Statistics show that one in four South Africans will be affected by cancer in their lifetime, and according to the Cancer Association of South Africa (Cansa), this disease will be the leading cause of death globally in 2010.
With 12 million new cases of cancer diagnosed last year alone, the pressure is mounting to better understand the development of cancer and ways in which you could protect yourself against it. Rooibos, a tea grown exclusively in South Africa, may just hold some of the answers.
“We have been investigating the effect of rooibos on various kinds of cancer for years and have been able to prove the benefits of rooibos in preventing or slowing down different kinds of cancer,” says Dr Jeanine Marnewick of the Cape Peninsula University of Technology who also worked on rooibos and cancer at the Medical Research Council (MRC) for many years.
Rooibos inhibits the growth of cancer cells
“We have found that green rooibos, the unfermented version of the tea, significantly inhibits the growth of cancer cells, and that traditionally-prepared red rooibos teaalso achieves this effect, albeit at a slightly lower rate.”
Dr Wentzel Gelderblom, an authority on cancer chemoprevention using herbal teas, continues to lead this research effort at the MRC.
In 2008 the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, a leading international research journal, published a 37-page review of more than fifty years of rooibos research. It confirms that rooibos is a great source of flavonoid antioxidants which have many positive effects.
“Oxidative stress plays a role in the development of a whole range of diseases, including cancer, strokes, heart and liver disease, diabetes and Alzheimer’s,” explains Dr Marnewick.
Dr Carl Albrecht, Head of Research at Cansa, says that Cansa is impressed with the ongoing rooibos research which it supports financially.
“We believe that there is a strong case to be made that rooibos could help to prevent cancer. This has been shown in animals and we look forward to similar work in humans in the future. In this regard it is very promising that it has been shown that six cups of rooibos per day have significantly increased the body’s own anti-oxidant, called glutathione, in humans. Glutathione is known to prevent cancer.”
Cancer develops in different stages. When a living cell is excessively exposed to external factors like cigarette smoke, alcohol, the sun, pesticides, chemicals, viruses or even a high fat or high salt diet, its DNA may be damaged. These external factors are known as mutagens, and the process is called mutagenesis.
With even more exposure to these external factors, the cell may lose its ability to control the growth process and thus becomes a cancer cell. If the exposure continues, the cancer cell can start to multiply and form a mass of cells, called a tumor.
Dr Marnewick explains that rooibos protects against cancer in different ways:
- Rooibos reduces cancer-associated changes in cells by protecting them against DNA damage or mutagenesis. Rooibos contains quercetin, luteolin and orientin — potent anti-oxidants that scavenge free radicals that damage the DNA of the cells. Rooibos’ antioxidants bind to the free radicals and inactivate them before they can cause damage.
- Rooibos may prevent a cell with damaged DNA from becoming a cancerous cell.
- Rooibos may prevent cancerous cells from multiplying into masses and creating cancerous tumors.
- Rooibos increases the level of natural anti-oxidants in the liver, which means that the liver’s anti-oxidant status is improved.
- Rooibos also helps the liver to get rid of compounds that can cause cancer.
Cancer is one of the most feared diseases of our time. It is therefore excellent news that a uniquely South African rooibos, a product that is widely available and very affordable, can play such an important role in cancer prevention. On top of its cancer-fighting properties, rooibos also helps to fight heart disease, skin irritations, irritability and many more ailments.