14 November 2011

Rooibos shows promise in curbing diabetes

A group of leading South African researchers are focusing their attention on rooibos and its anti-diabetic and anti-obesity properties.


Every year on 14 November the world celebrates World Diabetes Day to focus on diabetes, the silent killer disease that is fast escalating into a global health epidemic.

More than 300 million people have diabetes. If no effective intervention is found, this number is likely to more than double by 2030. Almost 80% of diabetes deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries. Obesity is directly associated with development of type 2 diabetes.

Responding to the diabetes challenge, a group of leading South African researchers are focusing their attention on rooibos, South Africa's unique herbal tea, and specifically its anti-diabetic and anti-obesity properties.

South Africa’s focus on the potential of rooibos to manage diabetes builds on research in other countries: Slovak scientists have recommended rooibos to help prevent and treat diabetic vascular complications, especially in eye membranes. And Japanese scientists found that rooibos helps improve the glucose uptake of muscle cells, thereby maintaining normal blood sugar levels in diabetic mice, and also that it stimulates pancreatic beta-cells to secret insulin.

Rooibos and obesity

Dr Johan Louw at the Diabetes Discovery Platform at the Medical Research Council (MRC) and Prof Lizette Joubert at the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) are jointly supervising the SA research project, and collaborating with an international biotechnology group – the MC2 Biotek Group.

“In healthy people, their cells take up and use glucose effectively and the process is controlled by the insulin hormone, but in diabetics these processes are impaired,” Louw explains.

“We have obtained encouraging results for rooibos extracts in our pre-clinical studies with diabetic animals, as well as in cell models, showing that compounds in rooibos can play a role in these processes. We plan to continue with follow-up work to look at rooibos and obesity in animals and humans.”

A positive outcome of this research in humans could lead to nutraceutical applications of rooibos extract which could have far-reaching health implications.

This research project is supported by the South African Rooibos Council (SARC), as part of a portfolio of independent research projects to clarify and understand the health properties of Rooibos tea. SARC will invest about R1 million over three years in this specific study.

-Meropa press release

- (Health24, November 2011)

Read more:

Pre-diabetes: could you have it?
Diabetes and diet: the basics
The health benefits of rooibos


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Dr. May currently works as a fulltime endocrinologist and has been in private practice since 2004. He has a variety of interests, predominantly obesity and diabetes, but also sees patients with osteoporosis, thyroid disorders, men's health disorders, pituitary and adrenal disorders, polycystic ovaries, and disorders of growth. He is a leading member of several obesity and diabetes societies and runs a trial centre for new drugs.

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