Rooibos tea: South Africa’s answer to ‘eternal youth’

South Africa’s very own Rooibos may be the ‘antidote’ to aging, finds Angelique Ruzicka.

If you’ve ever seen the film Indiana Jones you’d know that finding the Holy Grail was the answer to eternal youth. However, South Africa may have its very own answer to the question of ‘How can you stay young forever?’, which is simply: Rooibos.

Dubbed a wonder herb, Rooibos is set to turn the anti-ageing revolution on its head following new research into its anti-ageing potential beyond that of its well-known antioxidant properties. Rooibos is part of the fynbos family and endemic to the Cederberg region of the Western Cape.

Proof that Rooibos fights aging

Back when Moneybags wrote about the 7 Health benefits of Rooibos, we highlighted that researchers from the Slovak Republic demonstrated the anti-ageing effect of Rooibos in Japanese quails. The birds were given Rooibos to drink and had ground rooibos added to their food. The hens on the rooibos diet laid more eggs and kept laying eggs as they were getting older, compared to the control group.

This time Rooibos was studied by two leading scientists from Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in a bid to beat the rate at which age-related diseases develop. Lead scientist, Prof Maryna van de Venter says it’s the first time a study such as this has been attempted and the results have been promising.

“Our research focused primarily on the preservation of healthy fat tissue as the redistribution of fat – a natural process which occurs with age – particularly to the abdominal region, has been linked to the onset of many age-related diseases such as cardiovascular disease, type II diabetes and cancer. Our aim was to slow down the rate at which these diseases develop as a way to improve the quality of an individual’s life.

“Loss of fat under the skin also results in the appearance of wrinkles, sunken eyes and skin folds. To put it in simple terms, in old age there is less fat in places where it should be and more fat in deposits where it shouldn’t be, and it’s this that significantly alters one’s state of health as one ages,” explains Prof van de Venter.

Using various independent in vitro models which mimic specific aspects of the ageing process, van de Venter and her team established that Rooibos protects preadipocytes – the predominant cells found in fat tissue – from degenerating and therefore could reverse the onset of age related diseases and even keep wrinkles at bay.

Factors responsible for the decline in preadipocyte function, include oxidative stress (inability to counteract the harmful effects of free radicals in the body) and mitochondrial dysfunction (inability to power cell functions which occurs with ageing). The study further proves that Rooibos has the ability to partially restore the function of these aged cells and that both fermented and green Rooibos can protect cells from severe oxidative stress, which firmly establishes Rooibos as an anti-ageing proponent.

Co-researcher, Dr Trevor Koekemoer adds: “The discovery opens doors to ways in which Rooibos could prevent or at least delay the detrimental effects of ageing and holds profound implications for the industry. Our findings could spur novel therapeutic approaches for improving general health in the aged and potentially lead to a breakthrough in the field of regenerative medicines,” he says.

Unfortunately, further research is needed to find out how best to ingest Rooibos (oral or dermal), which will ultimately determine the potential for new product development, specifically aimed at targeting healthy fat tissue. As examples, one might consider Rooibos tablets or a serum for topical application.

How much should you consume?

It’s not yet clear how much Rooibos tea should be consumed to fight the effects of aging as only cultured cells were used during experiments. Therefore, additional factors, such as the bioavailability and metabolism of Rooibos when ingested vs applied to the skin, would need to be taken into account.

“In our experiments we used concentrations that were physiologically relevant and from work done by other researchers on human subjects, we can assume that the remarkable effects observed in our cell culture models, are achievable,” concludes Dr Koekemoer.

Besides its ability to fight aging there are numerous reasons why you should consume this herb and there are a number of scientific papers published investigating the health benefits of Rooibos. These have increased substantially over the past decade, and the rate of scientific investigation is set to be further boosted this year by a significant cash injection by the South African Rooibos Council to independent researchers at a number of South African universities and science councils.

How to consume Rooibos:

  1. Drink the tea: Rooibos teabags are available at most food retailers. You don’t have to stick to the hot beverage – there are several flavoured ice teas available too.
  2. There are various creams you can purchase to rub into your body and face. African Extracts, Dischem and Clicks all have creams with Rooibos as an ingredient.
  3. Cook with Rooibos: Find several recipes from the Rooibos Council here: http://sarooibos.co.za/recipes/.

*The just-released research study was commissioned by the Rooibos Council in 2012. Prof Van de Venter and PhD student, Anli Hattingh, have recently embarked on another study, which investigates the extent to which, and how Rooibos preserves the functionality of the preadipocytes and other cell types. The results of this study should be concluded by 2018.