Rooibos tea is a type of herbal tea that is rich in antioxidants. Though more research is needed, it could also be associated with several benefits and may help protect against certain chronic conditions.
Rooibos tea is gaining popularity as a delicious and healthy drink.
Consumed in southern Africa for centuries, it has become a beloved beverage around the world.
It’s a flavorful, caffeine-free alternative to black and green tea.
What’s more, advocates praise rooibos for its potential health benefits, claiming that its antioxidants can protect against cancer, heart disease, and stroke.
However, you may wonder if these benefits are supported by evidence.
This article explores rooibos tea’s health benefits and potential side effects.
Rooibos tea is also known as red tea or red bush tea.
It is made using leaves from a shrub called Aspalathus linearis, usually grown on the western coast of South Africa (1).
Rooibos is a herbal tea and is not related to black or green tea.
Traditional rooibos is created by fermenting the leaves, which turns them a red-brown color.
Green rooibos, which is not fermented, is also available. It tends to be more expensive and grassier in flavor than the traditional version of the tea, while also boasting more antioxidants (
Rooibos tea is usually consumed like black tea. Some people add milk and sugar — and rooibos iced tea, espressos, lattes, and cappuccinos have also taken off.
Rooibos tea is a traditional beverage made from the leaves of a South African shrub. It is consumed in a similar way to black tea and contains many antioxidants.
Caffeine is a natural stimulant found in both black tea and green tea.
Consuming moderate amounts of caffeine is generally safe (
It may even have some benefits for exercise performance, concentration, and mood (
However, excessive consumption has been linked to heart palpitations, increased anxiety, sleep problems, and headaches (
Therefore, some people choose to avoid or limit caffeine intake.
Because rooibos tea is naturally caffeine-free, it’s an excellent alternative to black or green tea (
Rooibos also has lower tannin levels than regular black or green tea (
Tannins, natural compounds present in green and black tea, interfere with the absorption of certain nutrients, such as iron. However, long-term consumption of tannins doesn’t seem to affect iron levels (
Compared to regular black tea or green tea, rooibos is lower in tannins and free from caffeine.
Rooibos is associated with health benefits due to its high levels of health-promoting antioxidants, which include aspalathin and quercetin (
Antioxidants may help protect cells from damage by free radicals (
Over the long term, antioxidants may also reduce your risk of certain chronic conditions, such as heart disease and cancer (
There is some evidence that rooibos tea can increase antioxidant levels in your body.
However, any increase documented has been small and doesn’t last long.
In one small 2010 study, blood levels of antioxidants increased by 6.6% when participants drank red rooibos and 2.9% when they drank the green variety (15).
This uptick lasted for 5 hours after the participants drank 17 ounces, or 500 milliliters (mL), of tea, which was made with 750 milligrams of rooibos leaves (15).
On the other hand, an older study in 12 healthy men determined that rooibos tea had no significant effects on blood antioxidant levels compared to a placebo (
This is possibly because the antioxidants in rooibos are short-lived or inefficiently absorbed by your body (
Therefore, more high quality, recent research in humans is needed.
Rooibos tea is full of health-promoting antioxidants. However, these antioxidants may be unstable or inefficiently absorbed by your body.
Rooibos tea could support heart health through several mechanisms.
First, drinking rooibos tea may have beneficial effects on blood pressure by inhibiting angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE), according to one older study (
ACE indirectly increases blood pressure by causing your blood vessels to contract (
In a study in 17 people, drinking rooibos tea inhibited ACE activity 30–60 minutes after ingestion. However, this did not translate to any changes in blood pressure (
There is more promising evidence that the tea can improve cholesterol levels.
In a 2011 study in 40 adults with overweight at high risk of heart disease, drinking 6 cups (1,420 mL) of rooibos tea daily for 6 weeks decreased LDL (bad) cholesterol while boosting HDL (good) cholesterol (
Having healthy cholesterol levels is linked with a lower risk of various heart conditions, including heart attacks and stroke (
Rooibos tea may benefit heart health by positively affecting blood pressure. It may also lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and raise HDL (good) cholesterol in those at risk of heart disease.
Some older test-tube studies note that the antioxidants quercetin and luteolin, which are present in rooibos tea, could kill cancer cells and prevent tumor growth (
However, it’s unclear whether rooibos packs enough of these two antioxidants, and whether they’re absorbed efficiently enough by your body to provide benefits.
Therefore, more recent human studies are needed on rooibos and cancer.
Certain antioxidants in rooibos tea have been shown to kill cancer cells and prevent tumor growth in test tubes. However, no human studies have confirmed these effects.
Rooibos tea is rich in antioxidants like aspalathin, which animal studies suggest may be beneficial for diabetes (
One 2009 study in mice with type 2 diabetes found that aspalathin balanced blood sugar levels and reduced insulin resistance, which could prove promising for people who have or are at risk of type 2 diabetes (26).
However, human studies are needed.
Animal studies suggest that specific antioxidants in rooibos tea can help balance blood sugar and improve insulin resistance. However, human research is necessary.
The health claims surrounding rooibos tea vary widely. However, there is a lack of evidence to support many them. Unverified benefits include (
- Bone health: Some test-tube studies suggest that rooibos could enhance the activity of cells that promote bone synthesis while also decreasing the activity of cells that break down bone tissue. However, more research is needed.
- Improved digestion: The tea is often promoted as a way to reduce digestive problems. While one 2006 animal study found that it could improve diarrhea, evidence for this is weak.
- Others: Despite anecdotal reports, there is no strong evidence that rooibos can aid sleep problems, allergies, headaches, or colic.
Of course, the lack of evidence does not necessarily mean that these claims are false — just that they haven’t been studied fully.
There is currently no strong evidence that rooibos tea improves bone health, digestion, sleep, allergies, headaches, or colic.
In general, rooibos is very safe and is not associated with any serious side effects.
One 2010 case study found that drinking large amounts of rooibos tea daily was linked to an increase in liver enzymes, which can often indicate a liver problem. However, this was only one complex case (
Therefore, enjoying rooibos tea in moderation as part of a balanced diet is unlikely to cause issues for most people.
However, more high quality studies in humans are still needed.
Rooibos is safe to drink, and negative side effects are extremely rare.
Rooibos tea is a healthy and delicious beverage.
It is caffeine-free, low in tannins, and rich in antioxidants, which may offer a variety of health benefits.
However, health claims relating to the tea are often anecdotal and not based on strong evidence.
It is still not clear whether the benefits of rooibos tea seen in test-tube and animal studies translate into real-world health benefits for humans.