Tap into the Powers of Rooibos Tea

Private Property South Africa
Anna-Marie Smith

If starting the new year on a calm and healthy foot is intended, maybe take a look into the latest research on the significant health benefits of Rooibos tea.

This indigenous, zero caffeine beverage of two flavours – the traditional red and unfermented green varieties of the fynbos species Aspalathus linearis is the only plant to contain the antioxidant aspalathin, and has grown in the Western Cape Cedarberg region for 300 years. Not only is rooibos tea’s antioxidant potency in humans now a proven scientific fact, it is also the only segment of the local tea market showing commercial growth.

This remarkable plant that has only been farmed since 1930 is gaining international popularity, showing huge export growth and greater consumption abroad than locally. South Africans show an interesting account of consumption with Gauteng leading at 35%, followed by Limpopo and Mpumalanga 24%, Western Cape 14%, Kwa Zulu Natal 11.6%, Eastern Cape 7.5% and Northern Cape and Free State 6.7%.

For those aspiring to a less stressful and healthier lifestyle, and who are willing to consume generous quantities of Rooibos, the motivation lies in the knowledge of the tea’s powerful health benefits. Costly research driven by The SA Rooibos Council has assisted scientists in proving that the active compounds in Rooibos are bio-available and metabolised in the body.

A collaborative study by scientists at four international research facilities has found the first clinical evidence that drinking Rooibos tea significantly increases the antioxidant capacity in human blood, boosting the body’s natural defences. Antioxidants bind with free radicals preventing them from damaging cells and causing cancer, or oxidising with cholesterol to clog blood vessels, resulting in heart attacks or strokes.

Last year researchers in Rome and Glasgow found that the antioxidant capacity in the blood of 15 healthy volunteers peaked one hour after drinking 500ml of Rooibos tea. Both traditional and green rooibos had a significant effect. “After an hour, the plasma antioxidant levels start to drop and that is why we recommend drinking up to six cups of Rooibos spaced throughout the day for a sustained health benefit,” explains Professor Jeanine Marnewick from the Cape Peninsula University of Technology.

More recently is the fascinating research findings at Stellenbosch University conducted under simulated laboratory conditions and not yet humans, identifying compounds found in rooibos that interfere with the production of cortisol, the so-called stress hormone. Researchers say this means that by drinking large quantities of this healthy potion, anti-anxiety and stress-relieving benefits will be experienced.

While cortisol production is a normal part of human metabolism and plays a role in regulating glucose production and blood pressure, abnormally high levels are often present due to stressful lifestyles. Research leader Prof Swart says two compounds in Rooibos tea, namely aspalathin and nothofagin contribute to the stress-lowering effects. In addition she says, unlike many other plants containing medicinally useful compounds, to date there have been no negative effects from Rooibos consumption, implying that the therapeutic effects of drinking it combined with a healthy lifestyle can help relieve stress related conditions.

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