You might have heard of the benefits of tea before, but did you know that the tea that makes up only 2 percent of the world’s tea intake can help prevent cancer and heart disease? That’s right. Oolong tea is partially oxidized to meet somewhere in the middle of a green tea and black tea, and it’s a treat for sure. It originated in a province in China, but we’re fortunate enough to take advantage of oolong tea benefits in the Western world today.
Whether you’re trying to prevent eczema, lose weight or prevent heart disease, I’m pretty sure you’ve found your new favorite tea. And those aren’t the only oolong tea benefits you’ll love.
What Is Oolong Tea?
Tea has been known to provide numerous health benefits for millennia, and oolong tea is no exception to this rule. One of the most commonly stated oolong tea benefits is weight loss, and it’s a scientifically supported claim.
Like green and black tea, oolong is brewed from leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant. While green tea is unfermented and black tea fully fermented, oolong finds the sweet spot in the middle during the fermentation process of Camellia sinensis leaves.
Oolong tea contains flavonoids, caffeine (although not as much as black tea), theanine and fluoride. Many oolong tea benefits are due in part to the presence of catechins, a particular type of flavonoid.
The list of those benefits is not what you’d call short — oolong tea is associated with lower instances of heart disease, obesity and cancer; prevention of diabetes; a reduction in both inflammation and oxidative stress; increase in cognitive function; healthy skin and even healthy bones. (1, 2)
The health benefits of teas are so striking that research into their medically relevant effects has increased greatly in recent years. Because black tea accounts for 78 percent of tea consumption worldwide, green tea 20 percent and oolong tea remains as a mere 2 percent of the worldwide market, much research is focused on both green and black teas. However, oolong tea benefits are still the subject of a growing body of studies.
Whether you’re looking for oolong tea weight loss (and at zero calories per serving, who isn’t?) or interested in some of the other oolong tea benefits, this is a beverage worth adding to your diet.
1. Reduces the Risk of Heart Disease
On a large scale, the consumption of oolong tea is associated with a decreased risk of death from heart disease. (3)
For patients with coronary heart disease, the most common form of heart disease, oolong tea has been found to stop the spread of atherosclerosis, a regular feature of heart disease. After just a month of oolong consumption in one particular study, patients saw a significant decrease in the hardening and narrowing of the arteries. (4)
Oolong tea also acts earlier in the process of the development of atherosclerosis by reducing the risk of dyslipidemia, the initial elevation of triglycerides, plasma cholesterol or both that first lead to the development of this disease. Patients consuming more than 600 milliliters of oolong tea each day found the most decreased risk, with a drop in overall cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and blood triglycerides level for all patients consuming oolong tea regularly. (5)
Extracts from oolong tea also help prevent cell death in heart muscle tissue, another reason oolong is the subject of a lot of research regarding heart health. (6)
2. Helps Fight Obesity and Promote Weight Loss
Oolong tea weight loss has been at the center of a lot of discussion over the past several years, and for good reason.
Drinking oolong tea helps your body produce more heat, a process called thermogenesis, and thereby maintain or increase metabolism (the rate at which your body burns energy). This is especially important for people trying to lose weight, because there is typically a decrease in metabolism rates during the weight loss process. Recovering that loss is just one way oolong tea benefits and supports a healthy weight. (7)
Regular oolong tea consumption also suppresses the production of new fat cells. (8) It helps your body to burn fat faster. (9) Overall, there’s little doubt that oolong tea not only helps you lose weight in the short term, but also protects against obesity on a large, long-term scale with a consistently increased metabolism, reduction in fat and reduction in inflammation contributing to stubborn weight. (10, 11, 12)
3. Lowers Risk of Cancer
Because it’s so high in antioxidants, oolong tea significantly impacts your risk for certain cancers, including ovarian and pancreatic cancer (although the pancreatic cancer risk has been mostly pronounced in the elderly and Chinese populations). (13, 14) Oolong tea also seems to have an impact on stopping the growth of melanoma. (15)
The anticancer effects of tea are so great that the National Cancer Institute has even begun sharing this information with patients with the disease, showcasing tea’s standing as a cancer-fighting drink. (16)
4. Diabetes Prevention
The subject of diabetes is another important one in the quest to improve the health of the masses. Type 2 diabetes (the more common and diet-related form) is a metabolic disorder caused by high blood sugar and insulin resistance. An astounding 25 percent of the American population is prediabetic, and this is a completely reversible condition.
Introducing oolong tea into your diet is just one way to reverse diabetes naturally. In fact, this tea may help you prevent diabetes in the first place as well as serving a potential role in future diabetes medication development. (17) There’s a substantial inverse association with consumption of oolong tea and type 2 diabetes risk. (18)
Drinking oolong tea every day for at least a month has been shown to decrease blood glucose levels significantly in patients with diabetes as compared to those drinking only water and following the same diet. (19)
5. High in Disease-Fighting Antioxidants
The way oolong tea benefits your body has a lot to do with the presence of antioxidants in every cup. Antioxidants found in large numbers in oolong tea are bioflavonoids, a common type of antioxidant found in many fruits and vegetables in addition to tea. Specifically, you can find myricetin, kaempferol and quercetin in oolong tea. These three share many effects, but quercetin (found most concentrated in oolong tea) is of special significance. (20, 21)
Together, the bioflavonoids in oolong tea work together to fight the aging process, cancer, heart disease, inflammation, allergies and even improve physical endurance.
6. Decreases Inflammation
When you can lower chronic inflammation by adjusting your diet, you stand a much better chance of preventing all kinds of diseases. That’s one reason the antioxidants found in oolong tea are so important. This tea targets specific inflammation-causing genes and signals to them to reduce inflammation. (22)
7. Supports a Healthy Brain
Cognitive function is affected in both the short and long term by consuming oolong tea. Drinking tea, which contains both caffeine and L-theanine, nutrients known for their impact on brain function, correlates with a marked increase in visual information processing, attention levels, alertness and calmness within the first hour of consuming the beverage. (23)
However, the more far-reaching importance of tea as it relates to brain health is its ability to slow or prevent cognitive decline associated with age. EGCG, a polyphenol found in teas, helps improve and maintain the function of the hippocampus, a part of the brain strongly linked to learning and memory. (24)
When discussing age-related cognitive impairment, the “big one” people want to know about is generally Alzheimer’s. Drinking tea for Alzheimer’s actually may reduce your risk for this disease by up to 86 percent. This may be partly because of the presence of EGCG, but the disease-preventing effects of tea are complex and not just limited to one trait of the drink. In addition, the methods by which tea helps support the brain aren’t completely understood — it’s simply been found that tea does have its part in preventing cognitive impairment. (27)
8. Prevents Bone Loss
When women go through menopause, one unfortunate but common problem, they’re left with is a continual weakening of the bones that leads to conditions like arthritis or osteoporosis. While the reasons why aren’t entirely clear, it seems that drinking oolong tea helps women who have experienced menopause maintain high bone density. (28)
9. Reduces the Appearance of Eczema
The most common form of eczema is atopic dermatitis. There’s no total cure for eczema, although over-the-counter, prescription or homemade eczema cream may help decrease the appearance of the condition.
Diet plays a significant role in this condition, just like all others. In addition to eating less sugar and fried foods and introducing more healthy fats, high-fiber foods and probiotic foods into your diet, people who suffer from eczema should also consider drinking oolong tea.
In one study following patients for six months total, those drinking oolong tea three times daily saw moderate improvement in the appearance of eczema after one to two weeks. Five months after discontinuing consumption of oolong tea, over half of the participants still had the same decreased skin condition. Researchers contribute this effect to the anti-allergenic antioxidants found in the tea. (29)
All four common varieties of tea are derived from the same plant, Camellia sinensis. The differences lie in the way they’re processed. Each tea has distinctive properties, but they generally share similar benefits. The levels of processing go as follows, from least processed to most: white tea, oolong tea, green tea and black tea.
What’s the same?
All four of these common teas contain tons of antioxidants to help you fight disease. The list is the same for each type, but the amounts of each differ in quantity.
Teas help you to fight cancer, diabetes, heart disease and aging. They also aid your brain and support strong bones.
White tea has the most acute immunity-boosting effects of the four common varieties. Black tea, on the other hand, aids more in digestion and stress relief. Green tea seems to help prevent Alzheimer’s to the highest degree, while oolong tea specifically helps to reduce eczema outbreaks. Green tea contains the smallest amount of caffeine.
How to Make
When farmers harvest tea leaves for oolong production, the leaves go through a similar process as that of black tea, including the steps of withering, rolling, shaping and firing, although the time frames for these elements are different than black tea production. The final step, exclusive to oolong tea, is the baking or roasting phase.
To steep oolong tea, the general guideline is to use 3 grams of tea per 200 milliliters of water for 3–10 minutes. To retain the highest level of antioxidants, steep in water at about 194 degrees Fahrenheit (do not boil) for 3 minutes. (30)
As this tea is already somewhat sweet, the addition of a little honey is usually all you need to bring it to perfection.
While oolong tea is delicious without anything added (or just a little honey), there are also some scrumptious ways to fancy it up:
- Try this Oolong Iced Tea Lemonade, sweetened with stevia, for a sweet and tangy treat.
- You can also try a simpler Oolong Iced Tea, sweetened with honey and guaranteed to refresh any day of the week.
- For a creamy option, I would recommend this Creamy Oolong Chai Iced Tea. In fact, this is an Alzheimer’s buster if I ever saw one.
The history of oolong tea can be traced as far back as the Ming Dynasty, which began in the mid-1300s. More than one legend claims to be the process by which oolong was discovered, although most authorities share two stories that may be the root.
One tale is of a farmer out picking tea leaves one day to brew into tea. In the middle of his harvesting, he saw a black snake (in Chinese, pronounce “wu long”) and ran to safety. The next day, the leaves had changed to a brownish-green color. The farmer chose to brew the leaves and was so delighted by the new flavor he found that he named this new tea after the snake that had scared him away.
In the second legend, a man named Wu Liang had gathered tea leaves when he discarded them in the search for a deer he had seen. Caught up in preparing his unexpectedly savory dinner, he forgot about the tea leaves until the next day. Similarly to the farmer story, Wu Liang brewed the partially oxidized leaves and discovered the beauty of oolong tea.
Like all teas, oolong tea is prepared from tea leaves originating in the Fujian province of China, although these plants are now produced in Taiwan, Darjeeling and Vietnam. Often, Chinese and Taiwanese varieties are considered to be superior to the others.
Risks and Side Effects
Oolong tea is generally safe drink for most people, as it isn’t common to cause an allergic reaction. However, there are a few cautions to consider.
First of all, while most research supports the reduction in diabetes risk with regular oolong tea consumption, there are a few studies that suggest the opposite. (31) If you have been diagnosed with diabetes, you should be under the consistent care of a physician to track any positive or negative changes in your condition.
There’s also a small but notable risk regarding the frequency of headaches as they correlate to caffeine. (32)
Lastly, tea can decrease the amount of iron absorbed by your body. Generally, this is not something that would make a difference for most people. However, if you suffer from an iron deficiency, it’s probably best to greatly limit your oolong tea intake in order to prevent further iron issues. (33)
- Oolong tea is a partially oxidized tea, creating a complex brew in between green and black tea.
- Some primary benefits of oolong tea are a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer.
- The antioxidants found in each serving also help to keep bones, teeth and skin healthy to add even more oolong tea benefits.
- A large body of research supports oolong tea weight loss. Oolong tea benefits weight maintenance by speeding your metabolism, promoting fat burn and staving off obesity.
- At an even higher rate than the other teas, oolong tea fights cognitive decline and helps prevent the occurrence of Alzheimer’s disease.
- It’s not known for sure how oolong tea got its start, but the tea leaves grown in the Fujian province of China and in Taiwan are considered superior to other cultivars.
- It’s important to brew oolong tea for a short period of time and not bring water to a boil in order to maintain the antioxidant load.