from the world's big
How to use tea to biohack your mood, stress, and productivity
Ancient beverages such as tea and chamomile can heighten your modern-day performance.
- Tea was cultivated in China nearly 5,000 years ago.
- Its molecular makeup makes it the perfect biohack for regulating mood, alertness, and concentration throughout the day.
- Tea may not be a panacea, but studies suggest promising long-term health benefits.
Chinese sage-king Shennong discovered tea when the leaves of a Camellia sinensis shrub drifted into his cauldron of boiling water. An agriculturalist and medicinal pioneer, Shennong decided to test the fortuitous brew and relished its uplifting properties. In other botanical tests, Shennong would be poisoned more than 70 times. Each time, he cured himself with tea.
That's one version of the story anyway.
While Shennong is a mythical figure, tea does originate from China, where it was cultivated nearly 5,000 years ago as a vegetable. Over time it made the shift from food staple to a beverage that closely resembles what we call matcha. Today, only water is a more widely consumed beverage.
Another debunked aspect of the legend is tea's elixir-like effects. Full disclosure: Tea is not a catch-all antidote. It does, however, come with a bevy of nutrients and chemical byproducts that make people feel good when drinking it. Add to that tea's pleasantly earthy taste and lush aromatics, and you can see why tea's popularity spread across time and culture.
Our ancestors may not have called tea a biohack, but they knew it could improve your day to make you more attentive, more motivated, and just plain feel better.
Tea, the other morning pick-me-up
Yerba mate tea served in a gourd, the traditional way to drink the beverage in South America.
Americans quaff a lot of coffee. A lot. And we don't even crack the top ten. While coffee comes with its own health benefits—a subject for another discussion—most people enjoy a morning cup as warm pick-me-up.
Coffee has its drawbacks though. An 8 oz. cup contains anywhere from 100–165 mg of caffeine. This means you max out your daily caffeine recommended intake in two to four cups—not great if you desire several caffeine fixes throughout your day. It's also rather acidic, rating below a 7 on the pH scale. While not as bad as soda's, coffee's acidity can upset people's stomachs and eats away at tooth enamel.
For people looking to move away from coffee, or simply drink less, tea offers a viable, caffeine-fueled alternative. One potential substitute is yerba mate.
Yes, we're cheating a bit here. Yerba mate isn't technically tea, because it doesn't come from the Camellia sinensis plant. It is made from the dried leaves of Ilex paraguariensis, a South American holly tree. It is a tea beverage, though, as the English word has expanded to include most any drink that infuses leaves, fruits, and flowers into hot water.
Mate contains more caffeine than either green or black tea but sports less than coffee (85 mg/8 oz. cup). Its strong, bitter flavor offers that robustness that people enjoy about coffee but with far less acidity. One study found that yerba mate's pH values stayed in the neutral range (6.75–7.89), so it plays well with teeth.
If mate isn't to your taste, consider matcha tea instead. It has more caffeine than steeped green tea but less than coffee (70 mg per 8 oz. cup). Matcha is also richly aromatic with an umami flavor that makes for a hearty morning sip.
Overcoming the afternoon slump
A woman harvests tea at a Malabar tea plantation.
Caffeine fiends may scoff at replacing their morning buzz with tea's more moderate energy boost. Yet, tea's lower caffeine and lack of sugar make it the superior way to power through the afternoon slump.
"If you look at the supermarkets today, it really feels like there's a caffeine arms race. More is better is the ideology, but that's not the case when it comes to caffeine. It's about the right amount and the right type," Grant Taylor Williams, co-founder of Tempo, said during an interview.
Tempo is a tea company that designs its drinks to include a "micro-dose" of natural caffeine. After researching the scientific literature, Grant and his co-founders decided that the best tool for overcoming the 2 p.m. doldrums was a microdose of caffeine (45 mg).
Of particular inspiration to them was a study published in SLEEP. This double-blind, placebo-control study found that low doses of caffeine throughout the day increased performance under conditions of extended wakefulness.
"What we learned, beyond that research paper and some of the other stuff we're read, is that it's not just the caffeine component and not just the fact that it's natural. It's all these other pieces of the puzzle that fit together to really create a healthy drink for you," Williams said.
Mood, stress, and hydration
Dr. Austin Gallagher, biologist and Tempo co-founder, pointed out that the flavanols and polyphenols found in green and black tea have been shown to aid mood and lower stress. Tea leaves also contain the amino acid L-theanine, he noted. L-theanine modulates the absorption of caffeine, preventing that quick spike of energy to stretch out the boost more evenly. It also stimulates feel-good neurotransmitters like GABA and serotonin, which work to improve mood, alertness, and sleep.
Tea, like coffee, is a diuretic so it increases the production and passing of urine. However, according to Ali Webster, PhD and associate director of nutrition communications at International Food Information Council Foundation, tea is overall hydrating.
"The hydrating aspects of tea and coffee outweigh the minor increase in fluid offloading, so these drinks have a net positive effect on hydration," she told Business Insider.
This combination of a lack of sugar, natural caffeine, and hydration makes tea an excellent way to power through to 5 o'clock and increase your daily productivity.
Gallagher added: "Today, everybody's looking to optimize their performance. What's the trendy new good, drink, pill? What is it that I can have every day that is going to make me faster, give me more time and make me better at my job? What we found at Tempo is the solution to that doesn't need to be complex. [Tea] really is a biohack [and] it's been underneath our noses for thousands of years."
Cozy chamomile tea
Chamomile tea served with a chamomile flower.
In the evening, your goal should be to relax for a restful night's sleep. What you eat and drink before bedtime has a significant impact on whether your brain works with or against you. Alcohol has long been considered the standard nightcap, but research has shown that booze leeches restfulness and even our dreams. Chamomile tea, on the other hand, can offer a much more salutary evening.
Like yerba mate, chamomile isn't a tea in the word's original sense. It's derived from the dried petals of a European flower—hence its distinctive floral aroma and sweet taste. Like tea, though, chamomile has a long and rich history. For centuries Europeans have utilized it as a tonic and antiseptic for a range of ailments.
A 2010 review looked at the research on chamomile's folk uses. The researchers postulated that chamomile's sedative properties may result from the flavonoid apigenin, which can bind to receptors in the brain. But despite promise in preclinical models, they decided further research was needed.
Since then, other studies have found a stronger link between chamomile and good night's rest. A 2017 study found that chamomile improves sleep quality in the elderly, a group prevalent with sleep insomnia. And a 2016 study saw a similar effect in postpartum women.
While more conclusive research is needed, if nothing else, chamomile's lack of caffeine and soothing flavor offer a pleasant way to simply chill alongside a good book.
Tea's long-term biohacks
Tea tray with two cups of matcha tea served during a tea ceremony in Japan.
Tea may not cure poisons, but scientific evidence suggests it bestows several long-term health benefits. Many observational studies have found a correlation between drinking tea and a reduced risk of various types of cancer. Tea's flavonoids have been linked to anti-diabetic and anti-inflammatory effects. And a meta-analysis cited increasing support that tea protects against cardiovascular disease.
"Tea consumption, especially green tea, may not be the magic bullet, but it can be incorporated in an overall healthy diet with whole grains, fish, fruits and vegetables, and less red and processed meat," wrote Qi Sun, assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health. Though, he adds, sugar in your tea will likely negate these benefits.
We still have much to learn about this ancient tonic, but scientific inquiry has rediscovered what the Chinese found out thousands of years ago. Tea can help you navigate your day more efficiently. If tea proves to have even more salubrious effects, then bonus!
Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti get stuck in an infinite wedding time loop.
- Two wedding guests discover they're trapped in an infinite time loop, waking up in Palm Springs over and over and over.
- As the reality of their situation sets in, Nyles and Sarah decide to enjoy the repetitive awakenings.
- The film is perfectly timed for a world sheltering at home during a pandemic.
Richard Feynman once asked a silly question. Two MIT students just answered it.
Here's a fun experiment to try. Go to your pantry and see if you have a box of spaghetti. If you do, take out a noodle. Grab both ends of it and bend it until it breaks in half. How many pieces did it break into? If you got two large pieces and at least one small piece you're not alone.
But science loves a good challenge<p>The mystery remained unsolved until 2005, when French scientists <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~audoly/" target="_blank">Basile Audoly</a> and <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~neukirch/" target="_blank">Sebastien Neukirch </a>won an <a href="https://www.improbable.com/ig/" target="_blank">Ig Nobel Prize</a>, an award given to scientists for real work which is of a less serious nature than the discoveries that win Nobel prizes, for finally determining why this happens. <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/spaghetti/audoly_neukirch_fragmentation.pdf" target="_blank">Their paper describing the effect is wonderfully funny to read</a>, as it takes such a banal issue so seriously. </p><p>They demonstrated that when a rod is bent past a certain point, such as when spaghetti is snapped in half by bending it at the ends, a "snapback effect" is created. This causes energy to reverberate from the initial break to other parts of the rod, often leading to a second break elsewhere.</p><p>While this settled the issue of <em>why </em>spaghetti noodles break into three or more pieces, it didn't establish if they always had to break this way. The question of if the snapback could be regulated remained unsettled.</p>
Physicists, being themselves, immediately wanted to try and break pasta into two pieces using this info<p><a href="https://roheiss.wordpress.com/fun/" target="_blank">Ronald Heisser</a> and <a href="https://math.mit.edu/directory/profile.php?pid=1787" target="_blank">Vishal Patil</a>, two graduate students currently at Cornell and MIT respectively, read about Feynman's night of noodle snapping in class and were inspired to try and find what could be done to make sure the pasta always broke in two.</p><p><a href="http://news.mit.edu/2018/mit-mathematicians-solve-age-old-spaghetti-mystery-0813" target="_blank">By placing the noodles in a special machine</a> built for the task and recording the bending with a high-powered camera, the young scientists were able to observe in extreme detail exactly what each change in their snapping method did to the pasta. After breaking more than 500 noodles, they found the solution.</p>
The apparatus the MIT researchers built specifically for the task of snapping hundreds of spaghetti sticks.
(Courtesy of the researchers)
What possible application could this have?<p>The snapback effect is not limited to uncooked pasta noodles and can be applied to rods of all sorts. The discovery of how to cleanly break them in two could be applied to future engineering projects.</p><p>Likewise, knowing how things fragment and fail is always handy to know when you're trying to build things. Carbon Nanotubes, <a href="https://bigthink.com/ideafeed/carbon-nanotube-space-elevator" target="_self">super strong cylinders often hailed as the building material of the future</a>, are also rods which can be better understood thanks to this odd experiment.</p><p>Sometimes big discoveries can be inspired by silly questions. If it hadn't been for Richard Feynman bending noodles seventy years ago, we wouldn't know what we know now about how energy is dispersed through rods and how to control their fracturing. While not all silly questions will lead to such a significant discovery, they can all help us learn.</p>
What happens if we consider welfare programs as investments?
- A recently published study suggests that some welfare programs more than pay for themselves.
- It is one of the first major reviews of welfare programs to measure so many by a single metric.
- The findings will likely inform future welfare reform and encourage debate on how to grade success.
Welfare as an investment<p>The <a href="https://scholar.harvard.edu/files/hendren/files/welfare_vnber.pdf" target="_blank">study</a>, carried out by Nathaniel Hendren and Ben Sprung-Keyser of Harvard University, reviews 133 welfare programs through a single lens. The authors measured these programs' "Marginal Value of Public Funds" (MVPF), which is defined as the ratio of the recipients' willingness to pay for a program over its cost.</p><p>A program with an MVPF of one provides precisely as much in net benefits as it costs to deliver those benefits. For an illustration, imagine a program that hands someone a dollar. If getting that dollar doesn't alter their behavior, then the MVPF of that program is one. If it discourages them from working, then the program's cost goes up, as the program causes government tax revenues to fall in addition to costing money upfront. The MVPF goes below one in this case. <br> <br> Lastly, it is possible that getting the dollar causes the recipient to further their education and get a job that pays more taxes in the future, lowering the cost of the program in the long run and raising the MVPF. The value ratio can even hit infinity when a program fully "pays for itself."</p><p> While these are only a few examples, many others exist, and they do work to show you that a high MVPF means that a program "pays for itself," a value of one indicates a program "breaks even," and a value below one shows a program costs more money than the direct cost of the benefits would suggest.</p> After determining the programs' costs using existing literature and the willingness to pay through statistical analysis, 133 programs focusing on social insurance, education and job training, tax and cash transfers, and in-kind transfers were analyzed. The results show that some programs turn a "profit" for the government, mainly when they are focused on children:
This figure shows the MVPF for a variety of polices alongside the typical age of the beneficiaries. Clearly, programs targeted at children have a higher payoff.
Nathaniel Hendren and Ben Sprung-Keyser<p>Programs like child health services and K-12 education spending have infinite MVPF values. The authors argue this is because the programs allow children to live healthier, more productive lives and earn more money, which enables them to pay more taxes later. Programs like the preschool initiatives examined don't manage to do this as well and have a lower "profit" rate despite having decent MVPF ratios.</p><p>On the other hand, things like tuition deductions for older adults don't make back the money they cost. This is likely for several reasons, not the least of which is that there is less time for the benefactor to pay the government back in taxes. Disability insurance was likewise "unprofitable," as those collecting it have a reduced need to work and pay less back in taxes. </p>
What are the implications of all this?<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="ceXv4XLv" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="3b407f5aa043eeb84f2b7ff82f97dc35"> <div id="botr_ceXv4XLv_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/ceXv4XLv-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/ceXv4XLv-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/ceXv4XLv-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> <p>Firstly, it shows that direct investments in children in a variety of areas generate very high MVPFs. Likewise, the above chart shows that a large number of the programs considered pay for themselves, particularly ones that "invest in human capital" by promoting education, health, or similar things. While programs that focus on adults tend to have lower MVPF values, this isn't a hard and fast rule.</p><p>It also shows us that very many programs don't "pay for themselves" or even go below an MVPF of one. However, this study and its authors do not suggest that we abolish programs like disability payments just because they don't turn a profit.</p><p>Different motivations exist behind various programs, and just because something doesn't pay for itself isn't a definitive reason to abolish it. The returns on investment for a welfare program are diverse and often challenging to reckon in terms of money gained or lost. The point of this study was merely to provide a comprehensive review of a wide range of programs from a single perspective, one of dollars and cents. </p><p>The authors suggest that this study can be used as a starting point for further analysis of other programs not necessarily related to welfare. </p><p>It can be difficult to measure the success or failure of a government program with how many metrics you have to choose from and how many different stakeholders there are fighting for their metric to be used. This study provides us a comprehensive look through one possible lens at how some of our largest welfare programs are doing. </p><p>As America debates whether we should expand or contract our welfare state, the findings of this study offer an essential insight into how much we spend and how much we gain from these programs. </p>
Finding a balance between job satisfaction, money, and lifestyle is not easy.
- When most of your life is spent doing one thing, it matters if that thing is unfulfilling or if it makes you unhappy. According to research, most people are not thrilled with their jobs. However, there are ways to find purpose in your work and to reduce the negative impact that the daily grind has on your mental health.
- "The evidence is that about 70 percent of people are not engaged in what they do all day long, and about 18 percent of people are repulsed," London Business School professor Dan Cable says, calling the current state of work unhappiness an epidemic. In this video, he and other big thinkers consider what it means to find meaning in your work, discuss the parts of the brain that fuel creativity, and share strategies for reassessing your relationship to your job.
- Author James Citrin offers a career triangle model that sees work as a balance of three forces: job satisfaction, money, and lifestyle. While it is possible to have all three, Citrin says that they are not always possible at the same time, especially not early on in your career.