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Choose mental health. Choose Rooibos tea.

Mental Health Awareness month seeks to foreground the importance of mental health and how it affects our daily lives.

In this blog post, we look at how Rooibos can play a supportive role in tackling the mental health epidemic.

At least a third of South Africans experience mental illness throughout their lives. Globally, approximately 280 million people suffer from depression. For many, psychotherapy and medication are difficult to access.

But there's hope. Because lifestyle factors also impact mental health, there is an increasing amount of research and interest from scientists and practitioners to find new integrated forms of treatment.

One such field of research is the interconnectivity of the brain and the gut. The bottom line: what we eat and drink has a great impact on how we feel.

Tea-drinking reduces depression

“In recent years, the role of nutrition in mental health and preventative medicine has prompted explorations into the effects of tea, especially herbal tea, on mental health," says Adele du Toit, spokesperson for the South African Rooibos Council.

“Researchers have found that frequent tea consumption has a strong linear relationship with reduced rates of depression. One study determined that for every three cups of tea consumed a day, the relative risk of depression decreased by 37%. It’s likely that the healthy compounds in tea stimulate a positive response in the gut and brain, which improves mood. Similarly, the act of making tea is in and of itself relaxing, which allows us a mental and emotional breather.”

Why Rooibos?

Research into South African-grown Rooibos tea points to its stress-relieving properties and ability to alleviate anxiety. Among the major triggers of depression is stress. The effects of chronic stress over a prolonged period are harmful and increases the risk of depression and anxiety disorders.

Scientists from Stellenbosch University found that Rooibos tea contains two rare antioxidants, namely, aspalathin and nothofagin, which interferes with the production of cortisol – a stress hormone secreted by the adrenal gland.

Tests were carried out in a lab on adrenal cells that were stimulated to mimic a stress response similar to which occurs in humans. They concluded that Rooibos tea does lower the production of cortisol and by doing so, also lowers the body’s response to stress.

An added benefit is that Rooibos is caffeine-free, which helps the body to relax, whereas caffeine interferes with sleep, dehydrates you, increases blood pressure, and raises anxiety levels.

Rooibos is rich in polyphenols – compounds found in plants, including flavonoids and phenolic acid that benefit the body and fights disease. It also helps to widen blood vessels, which in turn reduces blood pressure and anxiety.

“Globally, we are seeing a move towards more natural ways of treating a variety of illnesses. Researchers are only beginning to examine how tea exerts its effects on mood and cognition. For now, they are trying to identify the major active compounds that give tea its mental health benefits and whether they work alone or in combination with other compounds present in the beverage,” says Du Toit.

She says during the pandemic, tea has taken on a bigger role in people’s lives as many have turned to it for solace.

“As researchers strengthen their understanding of how various teas act on the body and how much of it should be consumed to produce the desired effect, there is no reason not to encourage people to drink tea as a means to improving mood,” remarks du Toit.

October is Mental Health Awareness Month. If you or a loved one is experiencing anxiety, apathy, feeling hopeless, having trouble sleeping, crying excessively, is restless, experiencing changes in appetite, mood, energy or concentration levels or have suicidal thoughts, contact the SADAG helpline on 0800 70 80 90.

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