What Does Science Say About Claims of a Weight Loss Miracle?

Woman drinking tea from a mug

When it's hard to find the time to work out, the idea of a quick and easy way to lose weight can be very appealing. One such shortcut, at least according to many in the media, is drinking oolong tea. And while claims of a weight-loss miracle are greatly exaggerated, there is some evidence to suggest that regularly drinking oolong can help with weight management.

What Is Oolong Tea?

Oolong, also called wu long, is one of the many traditional varieties of Chinese tea. Like green tea and black tea, it comes from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant. The difference is in the way teamakers process the leaves. Oolong leaves are partially oxidized, producing a result somewhere between unoxidized green tea and completely oxidized black tea. The process of partial oxidization gives oolong its characteristically complex and delicate flavors.

This preparation also results in a unique chemical composition: Like green tea, oolong is high in catechins, a type of flavonoid not found in black tea. It's also higher in caffeine than most green teas, although usually not as high as black tea.

Effects on Weight Loss

There is some limited scientific evidence to suggest that oolong may have a positive effect on weight loss. Little research has been done specifically on oolong, but scientists have been studying the weight loss effects of caffeine and catechins for years. Although more work remains to be done, studies have demonstrated that caffeine and possibly catechins have an effect on the body's metabolism. Caffeine increases the rate of energy expenditure, stimulating your body to burn more calories. Both caffeine and catechins have also been linked to increases in the rate of fat oxidation. In short, they prompt your body not only to burn more calories but to increase its use of fat to provide those calories.

However, there is also some evidence to suggest that these chemicals have little effect on weight regain following weight loss; a 2004 study suggested that tea drinkers regained weight at about the same rate as others. The effect of drinking tea may also be limited for people who already consume lots of caffeine.

Outside the boundaries of a study, it's important to consider that someone who starts drinking oolong is probably replacing something else. If that something else is coffee or tea with milk or sugar, oolong, which contains no calories and is traditionally served without milk or sugar, represents a lower-calorie alternative. This difference may account for some of the more enthusiastic claims for oolong's weight-loss properties.

The Verdict

Unlike a lot of diet fads, oolong tea does seem to have some measurable weight-loss effects. However, that doesn't mean that it's a miracle food that will have the pounds melting off. Oolong contributes most to weight loss when it's part of a healthy lifestyle that involves a balanced, low-calorie diet and regular exercise.