Heart Health

Updated 27 September 2016

Rooibos a boon to the heart

If you're keen on living a long and happy life, it's time to fall back on that great local classic: rooibos tea. New research shows that it could curb heart disease.

By now most of us will have returned to work and the silly season is just a vague memory underlined by expanded waistlines and delicate livers.

For those of you who are searching for a good New Year's resolution, deciding to drink indigenous rooibos tea on a regular basis may well protect your heart and improve your health.

South African study
Late in November 2008, the South African Rooibos Council sent out a press release about the exciting research results that have been obtained by Dr Jeanine Marnewick at the Cape Town University of Technology.

Dr Marnewick conducted a clinical trial that was designed to investigate the health properties of rooibos tea. Forty men and women between the ages of 30 and 60 years were asked to follow a diet free of flavonoids (rooibos tea contains flavonoids that have a protective action) and to drink six cups of rooibos tea every day for a period of six weeks.

By reducing the flavonoid content of the diet used by the test subjects, the researchers were able to study how the flavonoids in rooibos tea affect the human body.

Markers of heart disease
Dr Marnewick and her team selected two so-called markers in the blood that increase when blood fats or lipids are damaged by oxidation. This, in turn, can lead to heart disease. These two markers, namely conjugated dienes (CDs) and MDAs (malondialdehydes) increase as more and more oxidative damage occurs in the body.

The present study showed that the test subjects who drank six cups of rooibos tea on a daily basis experienced decreases of nearly 35% in CDs and 50% in MDAs. This is indeed a significant change in disease markers, indicating that rooibos tea is highly protective against oxidative stress and that it has the capacity to protect us against degenerative diseases.

Another marker of health risks is a compound called glutathione. The more it is oxidised, the higher the risk of disease. Dr Marnewick found that drinking six cups of rooibos tea a day for six weeks significantly reduced the amount of glutathione that was oxidised.

Positive results
“Our results show a significant improvement – and therefore a decreased risk of heart disease – in the study participants who drank six cups of rooibos per day,” Marnewick says (SA Rooibos Council, 2008).

The study also showed that drinking rooibos tea daily for a period of six weeks had no negative effects on the liver and kidneys of the subjects and that their blood pressure and cholesterol levels remained in the normal range.

While we have known for a long time that rooibos tea had beneficial effects on health, this scientific study provides proof that the tea has health effects. In view of the fact that heart disease remains a major cause of death and disability in South Africa, these findings indicate that rooibos tea can be used as a “safe and affordable way to reduce this health risk.” (SA Rooibos Council, 2008).

Ongoing research will hopefully highlight other benefits associated with this well-loved, traditional South African tea.

Other uses of rooibos
Rooibos has been used in infant feeding, particularly for allergic babies, for many years. This is an excellent practice provided that the child obtains his or her calcium and protein from other sources.

If your child has been diagnosed with a milk allergy, you can certainly try using diluted rooibos as a drink for the baby, but it is important to keep in mind that rooibos is a tea and doesn't contain the calcium, B vitamins and high-quality protein that is found in mother’s milk or formulas. Babies with milk allergies need to obtain these vital nutrients from appropriate formulas, or else their growth could be stunted.

Discuss your baby’s food intake with a dietician, paediatrician or community health nurse to ensure that he or she is getting all the nutrients required for healthy development.

Rooibos can be used for all infants as a drink to provide liquid intake and prevent dehydration. It is not necessary to add sugar to the diluted tea when you give it to your baby. Your child will get used to drinking rooibos without the added sugar.

Rooibos tea is also widely used in cosmetics and soaps. All in all, South African rooibos is a versatile beverage that can be enjoyed by young and old and that has a variety of health benefits.

(Dr I.V. van Heerden, Health24, January 2009)

(SA Rooibos Council, 2008. Clinical trial shows Rooibos can help prevent heart disease. Press Release. Cape Town, 26 Nov 2008.)

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