Objective: Catechins are bioactive flavonoids present in tea, fruits, and vegetables. Previous epidemiological studies regarding tea and cancer risk were inconclusive, possibly because catechins are also present in other plant foods. We investigated whether a high intake of catechins are associated with cancer incidence among postmenopausal women.
Methods: A cohort of 34,651 postmenopausal cancer-free women aged 55-69 years were followed from 1986 to 1998. At baseline, data on diet, medical history, and lifestyle were collected. Incident cancers were obtained through linkage with a cancer registry. Cox proportional hazards analysis was used to estimate risk ratios.
Results: After adjustment for potential confounders, catechin intake was inversely associated with rectal cancer incidence only (risk ratios from lowest to highest quartile: 1.00, 0.93, 0.73, and 0.55; p for trend 0.02). Non-significant inverse trends were found for cancer of the upper digestive tract, pancreas, and for hematopoietic cancers. Catechins derived primarily from fruits, (+)-catechin and (-)-epicatechin, tended to be inversely associated with upper digestive tract cancer, whereas catechins derived from tea were inversely associated with rectal cancer.
Conclusions: Among several cancers studied, our data suggest that catechin intake may protect against rectal cancer. The distinct effects found for catechins derived from solid foods (fruits) and beverages (tea) may be due to differences in bioavailability or metabolism of the catechins, or to their interactions with other dietary components.