Attaya, more than just Green tea, it’s a way of life in the Gambia

Ataaya Tea
Ataaya Tea

When I arrived in the Gambia, I was thinking that I had to concentrate on the reason that brought me. What was the reason that sent me to Gambia? I am in the Gambia to pursue the Barrister at Law course at the Gambia Law School. I have decided to mind my business and pursue my legal education. But, as a science writer, it appears my pen wouldn’t allow me.

I notice one interesting thing walking through the principal streets and ghettos of Gambia. I notice that there is this particular tea that is a ritual they drink. I asked a frequent consumer and he told me that it is called Attaya. Attaya is more than just tea, it’s a way of life in the Gambia.

I asked what attaya contains, and he said green tea. I was a little bit surprised because I feel the way attaya is consumed, the ingredient should be locally produced but that is not the case. Green tea is sourced from China.
In my curiosity as a medical writer, I asked where I could get one to buy. He directed me and I went to buy one. Indeed, the product I got was Black Star which contains Chinese green tea. When I got to my apartment, I quickly took my laptop and started my literature searches. So in this article, I present to you the most sought-after and highly consumed Attaya, known as African green tea in the Gambia.

Attaya: the Motivation
I asked one man the motivation behind attaya consumption in the Gambia. He said it relieves stress. Another man said it improves their sex drives. This assertion support one report by Ben Turay(2009-2010) that the youths drink attaya to improve sexual desire; to some people, cures Malaria and energizes people, particularly students for burning the midnight candle.
I explored further. I found that attaya consumption goes beyond the Gambia. Other countries such as Sierra Leone and Senegal are also known attaya consumers.
One study by Gegbe et al. (2015) examines the motivation behind attaya consumption in Sierra Leone and found that there is no strong motivational reason for consumers behind attaya consumption. However, the study found that (21%) of the respondents often drink Ataya, (31%) say they drink Ataya every day, (25%) do not drink Ataya every day and ( 21% ) of them say they do drink Ataya weekly. Seventy percent (70%) of the respondents have been motivated by their friends, partners, colleagues workers, or family in drinking attaya while (30%) were not motivated by any of the above in drinking attaya. Sixty-seven percent (67%) of the respondents drink attaya with friends, (10%) with their partners, (23%) with colleagues’ workers, and 0.4% drink Attaya with their family respectively.
Attaya in Ghettos

From Manjai Kunda, Bakau, Kololi, Banjul, Brufut, Fajara, Serekunda, Basse, Bijilo, Kartong, Cape Point, Senegambia, etc, every corner I passed through, Ataya bases have rapidly replaced Ghettos. I noticed these attaya joints could be another important place to engage the youth and know their diverse interests, easy also for the government to access and interact with youths.

In the case of Sierra Leone, Ben Turay(2009-2010) reports that over 1,500 ‘Attaya’ bases in the country and 584 registered attaya bases in Freetown, out of the number, 252 are in Eastern, 175 are located in the Central, while 157 in the Western. Each base has over 30 regular members drinking the product.

In Sierra Leone, Government collects taxes from importers of the product, and a cross-section of the civilian populace dismissed youths, seen attaya bases as idlers and dropouts who have no future. This notion leads to stigmatization or anonymity, these youths suffer discrimination and humiliation and therefore distance themselves from their communities, but the fortunate part of it, today, attaya hangouts have created jobs for its sellers, and the product has improved families of sellers of this product as some attaya sellers have now acquired lands, some have built houses and bought vehicles through the business and many of the dealers take greater care of their families through the business.
The report further notes that more than 1,500 people take care of families through attaya business which has enhanced Love and Unity across the country.

Attaya & Normal Green Tea

Though attaya is made from green tea. Steven Prihoda(2015) article explained further: “The difference between attaya and normal green tea is in how it is made. A normal green tea takes five minutes; the attaya process can take hours. While some belief attaya to be as caffeinated as coffee, if one were to compare the caffeine content of regular green tea to that of attaya, the difference would be negligible (a simple black tea would be an even better – and faster – choice); and, if caffeine consumption were the desired goal, coffee would remain far more potent than attaya, green tea, or black tea. But while some people in The Gambia do use attaya as their caffeine fix, that’s not the point”.

Attaya, scientific benefits
I wasn’t surprised with the health benefits because attaya is made from green tea which science has proven many times the health benefits.
Green tea comes from the plant Camellia Sinensis. The two main varieties of tea plants are Camellia sinensis, a small-leaf variety native to China, and Camellia sinesis assamica, a large-leaf variety that was first discovered in the Assam district of India. Hundreds of cultivars and hybrid plants have evolved from these two plant varieties over time.

There are various types of teas made from the Camellia sinensis plant. Four well-known types are white tea made from young leaves and buds that have not yet turned green. The only processing for this tea is drying. The next is green tea which is made from mature leaves of the plant with minimal processing that involves only drying. Then there is black tea which is made from partially fermented mature leaves and oolong Tea, produced from fully fermented mature leaves.

Green tea is produced by harvesting the leaves from the Camellia sinensis plant, quickly heated by pan frying or steaming, and dried to prevent too much oxidation from occurring. Oxidation turns the green leaves brown and alters their flavor. Brewed green tea is typically green, yellow, or light brown.

Green tea which originates from China traces back to 2737 B.C. It was accidentally discovered by the Chinese Emperor Shennong in the Yunan province of China when fresh tea leaves from a nearby Camellia sinensis tea tree fell into his cup of just boiled water. It was originally costly and only available to the highest tiers of Chinese society but became accessible to the general public for enjoyment and medicinal purposes in the 14th century. “The Classic of Tea” is the first written work to explain green tea culture and art around 800 A.D., by Lu Yu of China. Green tea is said to be mainstreamed in Japan around the 12th century and to this day, China and Japan are said to be the top exporting countries of Green tea in the world. Green tea traveled to the West in the 19th century with European explorers.

Green tea has a high vitamin and mineral content and 5 cups of green tea will provide 5 to 10% of the daily requirements of riboflavin, niacin, folic acid, and pantothenic acid and also about 5% of the daily requirement of magnesium, 25% of potassium and 45% of the requirement for manganese (Shukla, 2007). It also contains the active ingredient polyphenol, with the subgroup catechins – A powerful antioxidant. There are four main catechins in green tea. They are (EC) -epicatechin, (ECG) -epicatechin-3-gallate, (EGC) –epigallocatechin and (EGCG)-epigallocatechin-3-gallate. Of these four, EGCG is present in the largest quantity, and so has been used in much of the research. As the main constituent, green tea polyphenols were documented for their antioxidant, anti-inflammation, anticancer, anti-cardiovascular, antimicrobial, antihyperglycemic, and antiobesity properties.

Recent reports demonstrate that green tea may exert a positive effect on the reduction of medical chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and diabetes. The health benefits of green teas, in particular EGCG, are widely investigated, and these effects are known to be primarily associated with the structure and compositions of its polyphenols. (Xing et. al., 2019)
Recent reports demonstrate that green tea may exert a positive effect on the reduction of medical chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and diabetes. (Zing, 2019).

Attaya, Live Longer
Studies have found that some compounds in green tea may help you live longer. For instance, Kuriyama et al.(2006) studied 40,530 Japanese adults over 11 years. Those who drank the most green tea — 5 or more cups per day — were significantly less likely to die during the study period. The study found that:
• Death of all causes: 23% lower in women, 12% lower in men
• Death from heart disease: 31% lower in women, 22% lower in men
• Death from stroke: 42% lower in women, 35% lower in men
A previous study( Suzuki et al.2009) examined over 14,001 older Japanese individuals and found that those who drank the most green tea were 76% less likely to die during the 6-year study period.

This means that there could be something special in longevity in those countries such as Gambia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, etc who drink more attaya daily.

Improves Brain function
Drinking attaya improves brain function. For instance, Green tea does more than just keep you alert, it may also help boost brain function. The key active ingredient is caffeine, which is a known stimulant. Though green tea doesn’t contain as much as coffee, however, it has more to produce a response without causing the nervous effects associated with taking in too much caffeine.

Two studies(Nehlig et al. 1999; Fredholm, B.B, 1995) found that caffeine affects the brain by blocking an inhibitory neurotransmitter called adenosine. When this happens, it increases the shooting of neurons and the concentration of neurotransmitters like dopamine and norepinephrine.

Another, Ruxton, C(2008) found that caffeine could support many areas of brain function, including mood, vigilance, reaction time, and memory. Apart from caffeine, Nobre et al.(2008) found that green tea also contains the amino acid L-theanine, which can cross the blood-brain barrier.

More studies (Nobre et al. 2008; Nathan et al. 2006; Egashira et al. 2007) explained that L-theanine increases the activity of the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA, which has anti-anxiety effects. It also increases dopamine and the production of alpha waves in the brain.

This means that two important energy-boosting compounds in green tea combinations could have synergistic effects. This means that the combination of the two can have particularly powerful effects in improving brain function(Kelly et al. 2008; Dodd et al. 2015). This also means that due to the L-theanine and the small dose of caffeine, green tea may give you a much milder and different kind of resistance than coffee. It has been reported that people experienced having more stable energy and being much more productive when they drink green tea, compared with coffee.

A 20-year study by Bah et al.(2013) found that cancer incidence has remained relatively stable over time, in the Gambia. This could be linked to their high attaya consumption. For instance, Boehm et. al. (2009) conducted a systematic review of fifty-one studies with more than 1.6 million participants in studies that looked for associations between green tea consumption and cancer of the digestive tract, gynecological cancer including breast cancer, urological cancer including prostate cancer, lung cancer and cancer of the oral cavity. The result of the review was conflicting with the evidence that the consumption of green tea might reduce the risk of cancer.

Another observation studies review (Ogunleye and Michels, 2009) found that women who drank the most green tea had an approximately 20–30% lower risk of developing breast cancer, one of the most common cancers in women
However, Reygaert (2017) found that case-control studies gave the most consistent results and were positive for reduced cancer risk in breast, cardiac, colorectal, esophageal, gastric, lung, ovarian, pancreatic, and prostate cancers. He conducted a review of research that focused primarily on using human subjects to investigate the health benefits of green tea. In his review, he also found a relationship between breast cancer risk and tea consumption, with the risk being highest in the groups that did not consume tea and lowest in the groups that consumed the most cups per day.
On Prostate cancer, Kurahashi et al.(2008) study found that men drinking green tea had a lower risk of advanced prostate cancer.

On colorectal cancer, Chen et al.(2017) examined 29 studies and found that those drinking green tea were around 42% less likely to develop colorectal cancer. An old study(Litt et al. 1997; Yuan. J.M, 2013) found that green tea drinkers are less likely to develop several types of cancer, but more high-quality research is needed to confirm these effects

Finally, studies have found that adding milk to green tea reduces its antioxidant ability(Ryan and Petit, 2010). In the Gambia, attaya drinkers normally add mint, sugar, or ginger to improve the flavor.

Cardiovascular Disease
Attaya drinking could improve heart health. Two studies from Japan that included nearly 50,000 people found a decreased mortality rate due to CVD based on the consumption of various numbers of cups per day(Nakachi, 2000, Kuriyama et. al., 2006).

Other studies in Japan using a green tea extract found that, after 12 weeks, the subjects had reductions in body fat (10%), blood pressure (6.5%), and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) levels (2.6%), suggesting a reduced risk of CVD.
A large meta-analysis of 17 studies from over 30 years, including data from Europe, the UK, and the U.S., found that increasing the consumption of green tea by three cups per day decreased the risk of myocardial infarction (MI) death by 11% (Peters et. al, 2001).

Another study showed a decreased risk of mortality in patients who had an acute MI and a history of regular green tea consumption for at least a year before the MI. Participants who did not drink green tea had a 14% rate of death

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