The health benefits of rooibos tea

February is recognised as National Healthy Lifestyles Awareness Month, which aims to educate South Africans about how healthy living can help avert the growing number of deaths from ‘lifestyle diseases’ such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

Also read: Rooibos tea and your garden

These diseases combined claim the lives of more than 276 142 people in SA every year.

According to the SA Rooibos Council, in addition to regular physical activity and a healthy diet, scientists are recognising the importance of certain food chemicals, called phenolic compounds, that can reduce one’s risk of developing these diseases.

Rooibos tea is a good source of health-promoting phenolic compounds.

Christo Muller, chief specialist scientist at the SA Medical Research Council (SAMRC), said while rooibos alone isn’t a silver bullet, it has the potential to reduce inflammation and oxidative stress, which is the root cause of many of lifestyle diseases.

Oxidative stress occurs when our bodies use up the oxygen that we breathe in to produce energy.

Through this process, ‘free radicals’ are produced which can cause damage to cells and ultimately disease.

Antioxidants interact with free radicals before they can cause any harm. The more antioxidant-rich our diet, the less our susceptibility to disease and premature aging.

“Rooibos contains polyphenols, which are considered an important source of antioxidants in a diet,” said Muller.

“Polyphenols have anti-inflammatory properties that are good for your brain, heart and gut health and are commonly found in plants and herbs. Polyphenols are further divided into sub-groups that include flavonoids. Research has confirmed that rooibos contains an abundance of these potent free radical scavengers that help protect the body from oxidative stress and thus disease.”

One of the polyphenols identified in rooibos tea is aspalathin, which according to Muller has not been found in any other food or beverage.

“Aspalathin has been found to help protect against cardiovascular disease, often as a result of diabetes – a condition which affects one in 14 South Africans between the ages of 21 and 79.”

For optimal health benefits, Muller recommends drinking between five and six cups of rooibos tea staggered throughout the day.

Alternatively, put a jug of freshly made cooled rooibos tea in the fridge, or pour the iced tea into a sports bottle to ensure you get your daily dose.

Here’s how rooibos tea can benefit you:

• Keeps high blood pressure in check

Rooibos tea is known as a bronchodilator, which not only relieves respiratory conditions but generally reduces high blood pressure, a potential cause of dangerous cardiovascular diseases.

• Improves heart health

Quercetin, another antioxidant found in rooibos tea, has been linked to the prevention of a wide variety of heart conditions. It promotes HDL (‘good’ cholesterol) and inhibits LDL (‘bad’ cholesterol) from adhering to the walls of arteries and blood vessels. This means added protection against various heart conditions, including arteriosclerosis, heart attacks and strokes.

• Reduces risk of diabetes

Pre-clinical research demonstrates that aspalathin in rooibos helps to balance blood sugar, reduce insulin resistance and increase glucose absorption by the muscles. Aspalathin also boosts insulin production in the pancreas. This acts as a defensive shield against the development of type 2 diabetes – one of the most widespread and dangerous medical conditions in the world.

• Lowers your risk of cancer

Research at the SAMRC found that both green (unfermented) and traditional (fermented) rooibos significantly inhibits the growth of cancer cells (green more so than red). The flavonoids found in rooibos tea are known for fighting and preventing cancer.

• Boosts immunity

Another rare antioxidant found in rooibos is nothofagin, which helps to improve the immune system and is said to reduce Alzheimer’s disease as well.

• Builds and repairs muscle tissue

Not only does rooibos’ free-radical fighting antioxidants help you look and feel younger by slowing down the aging process, but these also assist with improved recovery after exercise, which means more lean muscle and less fat on your body in the long run.

• Improves gut health

Rooibos tea also acts as an anti-spasmodic agent, which reduces stomach cramps and diarrhoea.

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