Oral Leukoplakia and Green Tea

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An uncommon disease, Oral leukoplakia is a rare biological occurrence that develops on the tongue. With no known cause or classification, the treatment for this disease is slowly developing as science delves deeper for its causation. There is a tenuous link between its presence and smoking, but again its believed not to be the primary cause.

What is Oral Leukoplakia?

Oral Leukoplakia roughly translates to consistent white plaque. This white plaques can develop all over the tongue in patches. The main feature of this that defines it as leukoplakia is its inability to be removed from the tongue. The most common places for this to form is the tongue, floor and roof of the mouth, gums, lower lips, inside of the cheeks. Often it can go unnoticed without care and attention as it is rarely painful and has a very similar texture to the tongue. In most cases it is harmless, but some can divide and develop into cancerous cells, and put the person at higher risk of oral cancers [1,2]. It is predicted that 1% of oral leukoplakias become cancer. The danger of this is that there are very subtle changes between oral leukoplakia and oral cancer, which can allow the cancer to fester and cause harm [3].

There are not classified ‘risk factors’ like there are with many other diseases, however, studies have found that men are more than twice as likely to develop oral leukoplakia. Furthermore, it is more likely to occur in your senior years, over the age of 50 years and over 80% of those diagnosed were over the age of 40 [1,2].

The cause is idiopathic yet there are many suspicions of its cause:

  • Weakened immune system, those with HIV/AIDs or undergoing cancer treatment are though to be more at risk of developing disease.
  • Vitamin Deficiency (A or B Vitamins)- Deficiencies in vitamins have long been associated with poor dental and oral health. Many of the membranes within the mouth are maintained by the work of Vitamin A. Vitamin B12 has also been associated with the onset of the disease.
  • Smoking. Cigarette smoke contains many harmful chemicals to our health. Many of which contain free radicals, reactive compounds that cause oxidation in the body. This can damage DNA and proteins responsible for cellular structures in the mouth. In addition, tobacco and tar which are found in cigarettes are irritant. Chronic irritation is thought to be another cause of oral leukoplakia.
  • Excessive Alcohol is also full of harmful free radicals. Moreover, alcohol has been found to irritate the mucosa of the mouth which may lead to the occurrence of the disease.
  • Fungal infection (candidiasis). Candida Albicans is a fungus that resides naturally within our bodies, influxes of this fungus is thought to increase the chance of developing oral leukoplakia [1].

What is the Best Form of Treatment?

The primary treatment advice focuses on the behaviours that may lead to plaque development. This includes cutting down your alcohol and cigarette smoking. Many doctors will advise removing them from your lifestyle entirely. Furthermore, they will advise to improve you diet. Consuming rich sources of Vitamin A and the B vitamins. This includes, dairy products, lean meats, wholegrains, and a variety of fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are very rich in antioxidants which are thought to help reduce the effects of mutagenic cell development. If the plaques appear concerning or hint to any form of cancerous cells you will be advised to have them surgically removed by a scalpel [2,4].

One of the upcoming treatments for Oral Leukoplakia is the consumption of Green tea and its extracts.

How can Green Tea Help?

Green tea is well known for its preventative use against cancer, which is why it seemed logical to attempt to use it to prevent oral leukoplakia. Studies have shown that EGCG is the most effective compound at preventing cancer (chemopreventative). They found that after consuming green tea, the active compounds were much higher in the saliva than they were in the blood. This indicates that it can be hugely effective at treating any ailment within the mouth [5].Another study undertaken in Texas stated the following.

While still very early, and not definitive proof that green tea is an effective preventive agent, these results certainly encourage more study for patients at highest risk for oral cancer.”

They found that 60% of the participants had a positive response to a high dose of Green Tea Extracts [5]. Another study found that EGCG inhibited the growth of all cell types that lead to the development of Oral Leukoplakia. It also prevented pre-cancerous cells from converting to cancerous forms [7].

  1. Harris. C. (2015). Oral Leukoplakia. Available: http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/853864-overview.
  2. NHS. (2015). Leukoplakia. Available: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Leukoplakia/Pages/Introduction.aspx.
  3. Dermet NZ. (2015). Carcinoma in situ of Oral Cavity. Available: http://www.dermnetnz.org/topics/carcinoma-in-situ-of-oral-cavity/.
  4. Moore.K. (2016). Understanding Leukoplakia. Available: http://www.healthline.com/health/leukoplakia.
  5. The Indian and US Head and Neck Cancer Cooperative Group. (1997). Green Tea and Leukoplakia. The American Journal of Surgery. 174 (7), Pg. 552-55.
  6. Mercola.J. (2009). Green Tea Extracts May Protect You From Oral Cancer. Available: http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2009/11/28/Green-Tea-Extracts-May-Protect-You-From-Oral-Cancer.aspx.
  7. Khafif.A, et-al. (1998). Green tea regulates cell cycle progression in oral leukoplakia.. Head and Neck. 20 (6), Pg. 528-534.

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