Cup of healthy traditional herbal rooibos red beverage tea with spices on vintage wooden table

In line with one of its main strategic objectives, the SA
Rooibos Council (SARC) is ramping up research efforts to better understand
exactly how our indigenous Rooibos tea could help tackle some of the most
prevalent diseases of our time.

R4.5 million will be invested into further researching
Rooibos’ potential to reduce allergies, heart disease, diabetes and skin cancer
between now and 2022. Scientists will also investigate Rooibos’ impact on gut
flora and to what extent it can lessen the side effects of antiretroviral
therapy (ART).

Joe Swart, Research Director for the SARC says Rooibos is a
good source of unique and beneficial bio-actives such as antioxidants,
different to those found in other teas, fruits and vegetables and is particularly
rich in phytochemicals such as flavonoids and polyphenols, which contribute to
its health benefits.

“Due to the large and growing use of natural derived
substances for healthy living all over the world, it is imperative that the
SARC obtains reliable data as to Rooibos’ healing potential, since many other
herbal-based treatments lack definitive evidence.

“We want to provide both healthcare practitioners and
patients with sufficient proof of Rooibos’ efficacy in helping to prevent and
manage certain diseases. Over the last decade the SARC has invested
significantly in research to do just that.

“We’ve reached an exciting stage in the Rooibos research
journey. After years of systematic and thorough research conducted on
specifically Rooibos’ impact on heart health, we will be progressing to
intervention trials on humans – the final leg of the research phase,” remarks

The intervention trial, which will be led by Prof Jeanine
Marnewick, Head of Cape Peninsula University of Technology’s (CPUT) Oxidative
Stress Research Centre will for the first time determine just how much Rooibos
(equivalent to a cup of tea) is required in a condensed form to serve the
purpose of a nutraceutical to support heart health.

Prof Marnewick says the 12-week-long trial is key to
understanding how a dietary intervention, such as Rooibos can change the
outcome of specifically cardiovascular disease risk factors.

“Rooibos will be put through its paces as we investigate its
impact on various risk factors associated with the development of heart
disease, including cholesterol profile, oxidative damage to lipids, redox
status, inflammatory responses, metabolic disease, blood pressure, and genetic
variability in 300 adults. It’s a first-of-its-kind intervention study
involving the use of a uniquely South African product.”

The trial will commence in August of this year and the
findings should be made public by the end of 2022.

Other studies that have been given the green light include
Rooibos’ impact on hayfever and chronic rhinitis, which will be conducted by
the UCT Lung Institute, while the Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology and the
Massey University in New Zealand will combine their expertise to look at how
the herbal tea can improve glycaemic control in people with pre-diabetes and/or
type II diabetes.

Further research will also be conducted by various teams of
scientists at CPUT into Rooibos’ potential to boost athletic performance; its
effect on autoimmune skin diseases, such as psoriasis and vitiligo; and its
chemo-preventative properties on the early stages of skin cancer. The latter
forms part of a larger study aimed at developing therapeutic creams or gels by
inhibiting chronic inflammation and reducing skin cancer incidence.
Stellenbosch University will also further examine the cardio-protective effects
of Rooibos on ART, since HIV-positive individuals on antiretroviral therapy
have an increased risk of heart disease. A recent animal study conducted by the
university found that supplementing with Rooibos reduced the harmful cardiovascular
effects caused by ART.

Stellenbosch University is also currently investigating how
Aspalathin, a flavonoid unique to Rooibos, could counter the effects of
obesity. If successful, work will commence on an anti-obesity Rooibos
supplement. The study has already caught the attention of the international
scientific community who will be following the progress closely.

Another project, which is in its concluding phase is the
effects of Rooibos tea on microbiota regulation. Understanding microbiota interactions
is an exciting area of research which may contribute to new insights into a
range of diseases. This project is currently being conducted by the SA Medical
Research Council (SAMRC).

“Without a doubt, Rooibos research is on the move,” says
Swart. “We are at the threshold of a new era of natural products research
globally, which could give rise to multiple new medicinal applications for
herbs such as Rooibos.”

For more information and updates on these studies,