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Spanish research finds rooibos helps prevent liver disease

Researchers in Spain have found new evidence that rooibos protects the liver against the accumulation of fat and can help to prevent metabolic diseases.

The study was conducted by a consortium of Spanish researchers working at hospitals and universities and published in Phytomedicine[1], an international journal. It sought to establish the benefits of consuming rooibos in mice with elevated levels of fat in their blood after being fed a high-fat western-style diet.

The key findings are:

  • Rooibos helps to significantly reduce cholesterol, triglycerides(the chemical form in which most fats exist) and free fatty acids;
  • It changes the number and size of the fat cells and completely prevents the development of fatty liver disease – a condition where fat accumulates in the cells of the liver.

In their findings the researchers point out that by preventing the liver storing excessive fat, rooibos may help avert more serious health conditions. The study confirms existing research that rooibos protects the liver against disease.

Based on the data, the Spanish researchers believe that the polyphenols (chemical compounds with antioxidant properties found in plants) in rooibos help to activate a key liver enzyme that in turn, helps to control metabolic processes in the liver cells.

The enzyme, known as AMPK, helps liver cells to switch from producing fatty acids and cholesterol to oxidising fatty acids and glucose. This led the researchers to recommend including polyphenols in a healthy diet.

Polyphenols are abundant in rooibos and South African studies show that consuming six cups a day, whether hot or cold, provides the optimal health benefit.

Given global concerns about the growing incidence of overweight and obese people and related medical conditions, rooibos is increasingly being investigated as a way to provide safe and effective complementary therapy.

The World Health organisation predicts that by 2015 more than 2.3 billion adults will be overweight and more than 700 million will be obese. This is up from 1.5 million who were overweight and 500 million who were obese in 2008. WHO statistics show that in 2010 nearly 43 million children under five were overweight. According to the organisation, overweight and obesity, once considered a problem only in high-income countries, are now dramatically on the rise in low- and middle- income countries, particularly in cities.

The South African Rooibos Council is currently funding a local research project into the potential benefits of rooibos in dealing with some of the health consequences of obesity.

The Spanish research adds to a growing body of scientific evidence on the health benefits of rooibos, which has proven therapeutic ability to help prevent heart attacks, strokes and cancer, boost the immune system, relieve allergies and treat digestive disorders.

[1] Beltrán-Debóna, et al. 2011. Continuous administration of polyphenols from aqueous rooibos (Aspalathus linearis) extract ameliorates dietary-induced metabolic disturbances in hyperlipidemic mice. Phytomedicine. Abstract at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21211952

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