Rooibos tea is good for you

[Image] Rooibos tea is harvested in the fields of Groenkol Rooibos Farm in the Clanwilliam district.

[Image] Rooibos tea dries naturally in the sun after harvesting and separation. It is then ready for packaging.

[Image] The tes gets its name from its natural red colour, which is enhanced during processing.
(Image: MediaClubSouthAfrica.com. For more free photos, visit the image library)

MEDIA CONTACTS
Marina Joubert
  Science communicator, South African
  Rooibos Council
  +27 83 409 4254

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Musa Mkalipi

Rooibos, that wonder bush endemic to South Africa, may help to improve liver function, according to researchers at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT).

The study was undertaken by the university’s Oxidative Stress Research Centre over 10 weeks, and involved 80 rats with a liver-damaging chemical known as t-BHP (tert-butyl hydroperoxide). The study showed that giving the rats rooibos to drink instead of water helped to protect their livers against structural enzymatic and biochemical damage and could even reverse some of the damage done to the organ.

“These findings provide biological evidence that rooibos can protect the liver and that it has the potential to be used as a supporting treatment for liver disorders,” said CPUT’S Dr Wale Ajuwon, who led this research as part of his doctoral study.

Although the study was done on rodents, they give an understanding into what takes place in the human body. “Rat models are widely used for research as they are a good indication for human body activities,” explained Marina Joubert, the research co-ordinator at the South African Rooibos Council. “It is difficult to come up with human studies because some things cannot be done tested on humans.”

The utmost care was taken with animal testing, she added. Should the animals be euthanized at the end of the study, then this should be done humanely. The rats used in this particular study were obtained from the primate unit of the University of Stellenbosch.

According to Ajuwon, drug-induced liver injuries are a leading cause of death around the world and “synthetic drugs used to treat disorders [can] cause further damage to the liver”.

The council has previously provided funding for studies at CPUT. “It is really great that there is a consistent interest in rooibos and health research,” added Joubert, saying the organisation was keen to work with scientists who were independent and recognised internationally.

Findings of the study have been published in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, an internationally reviewed publication that encourages medical research.

Nigerian-born Ajuwon first came to South Africa in 2010 to study at CPUT. He now encourages his friends and family in his home country to drink at least six cups of rooibos tea a day as it has been scientifically proven to have beneficial effects.

Rooibos is good for you

Tea made from rooibos – which means “red bush” in Afrikaans – is a popular drink around Africa and the world. It is endemic to the Cederberg, and is grown only in this small area of Western Cape, in South Africa. Its scientific name is Aspalathus linearis, and it is a broom-like member of the legume family of plants growing in the Cape fynbos biome.

Green Life Diary, which gives healthy lifestyle tips, says rooibos contains a large amount of anti-oxidants, which help to protect the body. It also contains minerals that are vital to health; these include magnesium, which is essential for strong bones and teeth.

Professor Jeanine Marnewick of the CPUT Oxidative Stress Research Centre conducted a clinical trial in 2008 in which it was found that by drinking at least six cups of rooibos tea a day, oxidative stress was reduced. Marnewick has been involved in rooibos research for over 15 years.

According to news portal All Africa, in 2012 the South African Rooibos Council invested R2-million (US$196 000) in independent research at a number of South African universities and science councils. “The rooibos council provides funding on a competitive basis and is open for anyone who wishes to apply on topics of interest,” said Joubert.

Its reports showed that rooibos tea had health benefits, slowed down liver damage as well as prevented cancer, reduced cholesterol and lessened allergies, the council said. Health 24, the health portal in the Media24 stable, reported in 2012 that laboratory studies and studies done on animals had shown that the tea could possibly also slow ageing. However, tests have not been done on humans to confirm these benefits.

According to the South African Rooibos Council, internationally, scientists are investigating rooibos to gain a better understanding of the unique, South African herb. Some are examining its health benefits and its potential to combat a range of diseases, while others are trying to understand how the bioactive components in rooibos work.

Scientific articles published in the last decade have shown the therapeutic ability of rooibos to fight cancer, protect the liver against disease, boost the immune system, and relieve allergies and treat digestive disorders. Rooibos studies from South Africa have found that individuals get the optimum health benefit from drinking six cups of rooibos tea a day.