The mechanistic systems in the body through which tea causes weight loss are complex and multi-dimensional. Additionally, the bioactive components in tea such as catechins, caffeine, and products of tea polyphenol oxidation vary greatly from one major tea type to the next. Green tea has been the primary subject of consideration for investigation into the preventative health effects of tea because it contains the highest levels of phenolic compounds and retains the highest antioxidant capabilities of any major tea type. However, recent research suggests decreasing body fat accumulation has little to do with antioxidant activity and more to do with enzyme inhibition, and gut microbiota interactions. This paper reviews several different tea polyphenol-induced weight-loss mechanisms, and purposes a way in which these mechanisms may be interrelated. Our original ‘short-chain fatty acid (SCFA) hypothesis’ suggests that the weight-loss efficacy of a given tea is determined by a combination of carbohydrate digestive enzyme inhibition and subsequent reactions of undigested carbohydrates with gut microbiota. These reactions among residual carbohydrates, tea polyphenols, and gut microbiota within the colon produce short-chain fatty acids, which enhance lipid metabolism through AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) activation. Some evidence suggests the mechanisms involved in SCFA generation may be triggered more strongly by teas that have undergone fermentation (black, oolong, and dark) than by non-fermented (green) teas. We discussed the mechanistic differences among fermented and non-fermented teas in terms of enzyme inhibition, interactions with gut microbiota, SCFA generation, and lipid metabolism. The inconsistent results and possible causes behind them are also discussed.
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