Soon cardiologists from all over the world could be prescribing Rooibos as part of the therapeutic approach to tackle cardiovascular disease (CVD) – a modern-day epidemic that annually claims a tragic 8.76 million lives worldwide.

So says Prof Amanda Swart from the Biochemistry Department at Stellenbosch University following an in-depth examination of peer-reviewed studies spanning the last two decades that were conducted on the therapeutic potential of Rooibos in the context of heart disease.

“To date, remedial therapy has been largely ineffective, which is evidenced by the growing incidence of CVD globally. In South Africa too, the condition remains the leading cause of death after HIV/AIDS with 56 284 people dying from heart disease every year according to the Heart and Stroke Foundation SA (HSF).

“Globally, there is a major shift toward the use of preventative and complementary supplements to promote well-being and help curb the progression of disease, which also coincides with the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) ‘Traditional Medicine Strategy’, where traditional medicines are being prioritised for the improvement of health. This holds tremendous possibilities not only for patients, but for the Rooibos sector and SA too, as the herb is exclusively farmed in the Western Cape.

“Given the overwhelming body of evidence that exist, Rooibos’ potential, in both alleviating CVD in sufferers and lowering the risk of developing heart disease, is irrefutable,” remarks Prof Swart.

The beneficial effects of Rooibos are largely attributed to the complex mix of antioxidant compounds in Rooibos. Currently 59 of these compounds have been identified of which aspalathin is one of the most abundant and also unique to Rooibos.

CVD goes hand-in-hand with chronic inflammation and its Rooibos’ ability to counter inflammation in the body, that makes it so potent. Based on the studies undertaken in humans and rats, Rooibos offers the following cardio-protective benefits:

1. Antioxidants protect against cell damage, thereby reducing inflammation.
2. It has the potential to lower pro-inflammatory responses and stimulate anti-inflammatory responses.
3. Certain laboratory studies have shown a significant reduction in “bad” LDL- cholesterol levels, while increasing “good” HDL-cholesterol.
4. Supresses the angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE), which is responsible for increasing blood pressure.
5. Reduces cortisol production thus counteracting chronic stress and anxiety. As contributing factors to CVD, stress, anxiety and depression may heighten the risk of heart disease.
6. Decreases blood glucose levels and increases glucose uptake into heart muscle cells.

Prof Swart says future research related to Rooibos should progress to clinical trial phase in earnest, especially since studies suggest that CVD sufferers who regularly drink Rooibos tea, may require altered doses of prescribed medicine.

Research Director for the SA Rooibos Council (SARC), Joe Swart says a significant amount of funds are invested annually to investigate the health and medicinal benefits of Rooibos and that the council intends on proceeding with clinical trials in due course.

The outcome of Prof Swart’s review has been made public during Valentine’s Month, when matters of the heart is foremost on the minds of Mzansians.

To get the most from Rooibos, Prof Swart advises drinking it as a tea, whether it be red or green, which will supply a constant stream of antioxidants, while keeping one sufficiently hydrated.