Oolong Tea - The Black Dragon And Human Longevity
IF Insider No. 36
In this issue, we are going to take a deep dive into the world of oolong tea, specifically as it relates to adding it to your daily regimen as a longevity factor. And as usual, we’ll have the news on what we’re currently reading or watching. Some of you have let us know that is one of your favorite sections and we’re happy to hear this!
For our premium subscribers, in this issue’s Research Spotlight we’ll be looking at a fascinating study that details exactly what time of day you should be consuming most of your protein to ensure the most benefit to muscle mass. Since preserving muscle mass is something that is critically important as we age, this could be an easy to implement factor.
Plus our paid subscribers also get one of Ellen’s recipes each month and access to a live Q&A call. If you are a paid subscriber, last month we shared Ellen’s easy-to-make cold-brewed Oolong and Green tea which are both excellent sources of health-giving antioxidants. This month we’ll be bringing you a super easy-to-make, very regional Southern classic Tomato Cracker Salad, found in only a small region of the South and that has only three main ingredients.
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The Black Dragon - Oolong Tea
A few weeks ago, the members of our Fast Factor Circle embarked on what we are calling “The Longevity Experiment,” based on a recent research clinical trial that decreased the participants' biological age (increased lifespan!) by more than three years using safe, natural, and simple dietary and lifestyle changes over the course of an eight-week guided program. One of the dietary recommendations used in the research study was the advice to consume three cups of oolong tea daily brewed for ten minutes.
Neither Denise nor I were very familiar with oolong tea, but since we were running the experiment and wanted to follow the guidelines, I looked on Amazon to see what I could find that would be a good oolong tea, specifically a product that was certified as organic. I found one that looked good, FGO brand Oolong Tea Bags which is sourced from China and was certified as both USDA organic and Non-GMO verified. When the package arrived I opened it and breathed in the aroma of the tea, a surprisingly earthy, mineral-rich perfume which at first I wasn’t sure I was going to like.
Even though the original study used hot brewed oolong, I have never been much of a hot beverage drinker and prefer my tea (as well as my coffee!) ice-cold, so I played around with cold brewing the tea by putting two of the oolong tea bags in a 16 oz glass bottle that had previously contained GT’s Gingerade Kombucha. I really like these bottles as they are heavy glass and have sturdy, screw-on plastic caps that are reusable. I then filled the bottle with filtered water, tightened the cap, and placed the bottle on its side in a sunny windowsill for several hours until the clear water had taken on a beautiful clear reddish amber color.
Once the tea was a rich enough color I removed the tea bags and placed the bottle in my fridge to chill. Initially, I found the taste somewhat offputting, with a tannic undertone and that same sense of peaty minerality that had come through in the aroma.
But I kept on making it and drank it daily. After about a week, my tastebuds adjusted and I came to crave my daily bottle of this somewhat mysterious tea. What was it about oolong that caused the researchers in the original study to include it in their recommendations for a longevity diet? And what does the word “oolong” even mean? Let’s take a deeper look…
The word “oolong” comes from the Chinese words “oo” or “wu” meaning black and “long” meaning dragon and is thought to refer to the long, dark, curled nature of oolong tea leaves. Oolong tea sits between green tea and black tea, with green tea being unfermented and unoxidized and black tea being fully oxidized and fermented. All of these teas, green, oolong, and black, are produced from the leaves of a shrub known as the tea plant or Camellia sinensis. The difference between the three is in how they are processed.
Oolong tea is thought to have originated in China’s Fujian province which is located on the southeastern coast of China across the Strait of Formosa from Taiwan. My adopted daughter Jayde was born in Fujian Province and one of my most vivid memories from traveling there more than two decades ago is attending a traditional tea tasting featuring teas grown in the Province. I’m nearly positive we had brewed oolong as one of the teas.
In contrast to black tea which is created by fully crushing the leaves to enhance oxidation, oolong is made by wilting the tea leaves in the sun and then slightly bruising them to create partial oxidation by tossing and tumbling the tea leaves in containers. The level of oxidation is controlled and varies depending on the particular flavor the tea processor is trying to produce.
Similar to both black and green teas, oolong contains plenty of antioxidants in the form of polyphenols. The caffeine content of oolong is between that of green on the low end and black on the higher end of the spectrum, although a cup of any one of these teas contains less caffeine than a cup of coffee. In addition, just like green tea, oolong tea contains L-theanine, an amino acid shown to have positive effects on both relaxation as well as cognitive performance, so it tends to make a beverage that doesn’t produce the same type of “jittery” feeling that a cup of coffee can have on many people.
In terms of oolong’s effect on longevity, oolong tea is what is known as a “methylation adaptogen.” Methylation refers to a process in which a methyl group (a chemical group containing one carbon and three hydrogen atoms) gets added to one of the four bases that make up your DNA. When the methyl group gets added, this is known as methylation. If the methyl group is lost, then this is referred to as demethylation. Methylation is seen as a good thing, as it often will inhibit the expression of certain genes, including ones that get turned on and go on to produce cancer and other diseases.
Research suggests that DNA methylation slows down as you age, which might explain part of the reason older individuals tend to get such diseases as cancer and heart disease. Diet is thought to play a role in methylation and the potential is there to reduce one’s tendency to develop a genetically inherited predisposition to diseases such as breast cancer or heart disease by using methylation to prevent the switching on of these dangerous genes.
The term “adaptogen” is used in Western herbal medicine to refer to a substance that has the ability to help the body adapt to various stressors and to exert a normalizing effect on bodily functions. This is in contrast to a “medicine” that exerts a corrective effect by forcefully and actively treating a disease. In traditional Chinese medicine, oolong tea is seen as warming in an energetic sense, as it helps to generate internal heat. Good to know as we move into the cooler months here in the U.S. So a methylation adaptogen is a substance that promotes methylation of DNA and works to help your body adapt to stressors as it also works to smooth out and normalize various vital body functions.
So make friends with the mysterious Black Dragon and enjoy a cup of fragrant oolong, either hot or cold brewed. Long life to you!
Why It Matters
There is more and more interest in getting the nutrients we need from food and not from supplements. Drinking oolong tea daily becomes a sensual, enjoyable ritual that can support your health and longer, healthier life.
“Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the world earth revolves – slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future.”
~ Thich Nhat Hanh (born 1926) - Vietnamese Thiền Buddhist monk, peace activist, and founder of the Plum Village Tradition. He is a global spiritual leader and is renowned for his work on mindfulness, global ethics, and peace.
“There was that odor about her: not a sweetness, exactly, but a wildness suggesting breezes that have touched cold water and living wood.”
~ R.A. MacAvoy from Tea with the Black Dragon, a 1983 fantasy novel nominated for the Nebula Award for Best Novel in 1983, the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1984, and the Locus Award for best first novel in 1984. One reviewer on Amazon says that “…you will never drink oolong tea in the same way in the future.”
What We Are Reading 📚
With each issue, we bring you a short blurb on what we are currently reading or watching, including books, articles, podcasts, videos, movies, and research papers of value.
Denise - I’m a fan of Dr. Peter Attia’s podcast, The Drive, even though half the time I have no idea what he’s talking about because Attia and his guests go deep into science and data speak. I always learn something, though!
Recently, I listened to podcast episode #168 with Hugh Jackman. The two men are good friends and it was more a conversation among two successful, thoughtful friends.
The 2+ hour podcast is also available on YouTube. And if you are interested in what the guy who has studied longevity for at least a decade has to say, skip to this time code to get straight to the bottom line:
02:01:37 - Reflections on physical aging, emotional wellbeing, and longevity…
Or watch the entire conversation because they go deep and get vulnerable about their respective successes, failures, and career turning points. I’ve never paid much attention to Hugh Jackman, never seen the Wolverine movies, and now have a new level of respect for the man.
Ellen - I am a huge fan of Tim Ferris’ podcast, The Tim Ferris Show, and adore his long-form interview format. Right now I’m listening to episode #531: Henry Shukman — Zen, Tools for Awakening, Ayahuasca vs. Meditation, Intro to Koans, and Using Wounds as the Doorway, which is an entrancing conversation between Tim and Henry Shukman, an English poet and writer who also happens to be the Guiding Teacher at Mountain Cloud Zen Center located in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Henry had a spontaneous awakening experience at age 19, which “paved the way for Henry to develop a well-rounded approach to spirituality and meditation – one that includes love for self and the world as its foundation.” I won’t spoil the podcast for you by saying more, but please listen to this one. So enjoyable!
Also, once I listened to the podcast, I was intrigued by Henry’s book, One Blade of Grass: Finding the Old Road of the Heart, a Zen Memoir. Beautifully written in poetic but plain language, Henry demystifies the Zen meditation experience and makes the tradition extremely approachable. I picked up the audiobook version of One Blade of Grass, as it’s read by the author. Highly recommended!
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