Are There Health Benefits to Drinking Rooibos Tea?

A traditional South African brew, rooibos tea is gaining popularity in other parts of the world. Tea-lovers like its flavor, which they describe as smooth and sweet with a hint of vanilla. It also blends well with other ingredients. But there's more to rooibos tea than taste. South Africans have used rooibos tea for medicinal purposes for centuries, and now scientists are looking into its health benefits. 

"Rooibos" means "red bush," but the rooibos plant has green, needle-like leaves and tiny yellow flowers. When workers pick, bruise, and ferment the leaves to make tea, they turn a reddish color, giving the tea its name. The leaves are also picked and dried without fermenting to make green rooibos tea.

Nutrition Information

Rooibos tea has zero calories when consumed without milk, sugar, honey, or other added ingredients. One cup of rooibos tea contains: 

  • Calories: 0
  • Protein: 0 grams
  • Fat: 0 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 0 grams
  • Fiber: 0 grams
  • Sugar: 0 grams

Rooibos tea contains trace amounts of some minerals and is a fairly good source of:

Potential Health Benefits of Rooibos Tea

Since it is an herbal tea, rooibos tea has no caffeine. Unlike green and black tea, it also contains no tannins, which can be bitter. Although it has little nutritional value, rooibos tea is rich in antioxidants, which may benefit health.

Anti-Inflammatory Effects

The antioxidants in rooibos tea are polyphenols, which are chemical compounds that allow plants to fight stress. When people eat foods rich in polyphenols, they are less likely to suffer from inflammation. Chronic inflammation has been tied to a higher risk of cancer, heart disease, and many other conditions. 

Diabetes Control

Researchers are especially interested in aspalathin, an antioxidant found in rooibos that may have the ability to lower blood sugar. In lab and animal studies, aspalathin worked as an anti-diabetic. Human studies could verify that aspalathin works similarly in the body, but more research is needed. It’s important to note that the fermentation used in the manufacture of the typical, red rooibos tea destroys much of the aspalathin. Those wanting to take advantage of any potential anti-diabetic effect would need to drink green rooibos.

Blood Pressure Control

Doctors often prescribe medications called ACE inhibitors to relax blood vessels and reduce blood pressure. Some plant substances act as natural ACE inhibitors. In one study, both green tea and rooibos tea acted as ACE inhibitors in study participants. The study was small, so more research is needed to confirm the effect. If you take blood pressure medicine, never discontinue it without your doctor's approval.  

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Potential Risks of Rooibos Tea

Rooibos tea could cause problems for some individuals. Before you use rooibos tea, consider these possible risks:

Estrogen-Like Effects

Some compounds in rooibos tea can act like estrogen in the body. People with cancer sensitive to estrogen should ask their doctor before drinking rooibos tea.

Effect on Chemotherapy

Those who are undergoing chemotherapy should avoid taking herbs and herbal supplements as they can change the way the body processes chemotherapy drugs. Herbs used in small amounts in cooking are generally safe.

Liver Toxicity

In one case study, drinking large amounts of rooibos tea daily correlated with elevated levels of liver enzymes. Doctors are unsure whether this is due to contamination in the tea or the tea itself. More research would be needed to draw any conclusions about this potential side effect, but if you are concerned about the health of your liver, use rooibos tea in moderation or talk to your doctor.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on September 29, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

"American Botanical Council: "Rooibos Tea."

ESHA Research, Inc., Salem, Oregon: "Tea, rooibos, vanilla, brewed, short, Tazo."

European Journal of Clinical Pharmacology: "Possible hepatotoxic effect of rooibos tea: a case report."

Mayo Clinic: "How to use food to help your body fight inflammation."

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center: "Rooibos Tea."

Oncology Nutrition: "Herbs and Chemotherapy."

Phytomedicine: "Hypoglycemic effect of aspalathin, a rooibos tea component from Aspalathus linearis, in type 2 diabetic model db/db mice."

Public Health Nutrition: "Effects of green tea, black tea and Rooibos tea on angiotensin-converting enzyme and nitric oxide in healthy volunteers."

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