Rooibos could be just the cup of tea to get people through the Covid-19 pandemic.
Biotechnologists at Cape Peninsula University of Technology say many of the SA red tea’s health-promoting qualities could “play a supportive role” during infections and among high-risk people.
Writing in the Journal of Functional Foods, postdoctoral fellow Naeem Sheik Abdul and Prof Jeanine Marnewick said: “However, it must be noted that rooibos is not a drug or substitute for clinical treatment of Covid-19.”
The potential benefits of rooibos include “modulating the risk of some of the comorbidities associated with Covid-19″, said the scientists from CPUT’s Applied Microbial and Health Biotechnology Institute.
In addition, they said, “studies suggest [rooibos] has potent antioxidant, antiviral and immunomodulating effects which enhance the body’s natural defence system”.
Since oxidative stress and excessive inflammation are key features of Covid-19, they said, rooibos is likely to help.
“Medicinal plant interventions have been used in previous coronavirus outbreaks, suggesting the tremendous potential of natural products to provide treatment for the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
“The use of botanicals as economically viable intervention strategies is gaining attention in underdeveloped countries, where the fight against poverty combined with the uncertain management of Covid-19 are considered as major hurdles in combating the rampant spread of the virus.”
Hypertension, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases have emerged as the main comorbidities that worsen outcomes for Covid-19 patients, said Abdul and Marnewick.
Many patients eventually die from multiple organ failure, shock, acute respiratory distress syndrome, heart failure and renal failure.
“The scientific community should therefore pay attention to interventions that could play a supportive role in alleviating potential multi-organ injuries and the original comorbidities of the individual, which will support treatment regimens for Covid-19, especially in older and/or vulnerable patients.
“Rooibos … may provide a supportive approach when dealing with specific comorbidities during this pandemic.”
Clinical evidence had shown daily rooibos consumption improves the condition of adults at risk of cardiovascular disease.
“Numerous lines of scientific evidence advocate for rooibos to be of benefit — both as a preventive approach … and as a complementary or supportive dietary approach to improve long-term prognosis in the Covid-19 vulnerable population.
“Rooibos has a low toxicity profile and though the direct evidence for a rooibos application in Covid-19 is currently unclear, numerous animal models and increasing human studies have documented its efficacy and safety in several relevant chronic non-communicable diseases, such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes, oxidative distress, and inflammation as a support for general health and wellbeing.
“Its use during this pandemic by those with and without comorbidities, as part of their daily health regime, could be highly beneficial.”
In June, rooibos — which grows in the Cederberg area of the Western Cape — became the first African product to receive the international protection designation from the European Commission.
Martin Bergh, MD of Rooibos Ltd, said this means only rooibos produced in SA’s winter rainfall area can use the rooibos name.