Rooibos tea, a uniquely South African product which grows mainly in the Cederberg area of the Western Cape, has been found to contain anxiolytic properties, a new study found. The new properties mean the tea is also capable of preventing or lessening the degree of anxiety a person experience. This in addition to its array of beneficial properties such as caffeine-free and anti-inflammatory nature to the antioxidants, vital minerals and vitamins as well as its positive role in pain and allergy reduction and in heart health.
A daily supplement
Conducted on zebrafish, which originated in Malaysia, the study has confirmed that the intake of the unfermented or green rooibos helps reduce anxiety making it even more desirable as a daily supplement, according to Professor Carine Smith, head of the Medicine Research Laboratories at the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences (FMHS) at the Stellenbosch University. The study was conducted at the FMHS’ new Zebrafish laboratory, which uses the tropical zebrafish for medical research. It was conducted in collaboration with the Spanish researchers from the San Jorge University and a local pharmaceutical industry contributor.
Similar genes to humans
Zebrafish was considered to be ideal for the laboratory’s research purposes because genetically they are quite similar to humans. For instance, it is said that for more than 80% of the genes known to cause disease in humans, there are similar genes represented in zebrafish. Professor Smith expressed excitement about the breakthrough saying the first data published from the Zebrafish Research Unit is related to something distinctively South African.
“We are also thrilled to have done this study in collaboration with a Spanish university. Even though we are a new research unit in terms of zebrafish data generation, it’s wonderful to already be good enough to be part of an international team. It’s also great that this is such a proudly South African topic, as rooibos can only be cultivated here,” said Professor Smith.
She said the World Health Organisation has classified South Africa as one of the most stressed countries in the world. “The results of this study mean that we could have uncovered nature’s contribution to treating some of our country’s health problems. It shows that drinking green rooibos tea may have a calming effect if you suffer from anxiety,” explained Professor Smith.
Ethical way of research
Shedding more light on the research, Professor Smith said they use a couple of tanks to breed the zebrafish with the adult stock. She said the fish can live up to three years in a laboratory, compared to about a year in nature. What makes them so desirable for research, she said, is that most of our research is done at the early larval stage, when they are not yet considered a sentient animal. This makes our model a more ethical way of using a live organism in research, as they cannot experience pain at that stage, she added.
Professor Smith said the focus of her study group was on the connection between psychological stress and chronic inflammatory disease. “Zebrafish are ideal for drug discovery in this context, as we are able to do thorough testing including not only behavioural assessment and treatment mechanisms of action, but also risks of overdosing and long-term use,” she said.
Professor Smith said the study also found, among others, that green rooibos tea could be considered as a “functional brain food”. In addition, that it “may be a good option as a starting ingredient in the development of new nutraceuticals“. Professor Smith said apart from being an antioxidant, rooibos also has diuretic functions which helps people with high blood pressure as well as great cardio-vascular benefits. She said so far no research has demonstrated a single negative effect of rooibos, making its long-term consumption generally safe.