Hibiscus Tea: Is It Good for You?

Hibiscus tea, also called Sorrell tea or “sour tea” is a fragrant tea made from the dried calyxes of the tropical Hibiscus sabdariffa flowers. Hibiscus sabdariffa flowers are native to Africa and grow in many tropical and subtropical regions around the world — including Thailand, China, and Mexico.These flowers are one of many species of shrubs, trees, and flowers in the mallow (Malvaceae) family. 

Hibiscus tea has a fruity, refreshing flavor that many enjoy hot or iced. Many people drink it because of its potential health benefits. While research shows that there may be some truth to these claims, there may also be potential risks. More research is required. 

Nutrition Information

One small iced hibiscus breeze tea cooler contains:

  • Calories: 79
  • Protein: 0 grams
  • Fat: 0 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 20 grams
  • Fiber: 0 grams
  • Sugar: 20 grams

Hibiscus tea contains vitamin C — a nutrient that plays many essential roles in the body. These include:

Vitamin C — aka ascorbic acid — is also an antioxidant. It can help boost your immune system and may help to prevent cell damage caused by free radicals in the body. This can reduce your risk of developing many significant health complications such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

Hibiscus tea contains other antioxidants, such as anthocyanins. Anthocyanins give the plant its vibrant color. They may also prevent many chronic diseases, as well as provide antibacterial effects. 

Potential Health Benefits of Hibiscus Tea

While hibiscus tea may not contain many vitamins or minerals, it does contain vitamin C and other antioxidants. Current research shows that the herbal tea may provide many health benefits:

Lower Blood Pressure

High blood pressure increases your risk of heart disease. Some studies show that drinking hibiscus tea may help reduce systolic blood pressure levels compared to a placebo.

Other studies show that it may help to reduce both systolic and diastolic blood pressure.  

Reduce Cholesterol Levels

Some studies show that hibiscus tea may reduce cholesterol levels — another risk factor of heart disease. In one study, people who drank hibiscus tea experienced an increase in “good cholesterol” (high-density lipoproteins) and a decrease in “bad cholesterol” (low-density lipoproteins). Many of the current studies have been limited to individuals with certain conditions, however, and some show conflicting results. 

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Improve Liver Health

Hibiscus tea may help to improve liver health. A study using hamsters showed that hibiscus tea may help decrease markers of liver damage.

One study with human participants showed that hibiscus extract may improve liver steatosis, which could reduce the risk of liver failure.

Cancer Prevention

Along with anthocyanins, hibiscus tea also contains another antioxidant called polyphenols, which have been shown to have anti-cancer properties. Much of the current research involves test-tube studies.

One study showed that hibiscus extract limits cell growth and reduces the invasiveness of mouth cancer.

Other test-tube studies show that hibiscus tea may help  prevent the spread of prostate cancer cells and stomach cancer cells. 

Antibacterial Properties

Hibiscus tea may provide antibacterial properties. Again, the current research is limited to test-tube studies. One showed that hibiscus extract inhibits E. coli.

It may also be just as effective as some medications at fighting many different bacteria strains. 

Promote Weight Loss

Several studies show the potential of hibiscus tea to promote weight loss and prevent obesity. One study showed that hibiscus extract reduced body weight, body fat, and body mass index after 12 weeks. 

Potential Risks of Hibiscus Tea

While hibiscus tea may provide health benefits, it may also present some risks. These risks include:

Hibiscus and Mallow Allergies

If you’re allergic or sensitive to hibiscus flowers (or other plants in the mallow family), you should avoid drinking hibiscus tea. 

Medication Interactions

Hibiscus tea may interact with certain medications. It can decrease the effectiveness of the malaria drug chloroquine. If you take medications for high blood pressure or diabetes, it can cause a significant drop in blood pressure. The plant also contains phytoestrogens (or plant estrogens) that may decrease the effectiveness of birth control medication. 

Pregnancy Concerns

The phytoestrogens in hibiscus tea may cause complications during pregnancy. For instance, they may trigger preterm labor. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, you may want to avoid hibiscus tea or look for an alternative. 

Liver Damage

Some research points toward high concentrations of hibiscus extract — potentially causing liver damage. 

Most of the current research on hibiscus tea is limited to animal and test-tube studies. More research is needed to fully understand the true benefits and risks the tea has to offer. 

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on September 24, 2020

Sources

SOURCES: 

Britannica: “Roselle.”

Britannica: “Hibiscus.”

ESHA Research, Inc., Salem, Oregon: “Drink, Iced, Hibiscus Breeze Tea Cooler, Sml, Peet’s Coffee & Tea.”

National Institutes of Health: “Vitamin C: Fact Sheet for Consumers.”

Food & Nutrition Research: “Anthocyanidins and anthocyanins: colored pigments as food, pharmaceutical ingredients, and their potential health benefits.”

The Journal of Nutrition: “Hibiscus sabdariffa L. Tea (Tisane) Lowers Blood Pressure in Prehypertensive and Mildly Hypertensive Adults.”

Journal of Hypertension: “Effect of sour tea (Hibiscus sabdariffa L.) on arterial hypertension: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials.”

Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine: “Effects of Sour Tea (Hibiscus sabdariffa) on Lipid Profile and Lipoproteins in Patients with Type II Diabetes.”

Food and Nutrition Research: “Effect of Hibiscus sabdariffa extract on high fat diet-induced obesity and liver damage in hamsters.”

Food & Function: “Hibiscus sabdariffa extract inhibits obesity and fat accumulation, and improves liver steatosis in humans.”

Nutrients: “Natural Polyphenols for Prevention and Treatment of Cancer.”

Nutrition and Cancer: “Antitumoral Effect of Hibiscus sabdariffa on Human Squamous Cell Carcinoma and Multiple Myeloma Cells.”

Nutrients: “Hibiscus sabdariffa Leaf Extract Inhibits Human Prostate Cancer Cell Invasion via Down-Regulation of Akt/NF-kB/MMP-9 Pathway.”

Molecular Carcinogenesis: “Hibiscus polyphenol-rich extract induces apoptosis in human gastric carcinoma cells via p53 phosphorylation and p38 MAPK/FasL cascade pathway.”

Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture: “Physicochemical Properties and Antimicrobial Activity of Roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa L.)”

Journal of Intercultural Ethnopharmacology: “Antibacterial efficiency of the Sudanese Roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa L.), a famous beverage from Sudanese folk medicine.”

Food & Function: “Hibiscus sabdariffa Extract Inhibits Obesity and Fat Accumulation, and Improves Liver Steatosis in Humans.”

Fitoterapia: “Hibiscus sabdariffa L. in the treatment of hypertension and hyperlipidemia: A comprehensive review of animal and human studies.”

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