Discover the Health Benefits of Rooibos Tea

Roobois tea - Dr. Axe

It’s become common knowledge that many teas, especially green tea, offer a number of impressive health benefits, but did you know that certain herbal teas (those that are caffeine-free) do, too?

One such example is rooibos tea, which is considered an excellent anti-inflammatory drink that fights a large range of diseases. Believe it or not, certain types of rooibos leaves have been shown to contain as many, or even more antioxidants than green tea, although they seem to be absorbed less easily.

Based on this tea’s nutrient density, there is almost no part of your body that can’t benefit from rooibos, including your skin, heart and bones. Additionally, it may offer some protection against common conditions such as diabetes and obesity, when consumed as part of a healthy diet.

What Is Rooibos Tea?

Rooibos tea (pronounced ROY-boss) is an herbal tea that’s native to South Africa. It’s sometimes also called red tea or red bush tea.

What is rooibos tea made out of? It comes from a plant that’s a member of the legume family (its official plant name is the Aspalathus linearis). Something that makes it unique is that it can only be found growing in one location: the mountains near the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa.

What is the rooibos tea good for? Jam-packed with nutrients, it’s is a zero-calorie, caffeine-free, low-tannin tea that has been used in many countries for its anti-inflammatory effects for centuries.

Rooibos tea contains small amounts of some minerals, including calcium and fluoride, plus alpha hydroxy acid. It’s also high in many flavonoid antioxidants, such as aspalathin and nothofagin. Because of these compounds, research suggests that health benefits of rooibos tea range from supporting healthy bones to promoting weight loss.

Health Benefits

1. Packed with Anti-inflammatory and Antioxidant Properties

Two of the most noteworthy health benefits of rooibos tea are its ability to act as a natural anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. Studies suggest drinking it may protect your cells from damage caused by free radicals and inflammation.

Green rooibos tea is especially rich in antioxidants, including quercetin and aspalathin. Lab studies have also found that the rooibos plant contains flavonoids including nothofagin, rutin, isoquercitrin, orientin, isoorientin, luteolin and others.

Quercetin is an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant plant pigment (flavonoid) found in many foods and plants, one of which is rooibos tea. It has widespread uses when it comes to protecting against disease, including cardiovascular diseases like hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis), high cholesterol and high blood pressure, diabetes, cataracts, hay fever, ulcers and more.

Meanwhile, rooibos is actually “the only known natural source of aspalathin, according to the American Botanical Council.

2. May Support Heart Health

Rooibos tea contains chrysoeriol and other flavonoids that may have positive cardiovascular effects, such as by helping to decrease blood pressure and improving blood circulation. It’s also linked in certain studies to lowered cholesterol levels, although studies have found mixed results regarding all of these effects.

A 2012 study found evidence that benefits of rooibos tea may include lowering hypertension and regulating hormones secreted from the adrenal gland.

Heart health is especially important in patients with diabetes. One common complication of diabetes is atherosclerosis, a form of arteriosclerosis that causes hardening and inflammation of the arteries caused by high glucose levels. Aspalathin and nothofagin, two chemical compounds present in rooibos tea, have significant effects on inflammation of the entire vascular system and are thought to be key in treating possible complications from diabetes relating to the heart.

Aspalathin is an extremely novel antioxidant, as it’s only found in rooibos and no other food or beverage. It not only helps protect against vascular inflammation, but studies suggest it can protect the heart against oxidation and ischemia (a lack of blood supply to the heart) related to diabetic cardiomyopathy.

Additionally, a 2019 study showed that it can protect the heart and blood vessels against toxicity and damage due to chemical exposure.

3. May Help Manage Diabetes

Strongly connected to rooibos’ ability to strengthen your heart is its direct effect on diabetes. When tested against both diabetes and cancer, rooibos tea showed “significant therapeutic potential for either the prevention of the onset of the two diseases or their progression,” according to research published in the Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine.

Fascinatingly, another study published in 2013 that focused specifically on the impact of aspalathin demonstrated that aspalathin specifically has anti-diabetic potential. This research, along with further studies, show rooibos tea makes a great addition to any diabetic diet plan.

4. Linked to Potential Cancer Prevention

Many doctors report effectively prescribing quercetin in supplement form to help treat cancer, as there’s evidence it can help suppress malignant tumor growth by stopping the processes involved in cell mutation.

In addition, rooibos tea seems to help the immune system produce antibodies that are necessary to prevent and heal from a variety of chronic diseases, potentially including some cancers, viruses and allergic reactions.

5. Can Support the Liver and Digestion

The best way for your body to operate at optimal digestive health is to eat nutrient-rich foods free of the problematic chemicals and ingredients that processed foods contain.

Drinking rooibos tea is one helpful way to maintain healthy liver function and good digestive health, especially if you suffer from frequent abdominal pain or diarrhea. Several compounds found in the tea operate as antispasmodic nutrients, preventing abdominal pain and reducing the occurrence of diarrhea.

Certain studies have also linked rooibos consumption to enhanced antioxidant status of the liver, including among individuals with tissue damage of the liver due to oxidative stress.

Rooibos tea benefits - Dr. Axe

6. May Support Strong Bones

Rooibos tea contains many minerals that support the growth of healthy bones, including manganese, calcium and fluoride.

One well-known benefit of all teas is increased bone strength, because tea increases “osteoblast activity.” Osteoblasts are cells that create bone mass, so increased activity in these cells means that bones are stronger, denser and healthier.

This tea also contains two specific flavonoids, orientin and luteolin, that may help increase mineral content in bones, according to research findings. This is especially significant because it contains no caffeine, meaning that it can potentially be given to elderly or sensitive patients unable to consume other traditional teas.

7. Might Be Helpful for Weight Loss

Compounds found in certain foods that may help promote weight loss include polyphenols, types of antioxidants that are available from rooibos leaves.

A number of studies have found evidence that rooibos may have anti-obesogenic effects, while researchers point out that more well-controlled studies are still needed.

While findings have been mixed overall, rooibos seems to support metabolic health by: preventing lipid peroxidation and protein degradation, regulating glutathione metabolism, and modulating changes in the activities of antioxidant enzymes.

In one that was conducted to discover how the nutrients in rooibos tea fight obesity, researchers found that consuming rooibos caused increased leptin secretion. Leptin is known as the “satiety hormone” and is part of how your body knows it has had enough to eat.

Rooibos also prevented new fat cells from forming and caused existing fat to metabolize faster, according to the findings published in Phytomedicine: International Journal of Phytotherapy and Phytopharmacology.

8. May Help Treat Allergies

Quercetin is capable of blocking “mast cells,” which are immune cells critical in triggering allergic reactions. In fact, studies show that quercetin may have a huge anti-allergenic potential and treat allergies as effectively as some prescribed medications, without high risk for any side effects.

Interestingly, the bioflavonoids (another term for flavonoids) are useful both for treating seasonal allergy symptoms and food allergies, as well as asthma and skin reactions.

9. Can Keep Skin and Hair Young

Many people throughout the world consume rooibos tea for its benefits for skin and hair, as the alpha hydroxy acid found in these leaves is not common in other foods.

This type of acid is safest when consumed in natural sources, rather than used in dangerous processed methods, such as chemical peels. Because of this alpha hydroxy acid and prevalent antioxidants, rooibos may have a significant effect on wrinkle reduction.  In addition, its antioxidant properties can help protect hair follicles from damage.

10. May Have Antimicrobial Effects

A study published in the Journal of Food Science discovered that rooibos might be a useful natural food preservative, due to its ability to prevent growth of harmful bacteria. The study, conducted by the Department of Food and Nutrition at Kyung Hee University in Korea found that rooibos specifically can work as a preservative for meat products.

Interesting Facts

  • While references to rooibos tea can be found in documents as early as 1772, this incredible tea has only been commercially traded since 1904.
  • It took many years to determine a method of germinating the plant that would allow the tea to be more widely produced.
  • Dr. Pieter Le Fras Nortier is often considered the father of the rooibos tea industry, as it was his research that led to the global distribution of this red tea.
  • Rooibos is an iconic national beverage of South Africa and is also now considered a commodity in many places around the globe.

How to Make

Where can you buy rooibos? Look for it in health food stores, large grocery stores and speciality stores that sell dried herbs.

There are two main types: red and green rooibos. Red tea is made by fermenting the leaves, which turns them a darker color. Green rooibos is not fermented and has been shown to contain the most antioxidants, however it’s less popular and harder to find.

Studies have demonstrated that in general, the more processed that a tea is — such as undergoing sun-drying, sieving, steam pasteurization and fermentation — the more that antioxidants and other compounds may potentially become destroyed. Therefore buying high-quality tea leaves, such as green rooibos if possible, is important for reaping the most benefits,

One of the best parts about rooibos tea is that it’s so low in tannins, meaning it shouldn’t have a bitter taste. Most people find that rooibos tea tastes naturally sweet and flowery, even though it’s sugar-free. It’s delicious both hot and cold, so you can use it to take iced tea or a cozy, warm cup.
  • One difference between rooibos and most other teas is that it should be brewed longer.
  • When brewing the tea, it’s recommended to put one teaspoon to one tablespoon of tea into an infuser and pour boiling water over it, then steep between five and 15 minutes and sweeten to taste with honey or another natural sweetener.
  • To make rooibos iced tea, double the amount of tea and allow it to steep for at least 10 minutes before chilling and then adding ice cubes.

How much should you consume? Drinking several cups per day is linked with the most benefits, assuming each cup is made with about 750 milligrams of tea leaves. A range of about 750-3,000 milligrams per day of rooibos tea leaves has shown the most effects across studies.

Risks and Side Effects

Is there caffeine in rooibos tea? No, it’s naturally caffeine-free, making it a good choice for those who are sensitive to even low levels of caffeine in other traditional teas.

Does rooibos tea make you sleepy? It shouldn’t, however drinking herbal tea in general might help you to feel calmer, which can possibly make it easier to fall asleep. In fact, it’s common for parents in South Africa to give it to their children to help them sleep, even though it doesn’t have any proven sedative effects.

Although it’s safe for most people to consume, rooibos tea side effects are still possible. You should take precaution if you plan on drinking large amounts of red rooibos tea, as research suggests that when consumed in large amounts it may have a subtle impact on male fertility (although in “regular” amounts, it seems to cause sperm to be more concentrated).

Unlike other teas, rooibos tea contains no oxalic acid, which is great news for those suffering from kidney stones, as this tea is safe for them to drink. However some physicians suggest that this tea may negatively affect patients with liver disease, kidney disease and certain hormonal cancers. It’s also possible that it interfere with chemotherapy treatments. If you suffer from any of these conditions, consult your physician before introducing it into your regular diet.

Is rooibos safe for pregnancy? According to the American Pregnancy Association, most commercial brands of herbal teas are thought to be safe for pregnant women to consume in reasonable amounts. However herbal teas that are not made commercially, and those made with excessive amounts of herbs may not be safe. To be safe, use pre-made tea bags and stick with 1-2 cups daily.

Final Thoughts

  • What is rooibos tea? It’s an herbal tea made with leaves from a plant that’s a member of the legume family (Aspalathus linearis).
  • Rooibos tea benefits are due to its high content of anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds. Benefits of this herbal tea include: helping to improve heart health, manage diabetes, aid in digestion, support strong bones, help you lose weight and achieve satiety, treat allergies, and keep your skin and hair young.
  • Does rooibos tea have caffeine? It’s naturally caffeine-free and can be enjoyed at any time of day, whether used to make iced tea or a hot cup. It isn’t just a health drink — it also tastes delicious and is naturally sweeter than other teas.
  • Side effects are rare, but still possible. Experts recommend sticking to moderate amounts to avoid side effects that affect the liver, kidneys and reproductive organs.

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