Rooibos may be good for the heart

The first stage of a groundbreaking clinical trial to investigate the health benefits of rooibos tea in adults, especially in people at risk of developing heart disease, has just been completed.

Forty-one men and women between the ages of 30 and 60 participated in the 14-week trial under the leadership of Dr Jeanine Marnewick from the Cape Peninsula University of Technology. The next step is to analyse the results, a process which should be completed by middle 2008.

Researchers who spoke at a recent science seminar on rooibos at the MTN Science Centre in Canal Walk, Cape Town, are hoping that the study will verify decades of anecdotal evidence about the health benefits of rooibos. This is one of the very first human studies ever conducted on the popular tea, which is indigenous to South Africa.

The pioneering study focuses on the potential of rooibos in protecting against oxidative stress and inflammation associated with the development of heart disease.

Oxidative stress is defined as an imbalance between oxidants and antioxidants, in favour of oxidants. An excess of these oxidants can damage important components of living cells, such as lipids, proteins and DNA. This could result in several degenerative diseases, including heart disease.

How the study was done
Each trial participant had one or more risk factors for heart disease, but not at levels requiring medication.

The participants were asked to drink six cups of rooibos per day, while their food and drink intake were closely monitored. At other times, they drank mainly water and beverages that didn't contain significant levels of antioxidants.

The aim is to now compare the blood test results for these different periods to see if there's a significant difference.

"Rooibos is affordable and freely available. If we can prove its potential to combat heart disease in people, it will be a very significant breakthrough in the prevention of the disease," Marnewick says.

She adds that there is a lot of evidence on the health benefits of rooibos in animals, ranging from delaying the ageing process to fighting cancer. "Our challenge is to verify some of these health claims in humans," Marnewick says.

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- (Health24, November 2007)

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