 200 mg catechins, half of which was EGCG, for a total of 600 mg daily of catechins.
Another 30 men took a placebo.
Of the men who took the placebo, 30% developed prostate cancer after one year.
Of the men who took green tea capsules, only 3% developed cancer, for a 90% reduction in risk.(8)
Naturally, the mainstream medical establishment avidly promotes the use of green tea in prostate cancer prevention. Oh, wait, they don’t. There’s no money to be made doing that, besides the fact that it would be giving credence to “natural” therapies.
So, either take green tea extract or drink matcha tea and lower your risk of disease. Don’t wait for your doctor or Big Pharma to tell you, since they’ll probably never get around to it.
Bonus: Food and drink that increase iron absorption
The following is a brief excerpt from my forthcoming book on iron and health, and deals with food and drink that increase iron absorption.
Some dietary components increase the absorption of iron. Alcohol can increase iron absorption of a meal by 25% compared to no alcohol with the meal. Many alcoholics eventually develop iron overload because of this. Red wine doesn’t have this effect, as the polyphenols in it bind to iron. But beer, white wine, and liquor will all increase iron absorption if drunk with a meal.
Vitamin C strongly increases iron absorption. It should not be taken with meals if you want to decrease iron. Likewise, drinks containing it, such as orange juice, do the same. Any acidic drink will also, such as cranberry juice or tomato juice.
Sugar and high-fructose corn syrup strongly increase hormones that in turn increase iron absorption. Soda and other sweet drinks appear to be a good way to get to iron overload.
Breakfast cereals are often iron-fortified, so avoid these for iron lowering.
Many foods are high in iron but low in absorption. For instance, people deficient in iron are often advised to eat spinach, but other components in spinach hinder iron absorption, so if you’re trying to lower iron, I wouldn’t worry too much about spinach.
Thanks. I’m going to start reducing my prostate cancer risk with the green tea extract. I’m also going to shift my chocolate and other iron-inhibiting consumption to take place with meals. So far I haven’t made grape or chocolate consumption line up with other kinds of food at all. Missed opportunity.
What do you think of red wine vs grapes? I eat lots of (dark) grapes, never wine.
Another question: Do you know whether absorption of heme iron in red meat is inhibited by polyphenols?
Also, is iron the only mineral thereby inhibited? What about zinc, magnesium, etc?
Hi Randall. Re your first question, red wine vs grapes, a couple of considerations. One is that a lot of grapes go into a glass of wine. How many, I don’t know, but assume it’s a lot more than one would get eating some grapes casually. Wine is a concentrated form of polyphenols. The other is that grapes have a lot of sugar that wine doesn’t. Now that I rarely eat sugar or fruit, grapes taste unbelievably sweet to me.
As for heme iron, that appears to be poorly inhibited by polyphenols. In the cases in my post, it’s non-heme iron that’s being inhibited. My guess is that other minerals are also inhibited. Lots of research has been done on tea and iron because so many 3rd world people drink tea and are more likely to be iron deficient, as well as in other minerals.
Is there a difference in chelation effectiveness for decaffeinated black tea versus caffeinated? Same question for coffee.
Matcha is not like other tea–being powdered, it needs to be vigorously whisked in the cup (not inside a tea pot), and makes a cup that is frothy and thick; it is not a sipping experience. Bamboo whisks can be bought in specialty tea stores, and the usual cups that are used are larger and wider-bottomed, to allow for effective whisking. Almost no one in Japan drinks matcha on a regular basis, but rather in formal tea ceremonies.
Hi Mauslin, no, there’s no difference. Decaffeinated coffee or tea works as well, since it’s not the caffeine doing the job.
Thanks for that on matcha. I’m just learning about it.
Thanks, P.D.–glad to hear there’s no difference with decaffeination. Hope the matcha experience goes well (there’s probably evidence somewhere to show that doing the whole formal tea ceremony has benefits similar to meditation for reducing stress and blood pressure levels, increasing concentration, etc. The traditional kneeling posture also strengthens the back muscles, though it can be brutal on older knees).
RE: Chocolate. I noticed that cacao (and dark chocolate bars) have a relatively high level of iron; typically in the 15-20% RDA range for what seem to be small servings. Any thoughts on this seeming conundrum?
I just had a look at my can of cocoa powder, and it says a tablespoon has 2% of the RDA for iron. (RDA differs between men and women, but whatever.) Not much, in other words. So I don’t have an answer. If your chocolate has high iron, I don’t know what would be the source.
Loving your work, PD. First time posting but been reading your work for months now. I really think you’re onto something big with iron. Really big.
Just a clarification question. Is there a difference between “inhibiting iron absorption” and “chelating iron”? In my (amateur) mind, inhibiting means blocking from being absorbed, while chelating means “getting rid of something absorbed”. Am I right?
Drinking tea and coffee when eating a meal prevents iron being absorbed. Got that.
But does tea and coffee chelate iron – i.e. remove or neutralise it – when on an empty stomach? In the way same that IP6 is supposed to do?
Hi James, and thanks very much. Chelating can refer to the binding of iron by a molecule at any point, whether in the gut or inside the body. I should have been clearer on that point. Some of these compounds, such as EGCG, do indeed enter the body and can even cross the blood-brain barrier, where they chelate and remove iron. Others, for example chlorogenic acid in coffee, which is the main polyphenol in coffee, may not do this, but prevent iron from being absorbed. probably most polyphenols would chelate iron inside the body.
Examples of substances that don’t enter the body but merely prevent absorption are cholestyramine (I don’t know if anyone takes that anymore) and certain compounds in food fiber.
It’s a good question. I saw a recent report that questioned whether IP6 ever got inside the body from the gut. (It seems to.) There is also the question of crossing the blood-brain barrier, which at least EGCG and quercetin are known to do.
PS: I really hope I’m on to something big with iron – of course, I’m just reading the literature. But it’s weird reading all of it and then asking yourself why no one talks about it. Then when you write about it you start to ask yourself if you’re crazy.
Many thanks for your helpful reply, which has immediately sharpened my thinking on the issue. (And given what you’ve said about EGCG crossing the blood-brain barrier, I’ll emptying my wallet on some matcha tea first thing tomorrow!)
I’ve been experimenting with various forms of fasting for three years now and originally came across your blog as a sound source for thinking about intermittent fasting. When your iron articles first appeared I was initially dismissive, believing iron to be a only minor player in the scheme of things. The lightbulb moment came when I realised iron *rusts* and rusting causes all sorts of damage. Women at least shed iron once a month naturally … and lo and behold they live longer… And men who live longer than average have lower than average ferritin levels … And suddenly I saw see the world in a profoundly new way… I could see iron clearly implicated behind a wide and diverse range of physiological and medical phenomena… the hidden rusty hand throttling modern man…
Suffice to say, without your kind efforts, I would have been totally blind to this possibility. Your kind efforts are an example of what the internet can be at its best. I really wish you the very best for your forthcoming book on this topic – and I look forward to reading it.
James, I deeply appreciate your comment, and am grateful that I’m able to change the minds of smart people like yourself. Iron as a factor in health and disease is all but completely overlooked right now. Yet, say in terms of heart disease, it’s vastly more important than cholesterol, in my humble opinion. As you say, once you see the iron issue you see the world differently.
I have cocoa powder in my desk at work, right next to a stevia container, so I can sweeten my coffee without adding carbs, and add cocoa to my coffee. It looks like that is a great decision (and it tastes great).
Interesting and important point about green tea extract and prostate cancer. One of the frustrating areas regarding men’s health is precisely the sense that there seems to be little _known_ actionable information out there about avoiding or lowering the risk of prostate cancer. This is a nice nugget of information.
I recently read The Great Prostate Cancer Hoax, which was mainly about the questionable value of the PSA test. The takeaway from that book is that men should generally avoid that test. Ignorance may truly be better than knowledge in the case of most prostate cancer situations. It’s very common, and often benign (not in the medical sense but in the mortality sense). One memorable quote from the book: “Not all men die of prostate cancer, but all men die with prostate cancer.”
Regarding iron being huge, it really looks like it is almost the holy grail of health, particularly for men. Being “borderline fanatical” about lowering it certainly describes how I have felt since getting tested mid last year and having read Dennis’, Anthony Colpo’s and Richard Nikoley’s postings about it. Big kudos to Dennis for all his work on this issue. Looking forward to the book.
Hi Daniel, thanks. I need to read that book.
Continuing the prostate topic: are you aware of any relation between using IP-6 and prostate health? My bottle of IP-6 (Source Naturals is the brand) has a statement about it having “significant protective and growth regulating effects on various cells and tissues including those of the colon, breast and prostate.” I’d be interested to know if you are aware of any research on this. (And maybe it ultimately is iron chelation related.) Hopefully, prostate health will be a new topic that you will write about!
Daniel, yes, IP6 improves prostate health in animal models. Mice getting IP6 and implanted with prostate cancer cells had 75% less tumor growth. https://cancerpreventionresearch.aacrjournals.org/content/6/1/40.full Good idea, I’ll write about that topic.
Hi Dennis, delighted to hear that you’re planning on summarizing your iron discoveries in a new book. I have a couple of questions:
I’m teetotal (going on 6 years now). At the moment I have black, redbush and green teas in the day while fasting, and black or redbush (with milk) along with my early evening meal. I have a teaspoon of raw cacao nibs afterwards. Now I’m thinking about trying green tea extract. Would you say that there are any significant advantages of red wine over tea or coffee, either for inhibiting iron absorption or any other health benefits? I can already see from the article that you consider tea to be number one for iron chelation … and iron chelation is, you feel, possibly the basis for these beverages’ beneficial effects … so I have probably answered my own question! But I just wanted to check if, in your opinion, there was any sound reason to break my rule and start drinking red wine.
I’m also fairly clueless about making coffee at home, and I’d rather give the instant stuff a wide berth … plus I’m wary of the caffeine, and I find black coffee very unpalatable (I keep my fasts zero calorie, so no milk in beverages). So in other words, it’s tea for me!
Also — I have previously quizzed you about my red meat consumption. is there anything, to your knowledge, other than blood-letting, that would significantly inhibit heme-iron absorption? I haven’t had my iron-levels checked, but it’s something I need to do.
Thanks very much, and I look forward eagerly to reading the new book!
Hi Mark, I don’t think red wine is significantly better than tea or coffee in iron inhibition, though it has other effects on health that aren’t mediated that way. For instance, moderate drinkers have lower rates of heart disease, and this effect shows up time and again in studies, whereas epidemiological studies with black tea don’t always show health benefits. And moderate drinking includes any kind of alcohol, not just red wine.
The only thing that inhibits heme iron absorption is calcium, which is abundant in dairy products. Eating even small amounts of cheese or milk at a meal decreases heme iron absorption significantly, by about half.(https://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=872624&fileId=S0007114593000546 free full text). So eating cheese or drinking milk with meat looks like a good strategy for lowering heme iron absorption. Someone suggested that kosher laws against eating milk and meat together may have come about in a low-iron environment, in order to prevent iron deficiency.
Interesting and valuable answer. I’m fond of dairy products so that’s a very good option for me. I’m going to have a serious think about red wine as well.
P.D., loving the blog as always and the iron theme in particular.
One year ago, after 23andMe let me know that I’m carrier of one genetic variant for hemochromatosis, I asked my Doc to check ferritin levels, and it came back at 106. (For background, I’m a 38 year old lean omnivore, plant-based diet with lots of fish and red meat twice a month or so.)
Since you turned me on to IP6 around three months ago, I’ve been taking it daily (Dr. Shamsuddhin’s formulation with inositol) and I will check ferritin levels again next week.
Now I realize, thanks to this post, that my ferritin levels may have been lower in general since I drink two bowls of matcha every day right after lunch. It’s true most Japanese don’t drink nearly this much, but I’m a silly American (with a Japanese wife).
Couple things about matcha:
– there’s a tremendous variation in quality and taste, so I’d suggest buying small quantities of different brands/types and see what you like.
– I’m a coffee lover but found a kind of euphoria after drinking good matcha – a wave of well-being. it gives a calm energy (maybe the theanine) unlike the edgy rush of a few espressos. also my hair and nails became stronger.
– once you get the hang of whisking it (whisks available on Amazon) it’s super quick to prepare, really an instant tea. water should be around 165-170, not full boil.
– it’s expensive! I probably spend $60-80/month on the good stuff from Japan. But people spend that at Starbucks. I think it’s worth it.
Thanks, Max, for the info on matcha. I need to try it. Problem is I’m a cheapskate. My coffee is a 2 lb can of Folger’s that retails for 7 bucks. My current green tea was bought from a wholesale grocery, 200 bags for $2. I virtually never buy at Starbucks either – not necessarily because of the money, but because Starbucks corporate values go against everything I believe in. Anyway, I’m blathering, thanks for commenting and reading!
Interesting comment regarding Starbucks corporate values. Would you care to elaborate further, P.D.? I was going to respond to something else in your post but I’m interested in what your opinions are on Starbucks….perhaps there’s something about their company that I should know…
About the other thing; not sure how you feel about the lead content of the items that you ingest or if you even worry about it with the chelators that you regularly consume, but you may wish to consider a higher quality version of green tea…and/or coffee, for that matter. I say this because that very affordable green tea is most probably from China, a nation without many environmental standards right now. Even their organic varieties have shown to contain significant amounts of lead. This is fairly obvious as to why when one considers the inevitable run off and the settling of atmospheric industrial particulate. The prevailing wisdom is that steeping renders minimal to negligible amounts of lead and that consuming the leaf is much more drastic. However, I like to remove as much peril as possible. Higher quality Japanese matcha is tested more stringently for by-products like lead and radiation. Furthermore, it hails from a nation that appears to be fairly concerned about the health implications of its products.
As for the coffee, well, I mentioned it to you before regarding chocolate and I believe the same would go for coffee beans, but the incidence of mold mycotoxin is a concern to me with lower quality coffee.
As always, your input would be appreciated.
Starbucks has very leftists values; remember when they were going to have baristas start “a conversation about race”? Only with white customers of course, who they blame for everything wrong with the world. Starbucks is pro gun control, pro-abortion, and pro-Hillary.
As for lead in tea, yes, thanks, I’m aware of that, and have mostly quit drinking my Chinese green tea. Mycotoxins I’m not concerned about, though maybe I should be.
@Max Thanks a lot for this info. Can you let us know what your ferritin level at now after taking IP6 and Matcha?
My girlfriend also has hereditary haemochromatosis. She has blood taken regularly to try and keep her ferritin level down, however she then tends to feel tired for a number of days afterwards which is not ideal. Another problem is her ferritin is very quick to rise up so it’s proving difficult to manage this. I’ve actually just started taking matcha myself and I also find it beneficial, I’ll see if I can get her to take some too!
PD, how do you know if your over-supplemented? by dizziness, sick?
I think the best way to find out if supplements are causing unwanted effects is to stop them and see what happens.
I agree with the comments posted by others already: iron seems to be such a crucial factor, and kudos to Dennis for bringing this into the light when most others seem to have ignored it. The thing is, when I read your posts Dennis I thought the findings were so significant that my first response was that I had to do anything I could to lower iron – particularly cutting out red meat. I’ve now moderated that view – I think as long as one is donating blood regularly and also taking supplemental glycine (to balance out the high methionine in red meat) then grass-fed red meat is probably very healthful. Having said that though, like a previous poster, I am trying hard to get over a needle-phobia so haven’t managed to push myself to donate blood yet – but I will get there eventually! For now, relying more on the iron chelators instead – especially capers at the moment for the quercetin they contain.
Yeah, Rob, I agree, with regular donation I doubt there’s any need to skip the meat. Iron supplements of any kind are another matter, they cause immediate damage; otherwise, iron accumulation is a long-term deal, generally taking place over years to decades. Naturally, if I had a very high iron, and for very high let’s say over 200, I would want to take immediate steps like blood donation to bring it down. But as for prevention, that’s over the long haul. I have yet to substantially reduce my red meat intake.
I was eating some chorizo and eggs the other day, and the stuff is a deep red – iron. And boy it tastes good.
This is a great article. I’ve always wondered about the respective capacities of these items and how they stack up with regard to their effect on our health. I would like to know however, how much do you understand about the lead content of green tea in particular. You mentioned the Chinese green tea that you are contemplating dropping in favor of the more potent matcha and this might benefit you in a number of ways. It is postulated (perhaps more seriously than that) that Chinese green tea has significant lead content due to the nation’s govt. looking the other way as their industry thrives. This is obviously very disconcerting. I just thought it was something for you to be mindful of and it would be great if you were inspired to do some sort of follow up on it. Interestingly enough, there are only three nations that I have noticed produce green tea and the other being, India. Great, another country without the greatest track record for being environmentally conscious. It’s too bad because I really enjoy green tea. Hopefully, the Japanese variety is relatively lead free and if I could confirm that, I’d have little trouble qualifying it’s cost.
Thanks, Undercover. I didn’t know of any particular problem with Chinese tea, but I am not at all surprised by what you said regarding lead. Yes, probably time to find another source.
I don’t know for a fact that Japanese green tea is lead-free, but no one should be very worried about eating any Japanese food product (except what is grown or caught near the Fukushima nuclear plant). Japan’s overall environmental standards have improved dramatically since the 1970s.
China, on the other hand, has major pollution problems in almost all its major rivers, surface waters and groundwater. High percentages have been declared not acceptable for consumption or not safe for consumption (two different measurements), with some “not fit for human contact.” See, https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/apr/23/china-half-groundwater-polluted for one of dozens of stories. Independent NGO’s rate China’s water pollution problem even worse; see, https://chinawaterrisk.org/big-picture/pollution-status/
So, tea, which is obviously a water-intensive plant, would likely be at particularly high levels of risk for contamination. In general, it is better to avoid most Chinese food products. The more you know about water, soil, and air pollution in China, the less you will want to eat food exports.
Don’t forget that donating blood lowers Iron levels in men, like menstruation in women.
Bill Sardi’s book, “The Iron Time Bomb” came out in 1999. He recommended IP6 as a chelator. Haven’t seen much about it since then.
Anyone know of tea w/o pesticides, toxic chems?
I have read that the more expensive teas made from young leaves are the best in that regard. If concerned about pesticides, you may have to go organic.
If I understrand things correctly, tea usually contains quite high amounts of fluoride, especially the stronger teas. Just something to be aware of.
That’s correct; seems the cheaper teas have more fluoride, since they’re made with older leaves. More expensive teas use the top leaves which have less fluoride.