We’ve heard all about the weight-loss benefits of green tea, but what about our own humble rooibos? Well, according to a recent study led by Dr Hanél Sadie-Van Gijsen, rooibos could just be the key to shedding those stubborn kilos.
Dr Hanél, a senior researcher in the Division of Medical Physiology at Stellenbosch University, and her team are investigating if rooibos’ antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties could curb obesity.
The Ground-Breaking Research
As a stem cell biologist, she chose to use adipose (fat) stem cells (ASCs) in her research. This is a new method that will provide a clearer picture of what happens to the fat under the skin and the fat that surrounds the organs in the abdominal cavity — and how these fat stem cells respond to green (unfermented) rooibos.
She says the study is a first of its kind on the African continent and will generate hard scientific data on the possible effects of green rooibos on the development of fat cells and the function of fat tissue. The project will also enable researchers to learn more about the effects of a high-sugar and high-fat diet on the body.
Given SA’s high obesity rates, with 70% of women and nearly 40% of men being overweight (whoa), the research project has garnered a lot of attention from the scientific community both locally and abroad. Dr Sadie-Van Gijsen says that obesity is among the most common causes of non-communicable diseases (transferable diseases), such as heart disease, hypertension and type-2 diabetes.
Trying to Find Out How Good Fat Turns Bad
“Many of the current weight-loss products on the market simply don’t work or have unpleasant side-effects, so we need to develop products that are more effective and tolerable,” explains Dr Sadie-Van Gijsen.
She says for years, scientists have tried to find a way of blocking or suppressing the formation of new fat cells, but that the trouble with this is that fat tissue needs to perform its storage function. And when no new fat cells are formed, the existing fat cells only become bigger and more dysfunctional. This triggers metabolic diseases such as diabetes and high cholesterol.
“The truth is that our bodies need fat in order to function optimally: it protects our organs, it keeps us warm and it stores excess calories, which otherwise would remain as glucose and fat in the bloodstream, resulting in diabetes, blocked arteries and fatty liver disease. Fat also forms part of our hormonal system, so we can’t do without it,” she explains.
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The Powers of Rooibos
It’s rooibos’ antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that the doc is particularly interested in. Why? Inflammation and oxidative stress are hallmarks of dysfunctional fat and are responsible for the development of many of the diseases associated with obesity.
“By addressing the inflammation and oxidative stress within the fat tissue and fat stem cells, with a product such as rooibos, we may be able to relieve whole-body inflammation and insulin resistance… While also improving the storage function of fat, to help clear glucose and fat from the bloodstream. We know that even after weight-loss, fat stem cells remain dysfunctional to a degree, and we hope that rooibos might also be able to relieve this,” she says.