The role of antioxidant versus pro-oxidant effects of green tea polyphenols in cancer prevention

Mol Nutr Food Res. 2011 Jun;55(6):844-54. doi: 10.1002/mnfr.201000641. Epub 2011 May 2.


Consumption of green tea (Camellia sinensis) may provide protection against chronic diseases, including cancer. Green tea polyphenols are believed to be responsible for this cancer preventive effect, and the antioxidant activity of the green tea polyphenols has been implicated as a potential mechanism. This hypothesis has been difficult to study in vivo due to metabolism of these compounds and poor understanding of the redox environment in vivo. Green tea polyphenols can be direct antioxidants by scavenging reactive oxygen species or chelating transition metals as has been demonstrated in vitro. Alternatively, they may act indirectly by upregulating phase II antioxidant enzymes. Evidence of this latter effect has been observed in vivo, yet more work is required to determine under which conditions these mechanisms occur. Green tea polyphenols can also be potent pro-oxidants, both in vitro and in vivo, leading to the formation of hydrogen peroxide, the hydroxyl radical, and superoxide anion. The potential role of these pro-oxidant effects in the cancer preventive activity of green tea is not well understood. The evidence for not only the antioxidant, but also pro-oxidant, properties of green tea is discussed in the present review.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anticarcinogenic Agents / chemistry
  • Anticarcinogenic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Anticarcinogenic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Antioxidants / chemistry
  • Antioxidants / pharmacology*
  • Antioxidants / therapeutic use
  • Flavonoids / chemistry
  • Flavonoids / pharmacology*
  • Flavonoids / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Oxidants / chemistry
  • Oxidants / pharmacology*
  • Oxidants / therapeutic use
  • Phenols / chemistry
  • Phenols / pharmacology*
  • Phenols / therapeutic use
  • Phytotherapy
  • Plant Extracts / chemistry
  • Plant Extracts / pharmacology
  • Plant Extracts / therapeutic use
  • Polyphenols
  • Tea / chemistry*


  • Anticarcinogenic Agents
  • Antioxidants
  • Flavonoids
  • Oxidants
  • Phenols
  • Plant Extracts
  • Polyphenols
  • Tea