The herbal tea made from rooibos has been a popular drink in Southern Africa for generations. The plant, Aspalathus linearis, is grown only in a small area in the Western Cape province of South Africa, but during recent years rooibos has become popular in other parts of the world as well.
Though not technically a tea, the infusion made from oxidised rooibos leaves is commonly referred to as rooibos tea. Traditionally, it is enjoyed hot with a slice of lemon and sugar or honey, but iced tea versions and even a rooibos espresso made from concentrated rooibos are apparently gaining popularity.
While many people have acquired a taste for rooibos and know that it is considered something of a health drink, most of us are clueless as to what exactly the health benefits of rooibos are. In this post, we’ll review what the studies say on rooibos tea.
Amazing Health Benefits Of Rooibos Tea
The antioxidant activity of rooibos tea
Rooibos tea contains a wide array of antioxidants, which help to protect the body in a number of ways. Two polyphenol antioxidants called aspalathin and nothofagin are found in high concentrations in rooibos tea. These antioxidants protect the body by fighting free radicals. These are unstable cells, which attack healthy cells in order to stabilize themselves. The polyphenols also have anti-inflammatory properties and can safeguard against heart disease.
Rooibos tea for liver disease and respiratory problems
In rats, rooibos tea aids in liver tissue regeneration after prolonged intoxication. Compared to the rats receiving water during the regeneration period, the rooibos group had less fibrotic tissue in their livers and lower tissue malondialdehyde levels. The authors conclude that rooibos tea “can be recommended not only for the prevention but also as a co-adjuvant for the therapy of liver diseases.”
Prevents against some cancers
Some studies have demonstrated a link between consumption of rooibos tea and a reduction of cancer-causing chemicals. This is because of the high level of dominant antioxidants, some of which have anti-mutagenic (anti-cancer) properties. This means that they defend cells & DNA against damage and inhibit them from developing into cancer.
Rooibos extract fights HIV
Rooibos tea extract seems to be helpful in antigen-specific antibody production by increasing interleukin-2 (IL-2) production in vitro and in vivo. According to the authors, rooibos tea intake “may be of value in prophylaxis of the diseases involving a severe defect in Th1 immune response such as cancer, allergy, AIDS, and other infections.”
Another study found that an alkaline extract of rooibos tea leaves suppressed HIV-induced cytopathicity. Green tea extract, on the other hand, was ineffective. The authors conclude that HIV infection may be suppressed by the daily intake of the alkaline extract of rooibos tea. Note that the extraction mechanism is important here, because regular rooibos tea does not have anti-HIV activity.
Aspalathin is one of the rare antioxidants that are found in rooibos tea, and it has a number of unique qualities. It can help to balance blood sugar, improve insulin resistance, improve the glucose absorption by muscles, and boosts the insulin secretion from the pancreas. This all results in an ideal defensive shield against developing type II Diabetes, one of the most widespread and dangerous conditions that is currently sweeping the world. By balancing blood sugar, rooibos tea can also protect people that already have diabetes by preventing the spikes and drops of blood sugar that are so detrimental to their overall health.
Drinking rooibos tea regularly can protect against a process known as lipid peridoxation. This occurs when free radicals damage brain cells and nerve tissue. If this is prolonged, it can lead eventually to progressive and deteriorating brain disease, such as Alzheimer’s.
Rooibos tea, lipid peroxidation and brain aging
The uncontrolled oxidation of lipids, which can happen during cooking or inside the body, leads to the formation of advanced lipid peroxidation end-products (ALEs). The accumulation of such products is one of the types of damage that occurs with aging.
Lipid peroxides also accumulate in the brain. Rooibos tea may help prevent this damage, however. Rats given rooibos tea instead of water accumulate significantly less aging damage in the brain than rats given water. In fact, the 24-month old rats given rooibos tea for most of their lives had brains similar to young 5-week-old rats.
Rooibos tea is known to relieve stress, nervous tension and hypertensive conditions. Hypertension is more commonly known as high blood pressure, and rooibos tea is known as a brochodilator, which not only relieves respiratory conditions, but generally reduces blood pressure, which can lead to dangerous cardiovascular diseases like heart attacks and atherosclerosis.
The difference between red and green rooibos tea
Typically, rooibos leaves are oxidised before they are used to make rooibos tea. This process, which is not exactly the same as the fermentation process used in making black tea, gives them the familiar reddish-brown color and the slightly sweet taste. However, unoxidised rooibos tea is also available, if you know where to look. The color and taste are quite different; I personally prefer the red version, but green rooibos tea is not bad either.
The health benefits of rooibos tea seem to be mostly due to the flavonoids aspalathin and nothofagin, although other compounds in rooibos may also play a part. Here’s a summary of the benefits:
- Acts as an antioxidant and increases SOD levels
- Prevents DNA damage
- Cardiovascular protection through ACE inhibition
- Suppresses fasting glucose levels
- Improves glucose uptake and insulin secretion after a meal
- Aids in liver tissue regeneration
- Lowers blood pressure
- Acts as a bronchodilator and antispasmodic
- Inhibits lipid peroxidation and brain aging
- Rooibos extract improves immune defects such as HIV
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