5 Benefits of Oolong Tea for a Tasty, Healthy Life
Grown in southern China and Taiwan, oolong tea, 烏龍茶 (phonetic pronunciation: “wu-long”), is one of the more popular teas in the world. Though its popularity has yet to be fully realized in the United States, oolong tea has been grown, fermented and drunk for thousands of years.
Although oolong tea is first mentioned in poems written in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), the tea is significantly older. It was originally known as Beiyun tea, and originated in the Tang Dynasty (618-907). Often used as a tribute tea, it was a drink offered as a sign of great honor.
Though oolong tea is often labeled a green tea, it's more accurately half green, half black. Oolong tea is partially oxidized, whereas black tea leaves are fully oxidized, and green, unfermented.
Although Chinese teas are famously touted for their medical and curative properties, it's only recently that Western doctors have taken note and begun studying oolong tea.
According to traditional Chinese medicine, these are some of the health benefits of oolong tea:
- Sharpens thinking skills
- Improves brain function, mental alertness and anxiety
- Prevents tooth decay
- Prevents osteoporosis (decreased bone mineral density)
- Reduces cancer risk
- Reduces or prevents cardiovascular disease and improves heart health
- Promotes weight loss and reduces obesity risk
- Prevents diabetes
- Minimizes atherosclerosis (hardening of arteries)
- Lowers high cholesterol and blood pressure
- Improves skin conditions such as atopic dermatitis
- Boosts immune system
While not all of these benefits have been confirmed by the scientific research, doctors and researchers have observed that oolong tea does have some health benefits explained below.
Oolong tea leaves come from a plant called Camellia sinensis, which has chemical compounds that were observed to reduce risk of a particular type of skin cancer. Researchers also found it reduced urinary tract symptoms.
It also has less caffeine than green tea, making it an ideal drink for people with chronic heart diseases.
A small study published in the Journal of Medical Investigation showed that oolong tea improved metabolism and promoted weight loss. The researchers tested participants' “Resting Energy Expenditure” and “Energy Expenditure” after drinking oolong tea, a green tea, and water. It found that people who drank oolong tea had a higher REE and EE than plain water and green tea both. This study suggests that if you are working on improving your fitness and losing weight, regular oolong tea consumption may help.
Though oolong tea does contain caffeine, the study found that properties of oolong tea, rather than caffeine, promotes fat oxidation, or weight loss. For this reason, oolong tea is a good option for people with cardiac problems, nursing mothers, or other people who cannot have large amounts of caffeine.
Researchers have found a relationship between drinking oolong tea and lowering cholesterol levels: They found that people who drank at least 10 ounces of oolong tea daily had lower risk of high total cholesterol, triglyceride, LDL cholesterol levels.
In a separate study, researchers found that people who drink oolong tea daily also have a lower risk of heart disease in the long term.
According to the National Cancer Institute, there is insufficient research to confirm that oolong tea lowers the risk of cancer. However, there are a number of small studies that suggest that oolong tea may inhibit skin, lung, and ovarian cancer.
Laboratory and animal studies found polyphenol chemicals, which are naturally occuring in oolong teas, may protect cells from DNA damage, and possibly inhibits tumor cell growth. Tea polyphenols may also improve the immune system.
While the early research in the efficacy of tea polyphenols is promising, researchers do not yet understand how or why it is effective, and are not recommending tea consumption in cancer treatment at this time.
Researchers have found that drinking oolong tea did not improve blood sugar levels or insulin levels. However, drinking oolong tea may lower the risk of Type 2 diabetes.
A small, 30-day study conducted in Japan found that daily consumption of oolong tea lowered the glucose levels in its participants by as much as 30%. However, a separate study found that consumption of caffeine, which is found in oolong tea, also lowered glucose levels in patients with Type 2 diabetes. The researchers concluded that a larger study with a bigger sampling of participants should be conducted.
Cavities and Tooth Health
Fluoride, a compound added to tap water in most developed countries, is a naturally occurring compound in oolong tea leaves. Fluoride helps prevent demineralization of teeth enamel and tooth decay by replenishing the lost calcium and phosphorus to keep your teeth hard. Naturally occurring fluoride, such as that found in oolong tea, may also prevent cavities.
Other Possible Benefits
While studies are in their preliminary stages (and thus unconfirmed), oolong tea has been associated with:
- Healthier gut bacteria
- Lower risk of Alzheimer's disease
- Lower risk of Parkinson's disease
- Stronger bones
- Fewer headaches
- Fewer bouts of insomnia
- Lower blood pressure
Whether you're new to tea or a self-professed connoisseur, oolong tea is a great drink to try out. It's neither overly sweet nor bitter. Regular tea consumption may minimize a number of health issues like high blood pressure, skin disorders, and heart diseases.
Making a cup of tea allows you to take a beat. Try meditating while you prepare your perfect cup of tea. Developing a tea routine of your own can be a source of relaxation in your otherwise chaotic day. Reduced stress may translate into fewer headaches and better long-term health. And its lower caffeine content means you’re less likely to be afflicted by insomnia.
Oolong teas have a marvelous complexity that evolves as you develop your tea-making skills. The next time you make a cup of oolong tea, examine its flavors and scents. Does it taste fruity and sweet? Nutty? Woody and reminiscent of smoke? Or milky with a hint of floral scent?
Every cup of new oolong tea will be different from the last. Like a fingerprint, it's one of a kind.
Savor it. You may never have that exact same cup again.
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