Picture: Mujahid Safodien

South African researchers are hoping that a multimillion-rand research grant will bring them one step closer to scientifically showcasing the soothing, healing, disease-prevention and weight-loss properties of rooibos tea.

The SA Rooibos Council has set aside a R2 million budget for rooibos research for the year, which will include, among others, examining the anti-ageing, anti-obesity and cancer-preventing properties of rooibos tea, and the role of rooibos in performance during exercise and post-exercise recovery.

Strides have already been made in presenting scientific evidence that supports the “long-held belief” that a cup of rooibos tea helps one relax and cope better with stress.

A research team from the University of Stellenbosch’s biochemistry department, led by Professor Amanda Swart, found that rooibos tea contains components that can help alleviate stress and anxiety.

Rooibos tea works by lowering the production of cortisol – a steroid hormone secreted by the adrenal gland, also known as the stress hormone. Researchers found that by lowering cortisol levels, the effect of the body’s response to stress is also lowered.

Swart and her team identified two rare components in rooibos, aspalathin and nothofagin, that contribute to the stress-lowering effect. The findings were published in The Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology late last year.

“Keeping the stress hormone at normal levels in our blood stream is a key part of a healthy lifestyle. Long-term exposure to high levels of cortisol in the blood is linked to diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart diseases and high blood pressure. We are, therefore, very excited about these findings that rooibos may help alleviate the negative effects of high cortisol levels in the human body,” she said.

 

Professor Wentzel Gelderblom will continue his 10-year research into the cancer-prevention properties of rooibos and honeybush teas. Previous research has found that the antioxidants in rooibos tea have the potential to prevent skin cancer.

In one study examining the effect of herbal tea extracts on UV-induced skin tumours in mice, green or unfermented rooibos reduced the number of tumours per mouse by 75 percent and by 91 percent with fermented rooibos. Both types of tea also shrunk the size of the tumours. - The Star