Obesity has become a major life-threatening disorder roughly affecting around one-third of the world’s population.
If the budding risk factors and markers remain unmonitored, then as per statistical predictions, a massive 38% of the world’s adult population is bound to become overweight and 4% will be obese by 2030.
These disorders denote conditions wherein the body weight exceeds the healthy limit marked for a certain height.
But having a heavy body weight is not the single most important marker of obesity as it fails to consider the overall composition of the body.
The measure of the fat mass (FM) or the adiposity is actually a more reliable indicator as it directly affects the metabolism.
Being overweight or obese increases the risk of developing chronic diseases such as coronary heart disease (CHD), cardiovascular disease (CVD), diabetes mellitus (DM), depression and anxiety and even certain cancers.
The advent of obesity in childhood is an alarming scenario as it often prepones the risk of developing morbid diseases.
Obesity is a major outcome of an imbalance between energy intake and expenditure. When the intake of calories greatly exceeds that expended by physical work, fat accumulation occurs to store the excess energy.
Physical inactivity, regular consumption of hyperpalatable (high-sugar and high-fat) foods, irregular sleeping patterns, psychological and physical stress, genetics and a predisposition to weight gain, and even specific drugs that decrease metabolic rates can contribute to obesity.
Due to the global threat posed by obesity, extensive studies and surveys have been undertaken to combat and reduce the risks associated with this disorder.
A Lifestyle change with increased physical activity and proper intake of nutrients is the key to preventing obesity.
Weight loss by stimulating the metabolism and promoting fat burn is the key to treating the disorder. Studies have shown that herbal infusions rich in antioxidants, particularly rooibos tea, help in weight loss by stimulating the oxidation of fats.
Before we delve into the benefits of rooibos tea, let us learn more about it.
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What is Rooibos Tea?
Rooibos, which means ‘red bush’, is a member of the legume or bean family which naturally grows in the Cederberg mountains of South Africa.
The bushes are characterized by their broomlike appearance and fine, needle-shaped leaves. These leaves began to be cultivated for the production of tea upon the arrival of Dutch settlers at the Western Cape of South Africa.
The tea leaves are made to undergo oxidation (or fermentation), which is a series of chemical reactions that cause the enzymatic breakdown of chlorophyll.
This process helps in enhancing the distinctive reddish-brown colour and aroma of the rooibos or ‘bush’ tea. It has a similar flavour to hibiscus tea.
An unoxidized green tea variant is also produced which carries a slightly grassier flavour.
Coming to the nutritional profile, this tea is rich in Vitamins C and E. It also contains several bioactive compounds that exhibit antioxidant activity such as polyphenols including flavonoids, nothofagin, and aspalathin.
These compounds help in lowering oxidative stress in the body and promote healthy liver function, prevent urinary tract infections, boost immunity, delay skin ageing, improve heart health and accelerate cellular repair mechanisms.
One of the most unique advantages provided by rooibos tea is that being low in tannins, it does not affect iron absorption by the body. Most black teas contain tannin, a bitter-tasting polyphenolic substance that enhances aroma and colour.
Tannins affect the iron uptake from plant sources and, therefore, excessive intake of black tea might result in suboptimal iron levels. Thus, rooibos tea offers a healthier alternative.
The bush tea does not contain caffeine which is a stimulant that affects the nervous system by acting as a psychoactive drug.
Caffeine is commonly found in beverages like tea and coffee. Indiscriminate consumption of caffeinated drinks often leads to hyper-activeness and insomnia.
Therefore, rooibos tea, lacking caffeine, helps in relaxing and promoting sleep.
Benefits of Rooibos Tea for Weight Loss
The benefits of drinking rooibos tea can be linked to the presence of several important polyphenols, some of which are aspalathin, nothofagin, and quercetin. These phytochemicals are anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative and help in lowering arterial plaque formation. This promotes healthy functioning of the heart, lowering the chances of cardiovascular diseases. The antioxidants also act as fat burners by stimulating the release of fat-regulating hormones.
Drinking rooibos tea also lowers diabetes due to the hypoglycemic effect of the polyphenols. This is accompanied with the loss abdominal fat. As it lacks caffeine, this red tea helps in relaxing the body and reduces stress-induced weight gain. The vitamins present in rooibos tea also promote liver function and removal of lipophilic toxins.
1. Rooibos Tea Improves Heart Health
During the lifetime of an average human, the heart beats approximately 2.5 billion times pumping gallons of blood to every part of the body.
The sturdy and unwavering flow of blood carries oxygen for respiration, glucose for energy, nutrients for tissue growth, hormones for signalling and a host of different compounds that sustain life.
Optimum functioning of the heart is, therefore, imperative to carry forward the different metabolic processes. The heart rate is also an indicator of fitness levels and endurance capacity.
Physical activities amplify the rate at which energy is needed by the muscles and hence, the heart speeds up to allow more oxygen to be carried to the tissues during a shorter time.
This helps to increase calorie expenditure.
However, unhealthy and sedentary lifestyles can hamper the normal functioning of the heart. High blood pressure and hypertension are the early outcomes of such lifestyles.
Consumption of saturated fats can lead to atherosclerosis or plaque formation inside the arterial walls due to the deposition of cholesterol. Persistent arterial thickenings can lead to coronary artery disease (CAD), cardiovascular disease (CVD), heart attack, and stroke.
The development of CAD and CVD are markers of obesity or excess body fat in the form of cholesterol. Hence, weight loss measures should work to normalize the functioning of the heart.
Studies have shown that rooibos tea contains the flavonoids, chrysoeriol, and quercetin, that reduce blood pressure and inflammation caused by atherosclerosis.
A 2015 study by the Kyungpook National University investigated the role of aspalathin and nothofagin, two polyphenols unique to rooibos tea.
The results showed that these compounds had marked anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activities which helped in lowering the lipoprotein cholesterol-mediated vascular damage, i.e, damage to the heart and blood vessels.
Hence, drinking rooibos tea promotes heart health.
What does it mean?
As the polyphenols in rooibos tea help in lowering atherosclerosis and combat the damage to the arterial walls, they help in eliminating CVD and cholesterol build-up in the blood vessels. This helps in counteracting obesity.
2. Rooibos Tea Burns Fat
After the breakdown of triacylglycerol, fat is stored in adipocytes or fat cells.
Along with plasma cells, fat cell precursors, and endothelial cells, adipocytes constitute the adipose tissue.
This dynamic tissue also exerts an endocrine effect by secreting a number of biochemically important signalling molecules (hormones) known as adipokines/adipocytokines. These hormones affect the basal metabolic rate or BMR.
Fat is deposited as an energy reserve whenever the energy intake exceeds the expenditure. If the metabolism is relatively slow and intake is high, fat gets stored in the adipocytes.
As per the need for storage, fat cell precursors can keep differentiating to produce mature adipocytes for life.
In order to reduce the fat mass and lose weight, the BMR must be increased and the metabolism must be shifted in favour of fat oxidation wherein the stored fats become the main source of metabolic energy.
In this context, fat burners refer to nutrients that enhance the oxidation of fat or fat ‘burn’ to release energy.
A collaborative study by the Louisiana State University and the Pennington Biomedical Research Center observed the role of the bioflavonoid, quercetin, in increasing energy expenditure.
They found that quercetin positively increased the generation of energy and reduced inflammation, which is a marker of obesity. It helped in promoting fat burn.
These effects were mostly because of the inhibition of lipoprotein lipase (LPL) activity that promotes fat storage in adipose tissue.
Quercetin and other bioflavonoids found in rooibos tea prevent the accumulation of lipids by inhibiting lipogenic enzymes and stimulating the release of leptin, a hormone which promotes fat burn.
What does it mean?
As rooibos tea is rich in phytochemicals (plant-derived bioactive compounds), its intake prevents lipid accumulation and enhances the metabolism of fats by promoting the oxidation of fatty acids, i.e. fat burn to meet energy requirements. This causes the shrinkage of adipocytes and helps in lowering obesity.
3. Rooibos Tea Has Anti-Diabetic Effect
The simple sugar glucose provides energy for metabolic processes and is obtained through dietary sources that have carbohydrates.
Upon the ingestion of foods like fruits, cereals, and starchy vegetables, the complex carbohydrates get broken down and converted into glucose molecules which enter into systemic circulation, thereby, raising the blood glucose level.
The blood glucose level is simply a measure of the glucose present in the bloodstream at a given time. The amount often depends on the amount and type of food ingested.
As the energy requirements are fulfilled, the excess sugar gets stored in the liver as glycogen. The body replenishes the blood glucose at the expense of glycogen once there is a demand for it.
In order to maintain a stable internal environment, the blood glucose level is strictly monitored and controlled. Insulin is the major hormone involved in lowering blood glucose.
It does so by stimulating its uptake by the hepatic, muscle, or fat cells when there is a need for energy. Insulin also stimulates the conversion of glucose to the glycogen and its storage in the liver.
Diabetes mellitus (DM) is the condition of consistent hyperglycemia, i.e., a condition wherein the blood glucose levels are persistently high.
Type 1 DM or juvenile diabetes occurs due to a lack of insulin secretion whereas Type 2 DM is caused due to insulin resistance, i.e, insensitivity of cells to respond to insulin.
This is particularly seen in individuals suffering from abdominal obesity as the build-up of adipocytes reduces sensitivity to insulin signals.
An experimental study conducted by the Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology observed the effect of aspalathin, found in rooibos tea, on hyperglycemic and obese mice.
The results showed that this antioxidant also had anti-diabetic potential as it exhibited a hypoglycemic effect i.e, lower blood glucose levels.
It also affected lipogenesis and reduced the accumulation of abdominal fat as seen in most T2DM patients.
What does it mean?
Aspalathin present in rooibos tea has noted anti-diabetic potential and can reduce blood glucose level. It also reduces abdominal fat brought about by T2DM and hence can potentially help in lowering weight.
4. Rooibos Tea Relieves Stress
Stress refers to any situation that upsets the normal relationship between an individual and their surrounding environment.
Daily life is replete with stressful situations that range from workplace stress to academic, emotional to physical stresses, and many others due to mental health issues.
In response to an elevated stress level, many hormonal changes take place in the body that often upsets regular lifestyle patterns, particularly sleep.
The stimulation of the brain, particularly the pituitary or the ‘master gland’, takes place. This results in a surge in plasma levels of stress hormones like cortisol. Abdominal obesity has been associated with the excessive release of cortisol.
The thyroid is also affected by chronic stress and that has severe physiological impacts. Secretion of the thyroid hormones, T3 and T4, gets lowered when there is a cortisol surge.
As a result, the metabolic rate gets lowered and deposition of fats occur. Due to cortisol, the body starts maintaining a reserve of energy and proliferation of adipocytes occur.
Cortisol down-regulates the activity of the fat-regulating hormones like leptin and enhances the activity of the hunger hormone, ghrelin.
This results in an increased food intake which is commonly referred to as ‘stress-eating’. The stress hormone also stimulates the storage of most nutrients as fat.
Stress, therefore, acts as a precursor to developing obesity and diabetes. Weight-loss diets should incorporate foods that lower the stress levels and help in relaxation.
Most beverages such as black tea and coffee contain the nervous system stimulant, caffeine, which does not help in relaxing the mind.
A study by the University of the Witwatersrand Medical School investigated the caffeine content of several non-alcoholic beverages.
The results showed that rooibos tea is free of caffeine and contains several antioxidants that help in relieving stress levels. Hence, rooibos tea helps in mitigating the physiological effects of cortisol.
What does it mean?
The African red tea counteracts the effects of chronic stress by relaxing the mind and body that normalizes sleep patterns. As a result, weight gain related to stress is prevented.
5. Rooibos Tea Eliminates Toxins
A class of toxins that escape the metabolism and accumulate in tissues is known as persistent organic pollutants (or POPs).
They have different routes of entry into the body but the most significant is oral ingestion of high-fat foods.
Processed and fermented meats such as beef, pork sausages, and even dairy products like cheese are veritable sources of these POPs.
POPs are lipophilic in nature which means that they dissolve in fat. Hence, upon escaping the detoxification reactions that constitute the metabolism, they get deposited in the adipocytes.
This is because the adipose tissue, besides helping in storage and secreting hormones, also has a protective function. It prevents the toxins from affecting the internal organs.
Studies have proved that excess body fat improves the bodily resistance to the corrosive effects of the POPs.
This corresponds to the fact that the accumulation of lipophilic toxins in the body results in a consequential increase in visceral fat, i.e, fat mass surrounding the organs.
Toxin build-up is one of the major reasons contributing to inflammation and obesity.
Detox diets have, therefore, emerged as popular measures to counteract the effects of obesity by stimulating toxin removal. Several vitamins, particularly A, B-complex, C, and E, have been proven to aid in detoxification.
This is achieved by facilitating the liver to improve its detox activity and also by relieving oxidative damage as these vitamins exhibit antioxidant abilities.
Many studies have established that rooibos tea is rich in vitamins and polyphenols that act as antioxidants.
These bioactive phytochemicals play a major role in reducing oxidative damage to tissues and removing POPs from the body.
What does it mean?
The vitamins and polyphenols present in the tea help in stimulating toxin removal and inhibiting free radical damage by supporting the detox reactions. Since adipose tissue expansion corresponds with a build-up of toxin levels, their removal automatically lowers the fat mass. Hence, rooibos tea helps in losing weight.
There is no recommended dosage for using rooibos tea to achieve weight loss.
Rooibos tea can be prepared either directly from an infusion of dried/fresh leaves or by using tea bags. It can also be enjoyed as a cup of refreshing iced tea.
In order to make the tea from leaves, the leaves need to be washed and dried appropriately. Following that, 1 teaspoon of leaves is added to 1 cup of boiling water to prepare the infusion.
Enough water should be added to submerge the leaves.
The leaves should be allowed to steep for about 3-5 minutes before straining and pouring out the water. Lime juice and honey can be added to enhance the flavour.
In order to prepare the iced tea, ice cubes should be added to the teapot after mixing the lime juice and honey. Organic rooibos tea bags are also available and can be easily used to prepare the brew by adding one bag per cup of boiling water.
Rooibos tea is generally considered to be safe for daily consumption and provides a healthier alternative to caffeinated beverages. Negative side-effects are quite rare and very few cases have been reported.
In 2010, a case of hepatoxicity (chemical-driven liver damage) had been reported due to an excessive daily intake of rooibos tea.
This happened because the tea increases the secretion of hepatic enzymes whose activities, in turn, damaged the internal structure and integrity of the liver.
Another potential side-effect caused by drinking large amounts of rooibos tea is increased oestrogenic activity. This is generally accompanied by a surge in oestrogen production which can be especially harmful to women suffering from breast cancer.
This is because the cancer is sensitive to hormone levels and enhanced oestrogen activity can amplify its growth.
Consumers should also be careful while purchasing the tea as raw tea leaves contain harmful bacteria such as Salmonella which can cause diseases.
To conclude, it can be said that rooibos tea provides several health benefits that improve the quality of life, particularly for overweight and obese individuals.
Being rich in vitamins, minerals, and polyphenols like quercetin, aspalathin, and chrysoeriol, it lowers inflammation and oxidative stress.
It promotes heart health by reducing the damage caused by atherosclerosis. The polyphenols also act as fat burners stimulating the breakdown of fat for energy.
Rooibos tea has a hypoglycemic effect and reduces diabetes-related abdominal obesity. It also reduces the levels of cortisol and mitigates its effect on the body.
Being non-caffeinated, it promotes sleep and a healthy metabolic rate that supports weight loss. Finally, it helps in losing visceral fat by detoxifying the body.