New anti-ageing data for Rooibos

A Rooibos bush in bloomThe South African wonder herb, Rooibos, is sure to turn the anti-ageing revolution on its head following a new round of research into its potential beyond that of its well-known antioxidant properties.

Rooibos – already a proven agent in thwarting the effects of ageing and promoting general health – has been put through its paces once again. Two leading scientists from Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University initiated the study in an effort to beat the rate at which age-related diseases develop. 

Unique research with favourable results

Lead scientist, Professor 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. It’s this that significantly alters one’s state of health as one ages,’ explains Prof Van de Venter.

Protecting healthy fat tissue

Using various independent in vitro models that mimic specific aspects of the ageing process, Van de Venter and her team established that Rooibos protects preadipocytes from degenerating. Preadipocytes are the predominant cells found in fat tissue. Therefore, Rooibos 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 and mitochondrial dysfunction. The study further proved that Rooibos has the ability to partially restore the function of these aged cells. It also found that both fermented and green Rooibos can protect cells from severe oxidative stress, which firmly establishes this local wonder plant as an anti-ageing proponent.

Inspiring new applications for Rooibos

Co-researcher Dr Trevor Koekemoer emphasised that it’s an important finding that anti-ageing benefits of Rooibos can be ascribed to more than its well-known antioxidant effects.

‘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.

Dr Koekemoer notes however that further research is needed to establish the best route of administration (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.   

It’s not yet clear how much Rooibos tea should be consumed to derive the maximum anti-ageing benefit since only cultured cells were used during experiments. Therefore, additional factors, such as the bioavailability and metabolism of Rooibos when ingested versus 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.

A popular subject for R&D

This research study was commissioned by the Rooibos Council in 2012. Prof Van de Venter and PhD student, Anli Hattingh, have recently embarked on another exciting 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.

The number of scientific papers published investigating the health benefits of Rooibos have increased substantially over the past decade. The rate of scientific investigation is set to be augmented this year by a significant cash injection by the South African Rooibos Council bestowed on independent researchers at a number of local universities and science councils.

Rooibos is part of the fynbos family and endemic to the Cederberg region of the Western Cape.

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