The South African Rooibos Council (SARC) will invest a further R3-million this year to commission additional research into rooibos’ health-enhancing properties, which could yield some of the most exciting new discoveries yet.
Already known for its myriad of health benefits, most of the research done on rooibos has been limited to laboratory work and animal studies. The next tranche of investment will enable researchers to build an even more solid foundation for human trials, and in some instances, to move forward with clinical studies.
Ernest du Toit, spokesperson of the SA Rooibos Council says since research on the remarkable Aspalathus Linearis plant was first conducted, science has proven its therapeutic ability to help prevent cancer, protect the liver and heart against disease, boost the immune system, reduce hypertension, relieve allergies and thwart the effects of aging.
“Rooibos research has reached a critical point where significant investment is required to take it to the next phase, which is likely to pave the way for other important findings and the possible development of nutraceutical products in combatting disease,” he says.
Among the exciting research currently underway is that of rooibos’ effectiveness in curbing altitude sickness. Prof Simeon Davies, Head of the Cape Peninsula University of Technology’s (CPUT) Sports Department led a pilot study to investigate the role of rooibos supplementation on several climbers during an expedition to summit Aconcagua in Argentina, which at 6 962m is the highest mountain in the southern hemisphere.
Many mountaineers who ascend to high altitudes often need to take prescription medication to combat high altitude sickness (HAS), but preliminary findings show that rooibos’ antioxidant compounds has a beneficial outcome for high altitude climbers. Further research related to this has just been approved by the SA Rooibos Council and if successful, rooibos could provide a viable natural alternative to pharmacological medication for HAS.
Ongoing research by the SA Medical Research Council into rooibos’ cancer-fighting properties could see it playing a more prominent role in curbing the risk of this life-threatening disease, while other studies will ascertain the efficacy of rooibos in the treatment of chronic wounds that plague diabetics – a phenomenon which is set to increase as the condition becomes more widespread. Currently, about one in 14 South Africans between the ages of 21 and 79 have diabetes.
Other studies that have been approved by the SA Rooibos Council for the coming year, include:
rooibos’ potential to improve gut health to strengthen the immune system and prevent disease (SA Medical Research Council and two Taiwanese institutions: National Tsing Hua University and National Health Research Institute);
determining the extent to which rooibos can combat chronic inflammation to prevent and/or alleviate metabolic diseases (SA Medical Research Council);
delving deeper into the balancing effects of rooibos on high and low blood pressure (Stellenbosch University);
strengthening the case for rooibos as a complementary treatment in the prevention and management of heart disease;
assessing the effect of rooibos tea extract in lowering the blood glucose response after prediabetic subjects consume a known glucose concentration (Waiariki Institute of Technology, New Zealand)
Over the past decade, the SA Rooibos Council has invested more than R30-million in research, which has given rise to a host of new products and markets.
Rooibos is arguably one of the most successful indigenous plant products to be commercialised with global consumption currently at 15 000 tons. It is exported to more than 30 countries with Germany, the Netherlands, Japan, the UK and US among the biggest importers of rooibos.
Du Toit notes that by continuing to invest in research and keeping a close eye on studies done overseas and locally, the SA Rooibos Council is not only able to provide scientific evidence of the plant’s specific health benefits, but also to police inaccurate or unsubstantiated claims on behalf of the rooibos industry.
“As the guardian of the rooibos sector, we have also lobbied for the protection of rooibos products elsewhere in the world and in 2014, the European Union finally recognised rooibos as a Geographic Indicator (GI), which means that local rooibos manufacturers have exclusive ownership of rooibos trademarks and IP, and that the use of the rooibos name will only be applicable to products that come from South Africa, which are officially approved by the DTI, guaranteeing quality control.
“Rooibos is a unique South African plant, which offers almost limitless health benefits. The plant’s medicinal properties continue to astound scientists, and I believe we’ve only just scratched the surface of Rooibos’ incredible healing potential. We are entering an exciting period of research, which could have a significant impact on the rooibos industry and is sure to pave a bright future for one of SA’s most sought-after herbal assets,” concludes du Toit.