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Rooibos tea: paleo or poison?

by (15583)
Updated about 20 hours ago
Created March 11, 2010 at 10:07 AM

Following on from the discussion of things it's safe to drink a lot of what do people think about rooibos (red) tea?

I used to drink a lot of it, typically brewed the traditional way, i.e. as strong as it can possibly be. Being full of antioxidants, phytochemicals, phenols etc, I naturally assumed this was healthy, especially since it lacked caffeine and was low in tannins. However, through the lens of paleo, I'm reconsidering whether this is likely to be a good idea. Presumably in a natural setting we wouldn't have had access to large amounts of various of these plant compounds (unless you assume we were just eating lots of vegetation generally). If we apply the 'plant compounds are probably there to keep predators away' reasoning, then the presence of lots of bioactive chemicals in rooibos doesn't look a good thing at all. Nevertheless, simply looking at the broad category of plant polyphenols, there do seem to be a lot of positive effects to be had.

Of course these are all generalities. There is some research done on the actual effects of rooibos' compounds, but what are people's general intuitions about the healthiness of rooibos (or other such teas)?

De7aafde172289ab942f17f0d271d8ff
15 · April 25, 2014 at 1:44 AM

I have the exact same problem! I'm sensitive to caffeine (especially black tea and coffee) and rooibos. It also causes me anxiety.

Eb87941a669017dfb288d296cc672130
45 · January 15, 2014 at 2:56 PM

There's a spectrum. It's not "paleo" or "poison." For tea, I would say maybe paleo (depending on the type) and probably benign.

5e36f73c3f95eb4ea13a009f4936449f
8255 · January 15, 2014 at 7:04 AM

No, but then I have no idea what your "stress relief" tea really is. You should look at the ingredients. Most likely it is some sort of herbal concoction and not really a tea plant tea.

F645ed4fcaf5b93f72ab017b303d1bdc
3 · October 19, 2011 at 3:37 PM

Swedish albinos-ROTFLMAO. Thanks Jay for helping me release some feel good chemicals by laughing my head off. That really tickled my funny bonee for some reason.

E35e3d76547b18096a59c90029e7e107
15583 · July 16, 2011 at 12:14 PM

Maybe you're tannin insensitive. A lot of the stomach disturbance, jitters, headache and so on that I thought must be the caffeine (naturally), were in fact, caused by tannins, and can be set off even by something like cumin. If I have just caffeine pills (with a higher dose of caffeine) I don't get these symptoms, even though I'd still eventually get some caffeine jitters much later. I'm ok with light green rooibos, but sometimes red rooibos makes me feel sick (milk or food reduces this) and tetleys teabags always do (v astringent- tannins).

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1219 · March 15, 2010 at 2:45 PM

Humans evolved in the Tropics (likely the east African highlands) for millions of years and have only been outside of that cradle for a blink of an eye. Swedish albinos are evolved quite well to eat coconuts.

E35e3d76547b18096a59c90029e7e107
15583 · March 13, 2010 at 10:08 AM

They've been eating it since much further back, but my point was that "few people" have been consuming either tea or coconut for very long. Unless humans adapted to coconut before splitting off into various populations, I wouldn't have thought that a northern european like myself, would have had access to coconut (at least not for a hundred thousand years).

15d23403fb836f2b506f4f3ad2c03356
1219 · March 12, 2010 at 4:31 PM

There are literally tens of thousands. I will try to dig through google scholar (an amazing resource if you don't already know) to find a few good ones to show.

93f44e8673d3ea2294cce085ebc96e13
10502 · March 12, 2010 at 7:34 AM

Excellent question David. I have come to similar conclusions.

9d43f6873107e17ca4d1a5055aa7a2ad
56606 · March 11, 2010 at 11:57 PM

People have been eating Coconut for waaaaaaaaaaaay longer than they have been drinking tea.

Eae21abfabb19c4617b2630386994fd9
1972 · March 11, 2010 at 11:47 PM

It would be interesting to see the studies you are talking about. I know the "recent study" you are talking about: http://donmatesz.blogspot.com/2010/02/natural-supplements-cocktail-extends.htm Again, it is impossible to determine that any of the benefit was from phytochemicals- the researchers specifically cautioned against that and stated they would continue their research and try to determine which of the supplements actually had the effect.

15d23403fb836f2b506f4f3ad2c03356
1219 · March 11, 2010 at 8:17 PM

Animal models mostly test surrogate markers of disease (lipid values, blood pressure, serum blood sugar, COX-2 inhibition, etc), with the result that they are only as valid as the model of the disease. However, there are also a number of studies on animal cancer that test tumor progression/metastasis, a more robust surrogate marker. There was a also a recent study that showed that various nutritional supplements increase lifespan in mice.

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1972 · March 11, 2010 at 7:25 PM

David, hormesis is fine with me, if it was explained that way I wouldn't be so suspicious.

Eae21abfabb19c4617b2630386994fd9
1972 · March 11, 2010 at 7:21 PM

Jay, even if there were good *causal* evidence that eating fruits and vegetables promotes great health, it would be a stretch to pin that on polyphenols. The in vivo studies led to the false theory that polyphenols act directly as anti-oxidants- we now know they generally they are poorly absorbed and quickly removed. I think the animal models are most compelling, it would be interesting to see an overview of that research.

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1219 · March 11, 2010 at 7:11 PM

Agree that the body is complicated and simply models almost always fail. There is great mileage in preventing deficiencies in vitamins and minerals and almost no benefit to overdoing it. Polyphenols in quantities obtainable from foods (remembering that paleo foods probably had more than modern foods) are very likely extremely healthy. Taking a pill with 20X the RDA for beta carotene, not so healthy.

E35e3d76547b18096a59c90029e7e107
15583 · March 11, 2010 at 6:56 PM

Yeh I certainly like it. I'm not sure that I think it's safer than green tea because of the shorter history though... still perfectly possible that green tea is just slightly harmful. We're basically looking at two of cocktails of polyphenols, nothing particularly unique, so it's probably not indicative that few people historically have drunk rooibos (like coconut) and lots of people have drunk true tea... the main point is that there's not been time for most people to have evolved to the consumption of either.

E35e3d76547b18096a59c90029e7e107
15583 · March 11, 2010 at 6:51 PM

That's a good point HR, a large part of my interest in this question is about the polyphenol/phytonutrients/magic plant compounds question. I agree with Jay that there's a lot of evidence that various of these compounds do have very positive effects (cf nephropal), but I agree it's silly to just think that "masses of antioxidants" would be a good plan. I'm not necessarily concerned about the fact that the compounds produce a defensive response, if they still seem to be a net good, maybe it's hormesis!

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1219 · March 11, 2010 at 5:29 PM

There is a tremendous amount of data suggesting that plant polyphenols promote good health. 1. Epidemiology. Hundreds of studies show that people that eat more fresh fruits and vegetables get fewer cancers and heart attacks and live longer. 2. Mechanistic. Hundreds of in vivo studies show diverse benefits. 3. Animal models. Polyphenols protect animals from disease.

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14 Answers

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1972 · March 11, 2010 at 4:49 PM

Maybe you should ask this as a question about polyphenols in general. I tend to think along the lines of Stephen: (not using the quote feature to preserve the links)

As a little side note, polyphenols are those wonderful plant antioxidants that are one of the main justifications for the supposed health benefits of vegetables, tea, chocolate, fruits and antioxidant supplements. The problem is, many of them are actually anti-nutrients. They reduce mineral absorption, reduce growth and feed efficiency in a number of species, and the antioxidant effect seen in human plasma after eating them is due largely to our own bodies secreting uric acid into the blood (a defense mechanism?), rather than the polyphenols themselves. The main antioxidants in plasma are uric acid, vitamin C and vitamin E, with almost no direct contribution from polyphenols. I'm open to the idea that some polyphenols could be beneficial if someone can show me convincing data, but in any case they are not the panacea they're made out to be.

(End Quote)

If you were told there is a compound that the body works to get rid of and triggers increased productions of anti-oxidants, the natural conclusion would be to assume the body recognizes it as harmful and that you shouldn't take it. Instead we are all being tricked to think they are directly preventing oxidation in our body.

I too am trying to remain open-minded that polyphenols could be beneficial, but I just don't like how we are all being tricked on a main point. I drink tea for the moderate levels of caffeine, not because I expect it to make me healthy. Tea consumption has a long history in traditional cultures, so I doubt it could be very harmful.


Update: there are claims that there is strong evidence that fruit and vegetables are great for health and by association polyphenols. Don at Primal Wisdom does a good job showing how weak this evidence is.

15d23403fb836f2b506f4f3ad2c03356
1219 · March 12, 2010 at 4:31 PM

There are literally tens of thousands. I will try to dig through google scholar (an amazing resource if you don't already know) to find a few good ones to show.

Eae21abfabb19c4617b2630386994fd9
1972 · March 11, 2010 at 11:47 PM

It would be interesting to see the studies you are talking about. I know the "recent study" you are talking about: http://donmatesz.blogspot.com/2010/02/natural-supplements-cocktail-extends.htm Again, it is impossible to determine that any of the benefit was from phytochemicals- the researchers specifically cautioned against that and stated they would continue their research and try to determine which of the supplements actually had the effect.

15d23403fb836f2b506f4f3ad2c03356
1219 · March 11, 2010 at 8:17 PM

Animal models mostly test surrogate markers of disease (lipid values, blood pressure, serum blood sugar, COX-2 inhibition, etc), with the result that they are only as valid as the model of the disease. However, there are also a number of studies on animal cancer that test tumor progression/metastasis, a more robust surrogate marker. There was a also a recent study that showed that various nutritional supplements increase lifespan in mice.

Eae21abfabb19c4617b2630386994fd9
1972 · March 11, 2010 at 7:25 PM

David, hormesis is fine with me, if it was explained that way I wouldn't be so suspicious.

Eae21abfabb19c4617b2630386994fd9
1972 · March 11, 2010 at 7:21 PM

Jay, even if there were good *causal* evidence that eating fruits and vegetables promotes great health, it would be a stretch to pin that on polyphenols. The in vivo studies led to the false theory that polyphenols act directly as anti-oxidants- we now know they generally they are poorly absorbed and quickly removed. I think the animal models are most compelling, it would be interesting to see an overview of that research.

15d23403fb836f2b506f4f3ad2c03356
1219 · March 11, 2010 at 7:11 PM

Agree that the body is complicated and simply models almost always fail. There is great mileage in preventing deficiencies in vitamins and minerals and almost no benefit to overdoing it. Polyphenols in quantities obtainable from foods (remembering that paleo foods probably had more than modern foods) are very likely extremely healthy. Taking a pill with 20X the RDA for beta carotene, not so healthy.

E35e3d76547b18096a59c90029e7e107
15583 · March 11, 2010 at 6:51 PM

That's a good point HR, a large part of my interest in this question is about the polyphenol/phytonutrients/magic plant compounds question. I agree with Jay that there's a lot of evidence that various of these compounds do have very positive effects (cf nephropal), but I agree it's silly to just think that "masses of antioxidants" would be a good plan. I'm not necessarily concerned about the fact that the compounds produce a defensive response, if they still seem to be a net good, maybe it's hormesis!

15d23403fb836f2b506f4f3ad2c03356
1219 · March 11, 2010 at 5:29 PM

There is a tremendous amount of data suggesting that plant polyphenols promote good health. 1. Epidemiology. Hundreds of studies show that people that eat more fresh fruits and vegetables get fewer cancers and heart attacks and live longer. 2. Mechanistic. Hundreds of in vivo studies show diverse benefits. 3. Animal models. Polyphenols protect animals from disease.

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213 · October 19, 2011 at 3:04 PM

I've been drinking Rooibos almost daily for about a year. I never have anything caffeinated anymore, and Rooibos was a great tea substitute for me.

I haven't noticed any adverse affects, however it does have a slight calming effect leading me to believe that it is doing something with my brain-chem/hormones (no claims here). I have had cravings for it at times, but that could just be the good feeling associated with having a hot beverage in a cold place. Either way, I limit it to one cup a day at most and never seem to suffer from it.

Great question btw, interesting responses too.

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20 · July 16, 2011 at 11:36 AM

I am sensitive to caffeine and so I started drinking Rooibos but I found it had a toxic effect on me very similar to caffeine. Sleeplessness and anxiety. There is no doubt about it, I monitored everything carefully. It was the rooibos tea that caused this. I don't know all the chemicals in it and the tea bags but I cannot use it anymore and I would never recommend it. Sad but true as I thought I'd found a tea I could use.

B42654b267d3c603b98a32db608f26f9
0 · October 13, 2014 at 12:01 AM

I too get anxiety from consuming rooibos (certain processed foods as well i.e.. TV dinners, certain soops such as Cambells chicken noodle, etc.). It's somewhat reasurring to see I'm not the only person who has this issue. I use to drink coffe/tea once to twice per day without any issues. Unfortunately, I developed these sensitivities to many foods after an anthrax vaccination in the military that messed my health up for 2-3 years (I ended up medically discharged). 

B42654b267d3c603b98a32db608f26f9
0 · October 13, 2014 at 12:01 AM

I too get anxiety from consuming rooibos (certain processed foods as well i.e.. TV dinners, certain soops such as Cambells chicken noodle, etc.). It's somewhat reasurring to see I'm not the only person who has this issue. I use to drink coffe/tea once to twice per day without any issues. Unfortunately, I developed these sensitivities to many foods after an anthrax vaccination in the military that messed my health up for 2-3 years (I ended up medically discharged). 

De7aafde172289ab942f17f0d271d8ff
15 · April 25, 2014 at 1:44 AM

I have the exact same problem! I'm sensitive to caffeine (especially black tea and coffee) and rooibos. It also causes me anxiety.

E35e3d76547b18096a59c90029e7e107
15583 · July 16, 2011 at 12:14 PM

Maybe you're tannin insensitive. A lot of the stomach disturbance, jitters, headache and so on that I thought must be the caffeine (naturally), were in fact, caused by tannins, and can be set off even by something like cumin. If I have just caffeine pills (with a higher dose of caffeine) I don't get these symptoms, even though I'd still eventually get some caffeine jitters much later. I'm ok with light green rooibos, but sometimes red rooibos makes me feel sick (milk or food reduces this) and tetleys teabags always do (v astringent- tannins).

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20 · March 12, 2010 at 8:22 AM
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1219 · March 11, 2010 at 3:15 PM

Agree that you should proceed with a bit of caution since rooibos isn't as widely used as, say, green tea, with the result that there could be lurking unknowns. That said, right now, there are only positive results. I drink it occasionally for that reason and because I like it. It seems to sooth my stomach a bit too.

F645ed4fcaf5b93f72ab017b303d1bdc
3 · October 19, 2011 at 3:37 PM

Swedish albinos-ROTFLMAO. Thanks Jay for helping me release some feel good chemicals by laughing my head off. That really tickled my funny bonee for some reason.

15d23403fb836f2b506f4f3ad2c03356
1219 · March 15, 2010 at 2:45 PM

Humans evolved in the Tropics (likely the east African highlands) for millions of years and have only been outside of that cradle for a blink of an eye. Swedish albinos are evolved quite well to eat coconuts.

E35e3d76547b18096a59c90029e7e107
15583 · March 13, 2010 at 10:08 AM

They've been eating it since much further back, but my point was that "few people" have been consuming either tea or coconut for very long. Unless humans adapted to coconut before splitting off into various populations, I wouldn't have thought that a northern european like myself, would have had access to coconut (at least not for a hundred thousand years).

9d43f6873107e17ca4d1a5055aa7a2ad
56606 · March 11, 2010 at 11:57 PM

People have been eating Coconut for waaaaaaaaaaaay longer than they have been drinking tea.

E35e3d76547b18096a59c90029e7e107
15583 · March 11, 2010 at 6:56 PM

Yeh I certainly like it. I'm not sure that I think it's safer than green tea because of the shorter history though... still perfectly possible that green tea is just slightly harmful. We're basically looking at two of cocktails of polyphenols, nothing particularly unique, so it's probably not indicative that few people historically have drunk rooibos (like coconut) and lots of people have drunk true tea... the main point is that there's not been time for most people to have evolved to the consumption of either.

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10 · September 20, 2012 at 2:02 AM

The Rooibos tea have the yin/yan, like other herbal products: (I write about the yin)

The Many Health Benefits of Rooibos Tea: The herbal tea made from rooibos has been a popular drink in Southern Africa for generations. The plant, Aspalathus linearis, is grown only in a small area in the Western Cape province of South Africa, but during recent years rooibos has become popular in other parts of the world as well.

Though not technically a tea, the infusion made from oxidised rooibos leaves is commonly referred to as rooibos tea. Traditionally, it is enjoyed hot with a slice of lemon and sugar or honey, but iced tea versions and even a rooibos espresso made from concentrated rooibos are apparently gaining popularity.

The antioxidant activity of rooibos tea Like regular tea, rooibos tea contains flavonoids which act as antioxidants. While the most beneficial flavonoids of green tea are catechins such as epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), the main flavonoids in rooibos tea are aspalathin and nothofagin. One in vitro study found that aspalathin is even more effective at scavenging free radicals than EGCG ??? a rather surprising result, given that just about everyone knows about antioxidants in green tea but not in rooibos tea. All in all, green tea still seems to beat rooibos tea in antioxidant activity, however

The cardiovascular benefits of rooibos tea Due to their effects on vasodilation and vasoconstriction, angiotensin I-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors and nitric oxide (NO) are used to treat conditions such as high blood pressure and heart failure. In one study, the effect of green tea, black tea and rooibos tea on ACE and NO was compared in healthy human volunteers. None of the three had a marked effect on NO concentration, but both green tea and rooibos tea inhibited ACE activity, suggesting that they have cardiovascular benefits.

Rooibos tea for liver disease and respiratory problems Rooibos tea also has therapeutic potential for respiratory ailments. According to a study on rats, in addition to lowering blood pressure, rooibos tea is both a bronchodilator and an antispasmodic.

Rooibos extract fights HIV Rooibos tea extract seems to be helpful in antigen-specific antibody production by increasing interleukin-2 (IL-2) production in vitro and in vivo. According to the authors, rooibos tea intake "may be of value in prophylaxis of the diseases involving a severe defect in Th1 immune response such as cancer, allergy, AIDS, and other infections."

Rooibos tea, lipid peroxidation and brain aging The uncontrolled oxidation of lipids, which can happen during cooking or inside the body, leads to the formation of advanced lipid peroxidation end-products (ALEs). The accumulation of such products is one of the types of damage that occurs with aging. Lipid peroxides also accumulate in the brain. Rooibos tea may help prevent this damage, however. Rats given rooibos tea instead of water accumulate significantly less aging damage in the brain than rats given water. In fact, the 24-month old rats given rooibos tea for most of their lives had brains similar to young 5-week-old rats. This is quite a remarkable result.

Summary

The health benefits of rooibos tea seem to be mostly due to the flavonoids aspalathin and nothofagin, although other compounds in rooibos may also play a part. Here's a summary of the benefits:

  • Acts as an antioxidant and increases SOD levels
  • Prevents DNA damage
  • Cardiovascular protection through ACE inhibition
  • Suppresses fasting glucose levels
  • Improves glucose uptake and insulin secretion after a meal
  • Aids in liver tissue regeneration
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Acts as a bronchodilator and antispasmodic
  • Inhibits lipid peroxidation and brain aging
  • Rooibos extract improves immune defects such as HIV

I drink tea for light levels of caffeine, but i prefer the Green Tea :-).

http://guide.aboutpaleo.net/

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276 · September 20, 2012 at 1:20 AM

Really interesting thread!

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20 · June 15, 2011 at 7:24 AM

Rooibos is not that new...According to Wiki, 'In 1772, Swedish naturalist Carl Thunberg noted that "the country people made tea" from a plant related to rooibos or redbush.'

Also according to Wiki, 'Rooibos is becoming more popular in Western countries, particularly among health-conscious consumers, due to its high level of antioxidants such as aspalathin[3] and nothofagin, its lack of caffeine, and its low tannin levels compared to fully oxidized black tea or unoxidized green tea leaves.[4] Rooibos also contains a number of phenolic compounds, including flavanols, flavones, flavanones, and dihydrochalcones.[5]

Rooibos is purported to assist with nervous tension, allergies and digestive problems.[6]

Traditional medicinal uses of rooibos in South Africa include alleviating infantile colic, allergies, asthma and dermatological problems'.

Be that as it may, I am no expert, but as a replacement for diet sodas and a severe coffee habit, I find it excellent with no side-effects.

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60 · April 25, 2014 at 12:21 PM

Rooibos teas are herbal plant that's dried and brewed like tea, and has no caffeine. If you are following Auto Immune Plan caffeine is no allowed or will be not good. Rooibos teas are a replacement option for caffeine. You can get rooibos in different flavors.

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15 · April 25, 2014 at 1:42 AM

Like Mickey 1, I too, have a bad reaction to both caffeine and rooibos. I started drinking rooibos in the hopes that it could replace black tea (which I love, but which doesn't love me!), but the rooibos gives me anxiety and causes me to belch (which is the first sign of systemic problems for me).

I'm sure many people can drink it with no problem. I'm just not one of them.

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0 · April 22, 2014 at 6:14 PM

It Could be the Stevia in the Yogi Tea that's causing the side effect. I'm sensitive to Stevia and can not consume it at all. Do you use Stevia sweetener at all?

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45 · January 15, 2014 at 2:54 PM

There's a spectrum. It's not "paleo" or "poison." For tea, I would say maybe paleo (depending on the type) and probably benign.

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0 · January 15, 2014 at 11:42 AM

It was yogi. Honey lavender stress relief. Helps to calm and ease tension. Supposedly all organic. Rooibus leaf, chamomile,lemon balm, department,lemongrass,lavender,peppermint,lemon myrtle leaf, sage,passionflower, stevia

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0 · January 15, 2014 at 2:35 AM

I drank a "stress relief" tea last night and experience bad side effects from it. ( weakness in arms and legs, extreme fatigue, redness of eyes, migraine) has anyone else experienced this?

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8255 · January 15, 2014 at 7:04 AM

No, but then I have no idea what your "stress relief" tea really is. You should look at the ingredients. Most likely it is some sort of herbal concoction and not really a tea plant tea.

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