Epicatechin: Science, Benefits, Safety, and How to Take It

Whether or not you’re familiar with epicatechin, you’re likely already eating it — an average of 15 milligrams per day, to be precise — if you consume a diet high in fruits and vegetables.[1]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27225434/

Epicatechin is a promising compound with the potential to support brain function, metabolism, energy, athletic performance, lean muscle, and more[2]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32090598/] It occurs in small concentrations in tea, chocolate, and other healthy foods — but it’s difficult to get sufficient amounts through diet alone[3]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27225434/

Some scientists believe that isolating epicatechin, allowing people to take a much higher dose compared to what’s normally obtainable through diet, is the key to unlocking its true potential[4]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31886745/

Keep reading to learn what peer-reviewed research says about the possible benefits and uses of epicatechin supplements, safety and side effects, how to use epicatechin for best results, and other frequently asked questions.

What Is Epicatechin?

Epicatechin or (-)-epicatechin is a naturally occurring flavonoid polyphenol antioxidant found in green tea, cacao, apples, berries, and other fruits and vegetables.[5]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10820089/[6]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30060538 Like other polyphenols that occur in green tea, epicatechin belongs to the catechin antioxidant family (which also includes the well-known, related compound epigallocatechin gallate or EGCG).

Until recently, EGCG received much more attention in studies — likely due to earlier findings that it’s a more powerful antioxidant than epicatechin.[7]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15182391/ In other words, some tests show that EGCG is more effective at neutralizing harmful free radicals

But newer studies have demonstrated that epicatechin works through mechanisms not shown with EGCG or other tea flavanols. 

For example, according to a 2018 study published in Biotechnology Advances, epicatechin is an effective antioxidant, capable of preventing oxidative damage and endothelial dysfunction (damage to cells that line blood vessels and other delicate organs) and also shown to affect metabolism throughout the body.[8]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29355598/

Epicatechin is also highly bioavailable and capable of crossing the blood-brain barrier, with studies showing oral absorption rates of around 82%.[9]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27363516/[10]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23610075/[11]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29355598/

Potential Benefits and Uses of Epicatechin

  • Brain Function, Cognition, and Memory
  • Metabolism and Energy
  • Strength and Lean muscle
  • Cardiovascular Support

Epicatechin May Support Brain Function, Cognition, and Memory

A 2020 systematic review and analysis of epicatechin found that in adults aged 18-50 years, consuming 50 milligrams per day resulted in positive effects on memory and executive function (the cognitive processes required to control and regulate behavior).[12]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31933112/

A separate scientific review, published in the journal Nutrients in 2018, found that epicatechin supported higher performance in memory tasks, executive function, and processing speed in older adults[13]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30060538/ Additionally, the review found that cognitive benefits are shown more often in epicatechin studies lasting at least 28 days, and in populations over the age of 50. 

Because epicatechin appears to increase levels of nitric oxide, which relaxes blood vessels, some researchers think that increased blood flow to the brain could be partially responsible for epicatechin’s brain benefits.[14]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30060538/

Epicatechin May Support Metabolism and Energy

A 2015 trial found that 1 milligram of epicatechin per kilogram of body weight increased fat oxidation (fat burning) and lowered blood glucose after a meal, and the effects were more pronounced in overweight individuals.[15]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3947792/ The researchers concluded that the effects of epicatechin may mimic the benefits of a healthy diet and exercise.

And according to a separate peer-reviewed paper published in 2020, epicatechin may be helpful in mitigating the development or progression of problems related to obesity, including metabolic issues, high glucose, and insulin resistance.[16]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32679195/

Current evidence supports “a potential beneficial action of epicatechin on obesity-associated comorbidities”.[17]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32679195/

The latest evidence also suggests that epicatechin may improve the function of mitochondria, the “powerhouses of the cell,” and could also potentially increase the number of mitochondria found in cells.[18]https://academic.oup.com/nutritionreviews/article-abstract/79/1/25/5912714 Because the trillions of mitochondria found throughout your body are required for energy production, enhancing their function can increase energy levels as well as support your metabolism.

Epicatechin May Support Strength and Lean Muscle Mass

Early studies in humans and animals suggest that epicatechin may increase levels of follistatin, a protein that appears to support lean muscle mass.[19]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24314870/ 

Follistatin works as an antagonist (inhibitor) of myostatin, a separate protein in your body that’s known to prevent muscle growth.[20]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19208403/ Essentially, by increasing follistatin levels and opposing the effects of myostatin, it appears likely that epicatechin may support lean muscle.[21]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24314870/

In a randomized controlled trial of older adults published in 2019, 62 men with age-related muscle loss took epicatechin or a placebo for 8 weeks.[22]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30299198/ Subgroups within the study also performed resistance training, with or without epicatechin. 

The researchers discovered that in the group that received epicatechin and did resistance training, there was a greater increase in follistatin, follistatin-myostatin ratio, leg press, and chest press compared to other groups.[23]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30299198/ There was also an increase in muscle mass and functional fitness.

A separate study from 2021 found that when given a green tea extract high in epicatechin for 12 weeks without exercise, adults aged 60 or older had increased muscle strength and handgrip strength compared to a placebo group.[24]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34202133/

Epicatechin May Support the Cardiovascular System

Epicatechin may support the heart and cardiovascular system.

In a Dutch study examining the relationship between dietary epicatechin intake and 25-year risk of cardiovascular mortality, researchers found that consuming more epicatechin from foods was related to a lower risk of dying from heart disease or other cardiovascular causes.[25]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27225434/

Other evidence suggests that potential cardiovascular benefits of epicatechin could be due to support for the endothelial lining of blood vessels, higher levels nitric oxide (a vasodilator that increases blood flow), and angiogenesis (creation of new blood vessels).[26]https://www.researchgate.net/publication/325068919_Epicatechin’s_cardiovascular_protective_effects_are_mediated_via_opioid_receptors_and_nitric_oxide[27]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29355598/[28]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22833114/

Safety and Side Effects of Epicatechin

While there are no large clinical trials to demonstrate the safety of epicatechin, early evidence shows a favorable safety profile with few or no side effects.

A 2015 clinical trial that provided healthy volunteers with up to 200 mg of epicatechin daily for 5 days found that it was safe to use, with no observed adverse effects.[29]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25598082/

Other human trials show similar results, with subjects tolerating epicatechin well and reporting no side effects.[30]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29171848/

According to one research paper, raw cocoa beans contain between 270-1,235 milligrams of epicatechin per 100 grams (3.5 ounces).[31]https://www.worldcocoafoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/files_mf/othman2010.pdf

Fermenting, processing, and especially roasting cacao significantly decreases the epicatechin content (by around 80%).[32]https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/jf102391q But if you’ve ever eaten more than a few ounces of dark chocolate, you may have consumed a relatively large dose of epicatechin without even realizing it!

Studies do suggest, however, that green tea catechins (including epicatechin) can alter the activity of drug-metabolizing enzymes in your body, such as Cytochrome P450.[33]https://cebp.aacrjournals.org/content/cebp/15/12/2473.full.pdf Additionally, doctors and researchers have reported that green tea catechins interact with cardiovascular drugs and other drugs that act on the circulatory system.[34]https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S102194981830036X

To be on the safe side, it’s always best to ask your doctor before taking a new supplement or making any lifestyle change, especially if you take prescription drugs or have a known medical condition.

How to Use Epicatechin (According to Studies)

If you consume a reasonably healthy diet, you’re probably already getting some epicatechin every day through foods you eat. A Dutch study found an average intake of around 8-22 mg per day of epicatechin coming mainly from tea, chocolate, fruits, and vegetables.[35]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27225434/

However, the amounts associated with benefits in studies are higher than the normal dietary intake of epicatechin. For example, some evidence suggests that taking at least 50 milligrams per day is necessary for any cognitive benefits that may occur when taking epicatechin.[36]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30060538/ Taking it for 4 weeks or longer is also associated with greater benefits, meaning the effects of epicatechin may be cumulative over time.

Also, some studies suggest that higher doses actually absorb better than lower doses. For example, one trial found that a 140 mg dose of epicatechin was twice as bioavailable as a 70 mg dose.[37]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23610075/

And a separate study found that compared to a 50 or 100 milligram dose, the area under the curve (AUC, a measure of the total absorption and circulation) of epicatechin and its metabolites (byproducts) following a 200 milligram dose was 718% or 276% of the lower doses, respectively.[38]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4357542/

To sum up, you can experiment with lower doses initially to see how your body responds, but relatively high doses around 150-200 milligrams may work the best because they appear to provide much higher active concentrations of epicatechin in your body.

One study found that taking 100 mg of epicatechin twice daily inhibited aerobic adaptation to cycling exercise, so if you’re currently training for endurance, it may be best to avoid taking epicatechin around your aerobic exercise sessions.[39]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30622947/

Finally, epicatechin may absorb best on an empty stomach. A study found that when it was included in a drink that also contained dietary fiber, epicatechin took longer to absorb and was less bioavailable.[40]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23610075/

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Epicatechin

What’s the Difference Between Epicatechin vs. EGCG?

Epicatechin and EGCG belong to the same family of polyphenol antioxidants, and they both occur in green tea, but each one has distinct properties. While EGCG is technically the more potent antioxidant of the two, epicatechin has different effects — like raising nitric oxide and increasing follistatin levels.[41]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15182391/

Researchers have conducted more human trials using EGCG in the past, but scientific trends are shifting as interest in the unique effects of epicatechin increases. 

What Foods Contain Epicatechin?

Epicatechin occurs in plenty of foods including tea, cacao, vegetables, and fruits (especially apples and berries). One study found the average dietary intake of epicatechin was about 8-22 mg per day.[42]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10820089/ Because heat and processing can easily destroy epicatechin, your best bets are raw cacao or epicatechin supplements.

Who Should Take Epicatechin? 

Epicatechin may be beneficial, but it’s not an essential nutrient, so you don’t have to include it in your diet. You can take epicatechin supplements if you’re interested in supporting brain function, metabolism, energy, muscle mass, or other anti-aging benefits.†

 

References[+]

Share your love