Despite numerous advances in medical technology the prevalence of heart disease continues to escalate. In South Africa, it remains the number one killer after HIV/AIDS and deaths related to heart and blood vessel diseases are expected to increase by 41% in the next 13 years.
Experts are now saying there may be merit in incorporating alternative ways to prevent and treat heart disease.
The challenge, according to Dr Dawie van Velden – a medical professional with an interest in integrative medicine and whole person wellness – is that the prevalence of the major risk factors behind cardiovascular disease (CVD) has increased substantially in the last decade.
“The biggest single risk factor by far is high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, which affects one in three South African adults. Hypertension is exacerbated by poor eating habits, obesity, lack of physical activity and excessive alcohol intake.
“Across the world, we are seeing a huge move towards alternative and more natural ways of treating illnesses, such as heart disease, which is primarily a result of poor lifestyle behaviours. These natural methods include everything from diet, exercise, smoking cessation to destressing via music therapy, meditation, and even drinking home-brewed rooibos tea,” he remarks.
We know that a diet low in salt and sugar, and regular exercise can lower your risk of heart disease, but just how might rooibos tea help your heart and how strong is the evidence?
A study conducted in Sweden found that 30 to 60 minutes after drinking 400ml of Rooibos, the activity of the angiotensin-converting enzyme or ACE is significantly suppressed. This enzyme is believed to be involved in the development of heart disease and therefore ACE inhibitors are often prescribed to treat hypertension and heart disease.
Dr van Velden explains that when blood vessels constrict, blood pressure increases, putting you at greater risk of heart attack or stroke. “Rooibos tea is known as a bronchodilator, which not only relieves respiratory conditions, but also reduces high blood pressure. It works in similar fashion to ACE inhibitors and helps blood vessels to relax and widen, making it easier for blood to flow through.
“Spanish researchers also found that drinking rooibos can prevent the development of heart disease by preventing the liver from storing excessive fat under the skin and around major organs, while another study by the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) showed a positive effect in adults at risk of heart disease, who drank six cups of Rooibos every day for six weeks. The study found that rooibos not only protected against oxidative lipid damage, but also favourably improved the lipid profile of the participants by reducing total blood cholesterol levels by 10%, with a significant reduction in “bad” LDL cholesterol levels, as well as a significant increase in the “good” HDL-cholesterol.
“I’m not saying that you should abandon conventional treatment, but there is a mounting body of scientific evidence which shows that rooibos tea is a potent antioxidant, has anti-inflammatory, antihypertensive and cholesterol lowering properties.
“Drinking rooibos tea ticks a lot of the boxes when it comes to maintaining heart health, so make it a daily health choice alongside your five or six portions a day of fruit and vegetables. Rooibos tea as part of a healthy diet and lifestyle may play a signifcant role in preventing cardiovascular disease,” says Dr van Velden.
According to the SA Rooibos Council (SARC), the main heart-health promoting substances in rooibos may be attributed to the polyphenolic antioxidants in this herbal tea. Rooibos tea contain flavones and flavonols such as quercetin that exhibits an ACE inhibitory action. It helps to prevent and treat cardiovascular disease by inhibiting the migration of smooth muscle cells inside the arteries, a key cause of the narrowing or hardening of the arteries that may lead to a heart attack. These phytochemicals help to lower blood pressure and may relieve vasoconstriction.