If you are a fan of chamomile (or camomile) tea you will be glad to know that drinking chamomile tea helps to protect against thyroid cancer. Although most often enjoyed for its delicate floral flavour and sedative effect, researchers have now found that chamomile tea has anti-cancer actions.
A few years ago, researchers tested chamomile tea against various laboratory cell lines and found it selectively killed cancer cells, but did not harm healthy blood cells. There was also a clear dose-response effect, with increasing doses having more powerful anticancer results.
The active chemicals were identified as types of polyphenol known as flavonoid glycosides and hydroxycinnamic acid derivatives, and the researchers suggested that research was needed in real people, rather than their cells, to assess the full benefits. Someone listened and a new study, published in the European Journal of Public Health, has now shown that drinking chamomile tea offers significant protection against both thyroid cancer and benign thyroid conditions such as nodules and autoimmune inflammation.
Chamomile tea protect against thyroid disease
In the latest study, Greek researchers compared the chamomile tea intakes of 113 people with thyroid cancer, 286 with benign thyroid diseases and 138 healthy controls with no thyroid problems. The results showed that people who drank chamomile tea two to six times a week, on average, were 70% less likely to develop thyroid cancer and 74% less likely to develop benign thyroid disease than those who drank no chamomile tea at all.
These astonishing results remained even after other potential confounding factors such as age, gender, BMI, smoking, alcohol and coffee intakes were accounted for.
The duration of consumption was also inversely associated with thyroid disease, so that people who’d enjoyed chamomile tisanes for 30 years were almost 80% less likely to develop thyroid problems than those not drinking camomile tea.
Chamomile is an ancient medicine
I find it fascinating that herbal teas have such a long history of medicinal use in Greece, where this research was carried out. Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, selected chamomile tea to treat fevers and, although we call it German chamomile, its common name comes from the Greek: chamos means ‘ground’ and melos means ‘apple’ – a name it earned due to its low-growing habit and apple scent.
So this got me thinking. If chamomile tea is so popular in Greece, could that mean that thyroid disease is less common in that part of the Mediterranean than in other countries where chamomile tea is less traditional and enjoyed less frequently?
Guess what – the Greek incidence of thyroid cancer is right at the bottom of the W.H.O. International league table!
Although the United States doesn’t feature on this list, the annual incidence of thyroid cancer among US men and women is 13.5 per 100,000, placing it around the same level as Italy – right at the top.
I imagine many other factors are also involved such as following a Mediterranean-style diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables, veg, oily fish, olive oil and garlic, as well as sunlight to synthesise vitamin D. But then again, Italy is also a Mediterranean country and features all these healthy foods in their national diet, yet are right at the top of the global list for thyroid cancer incidence. Perhaps chamomile is the missing factor that protects the Greeks from thyroid cancer and other thyroid diseases.
I’d love to think that chamomile tea is playing a protective role. I can’t find any figures comparing national intakes of chamomile tea to help put my wobbly hypothesis on a less dodgy footing, but if you know of any consumption facts, or think my theory is either bonkers or worth exploring further, please comment below!
I’ve gone to bed with a cup of chamomile tea for several years, and my current favourite is a blend of chamomile with vanilla. What’s yours?
Image credit: esin_deniz/shutterstock,