Rooibos, or red tea, is a plant native to the Cape Town region of South Africa. Long used as a beverage tea, it was popularized as a medicinal herb in the late 1960s by a woman named Annique Theron, who claimed that it could help relieve colic and other infant-related problems. Since then, it has been advocated for a wide variety of additional conditions, including stomach distress (dyspepsia), allergies, warts, eczema, anxiety, insomnia and minor injuries.
The tea is harvested during the summer. It is green when picked, but becomes red during a fermentation process similar to that used for making black tea.
Rooibos tea is marketed as a treatment for a wide variety of conditions, including all those mentioned above. However, no proposed uses of this herb have any meaningful supporting scientific evidence.
Like other forms of tea, red tea contains antioxidant substances in the phenol family. 1-4 This alone is the basis for many of the health claims attached to it. However, innumerable substances contain antioxidants; furthermore, the theory that antioxidants provide widespread health benefits has, in recent years, largely collapsed.
Nonetheless, test tube studies , at least, hint that red tea might be helpful for preventing heart disease , 5 preventing liver injury , 6-7 and reducing cancer risk. 10 Other test tube studies hint that constituents of red tea might have activity against the HIV virus . 8-9
However, all of this evidence remains far too weak to be relied upon at all. In general, only double-blind, placebo-controlled studies can prove that a treatment is effective. Test tube studies are at the opposite end of the spectrum; they are useful as basic research, but the overwhelming majority of potential benefits seen in the test tube do not pan out in human trials. Therefore, at present, while rooibos may be a pleasant beverage tea, any medicinal claims attached to it are without scientific foundation.
1. Joubert E, Winterton P, Britz TJ et al. Antioxidant and pro-oxidant activities of aqueous extracts and crude polyphenolic fractions of rooibos (Aspalathus linearis). J Agric Food Chem . 2005;53:10260-7.
3. Kucharska J, Ulicna O, Gvozdjakova A et al. Regeneration of coenzyme Q9 redox state and inhibition of oxidative stress by Rooibos tea (Aspalathus linearis) administration in carbon tetrachloride liver damage. Physiol Res. 2004;53:515-21.
5. Persson IA, Josefsson M, Persson K et al. Tea flavanols inhibit angiotensin-converting enzyme activity and increase nitric oxide production in human endothelial cells. J Pharm Pharmacol. 2006;58:1139-44.
6. Kucharska J, Ulicna O, Gvozdjakova A et al. Regeneration of coenzyme Q9 redox state and inhibition of oxidative stress by Rooibos tea (Aspalathus linearis) administration in carbon tetrachloride liver damage. Physiol Res . 2004;53:515-21.
Last reviewed September 2014 by EBSCO CAM Review Board
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