Rooibos is not only a great-tasting tea, but it’s also packed with some important immune-boosting benefits that none of us should be passing up. The best part? It’s a proudly South African plant that’s become one of the most loved teas around the world. Globally, the export of rooibos sits at around 6000 tons per year. According to the Rooibos Council, if both export and local volumes are sold and enjoyed as just the tea, this would be the equivalent of 5.6 billion cups of tea.
Without further ado, let’s get straight into the wholesome benefits of this delicious drink.
May reduce diabetes risk
In a recent study conducted by the South African Medical Research Council, researchers found that rooibos tea has the ability to delay, and in some instances, prevent the early onset of type-2 diabetes. This is down to rooibos tea’s active compound, aspalathin. It’s been shown to improve blood glucose levels and therefore, could help reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. Research has found that green rooibos (the unfermented kind) has more abundant levels of aspalathin, which enhances insulin activity, the hormone that controls blood sugar levels, by reducing inflammation and oxidative stress. These are all factors that underlie the development of metabolic diseases like obesity, cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.
This is particularly important for South Africans since diabetes is the second most common cause of natural death in the country. Of course, a healthy, diabetic-friendly lifestyle has to accompany the consumption of rooibos tea to reap these benefits.
An antioxidant goldmine
One of the most popular facts about this tea is its health-promoting antioxidant properties and for good reason. Biochemist Dr Lindie Schloms notes that rooibos is the only plant in the world that contains a specific organic chemical called aspalathin.
“[This] is the most abundant compound in rooibos (especially unfermented rooibos) and has been shown to have potent antioxidant, antidiabetic, cardioprotective, antihypertensive and antimutagenic effects,” she says.
“Unfermented rooibos contains twice as many antioxidants and up to 40 times as much aspalathin compared to fermented rooibos. The difference is due to the fermentation process, which causes oxidative degradation of certain compounds, such as aspalathin.” But it doesn’t end there. When fermented, the chemical structure of rooibos gives way to an array of other antioxidants, including aspalathin.
One study published in the US’s National Library of Medicine journal found that rigorous (six cups a day rigorous!) consumption of rooibos tea significantly reduced ‘bad’ cholesterol (LDL) and boosted ‘good’ cholesterol for people at high risk for cardiovascular diseases.
“Confirming its popular use, consumption of fermented, traditional rooibos significantly improved the lipid profile as well as redox status [this is the balance between oxidants and antioxidants], both relevant to heart disease in adults at high risk for cardiovascular disease,” the study said.
Improved blood pressure
Per new research by Anishka le Roux, a PhD student at Stellenbosch University, rooibos has been shown to reduce the production of the stress hormone cortisol. Since cortisol can cause wide-reaching inflammation in the body, this is a game-changer. In a small study, two people drank just two cups of rooibos tea. There was a decrease in blood pressure. But to really get the benefits, le Roux says we should aim to down six cups a day. And for this to be truly therapeutic, limit the sugar intake of the brew.
A break from caffeine
If you’re trying to limit your caffeine intake, then rooibos tea is an excellent alternative to caffeinated teas. Why? Besides being proudly South African (because you need to know again!), rooibos is also naturally caffeine-free. No joke.
It eases sunburn
Senior researcher in chemotherapy Dr Mariska Lilly says rooibos is a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory on skin. The element that causes sunburn, UVB, can cause inflammation and skin cancer when not mitigated with sunscreen. In her research, Dr Lilly found that rooibos on the skin prevents the cells from dying – this is form of rooibos needs to be administered in its nano form to be effective. However, when it comes to sunburn, applying rooibos topically (via a tea bath), it can soothe sunburn.
Could improve bone health
There have been a number of studies that have found this link, but more research is necessary. One study found that rooibos might stimulate the cells involved in bone density and growth.
“Rooibos tea improved osteoblast activity at the low level and supported epidemiological evidence suggesting rooibos tea consumption may benefit bone health,” the study says.
READ MORE: Can Rooibos Tea Really Help You Lose Weight?
Reduced calorie count
For anyone who’s trying to lose or maintain their weight, rejoice! Rooibos tea is a great beverage substitute for most other drinks because it’s calorie-free. A 2014 study suggested that rooibos tea could also help in weight management. It increases levels of leptin (a hormone that regulates food intake and lets your brain know that you’re full).
It’s good for your gut
Since rooibos has about 40 different polyphenols, it acts as a prebiotic that stimulates the growth of beneficial gut bacteria. According to a senior researcher at the Centre for Cardiometabolic Research in Africa (CARMA), rooibos tea decreases the growth of harmful bacteria. It also increases the growth of good gut bacteria and can inhibit glucose uptake. To get the benefits, brew yourself a hot cup of the red tea.
So, how much can you actually drink?
If you’re concerned about the possible side effects of drinking excessive amounts of rooibos tea, you probably shouldn’t be. Side effects are extremely rare and you’d probably have to consume an almost inconceivable amount to be negatively affected.
What’s important to know? Small studies have been conducted, which means definitive benefits can only be known from studies with a higher number of human participants.
While we can have a very strong idea of its benefits, a lot more research with actual humans needs to be done. Essentially, there’s still a lot to learn about this… (get ready for it) proudly South African plant, but for now, let’s get sipping.