Rooibos tea and heartburn

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Rooibos tea can be a heartburn-friendly drink for those who are having symptoms after drinking black or green tea.

What is rooibos tea?

Rooibos tea is a herbal tea of South African origin made from the leaves of the Aspalathus linearis plant. The name rooibos means red tea or bush tea, as the tea is red and has an earthy flavor.

The tea is processed in the same manner as teas made from the Camellia sinensis plant. Thus, after harvesting, they undergo withering, maceration, fermentation, drying, sorting, and then finally packaged for distribution.

Like black tea, rooibos tea is also completely oxidized. Once the leaves and stems are harvested, they are bruised to encourage oxidation, which brings out essential oils from the plant and consequently helps the leaves develop their characteristic rich color and flavor.

The more the leaves are oxidized, the redder the color, the sweeter it will taste, and the richer the flavor, which is the traditional well-known rooibos tea.

A less oxidized version of rooibos tea is also produced called green rooibos tea. Here, the leaves are immediately steamed and dried, minimizing oxidation and the resulting tea is slightly green and has a grassy, mineral-like flavor.

The tea can be sipped alone or with the addition of a little milk and sugar or honey. This tea is also used by South African cuisines by chefs in preparing dishes like Rooibos Chicken Pot Pie, Rooibos & Apple Chutney, and Mussels in Rooibos -Pernod Cream Sauce.

The benefits of drinking rooibos tea

Rooibos tea is loaded with bioactive compounds like vitamin C, aspalathin, and quercetin, which are potent antioxidants associated with multiple health benefits:

Treatment of diabetic complication

In diabetics, the onset of atherosclerosis and its progression are caused by vascular inflammation induced by high glucose levels in the blood.

High blood glucose significantly increases vascular permeability, formation of oxygen reactive species (free radicals that cause cell damage), and monocyte adhesion.

Aspalathin inhibits vascular permeability and the formation of oxygen reactive species thereby preventing diabetic complications.

Boosts heart health

Rooibos tea reduces blood pressure by inhibiting the angiotensin-converting enzymes (ACE) which converts the angiotensin I hormone to angiotensin II, an active vasoconstrictor. This vasoconstrictor causes blood vessels to contract increasing blood pressure.

Protects against cancer

Quercetin and luteolin present in rooibos tea have been reported to show anti-cancer activities. They decrease the growth of primary tumor cells by causing mitochondrial dysfunction and increasing apoptosis (cell death).

Is rooibos tea acidic or alkaline?

Rooibos tea is a weak acid to neutral tea, with a pH range of 6-7. However once digested, it raises the body pH level to 9 giving an alkaline effect. This alkalizing effect makes rooibos tea a great remedy to relieve acidity.

A pH scale indicates how acidic or alkaline a food or beverage is, with a pH level below 7 indicating acidic, a pH of 7 indicating neutral, and a pH of greater than 7 indicating alkaline.

Rooibos tea and acid reflux

Rooibos tea is caffeine-free, and as such, it is unlikely to trigger acid reflux.

The main culprit of some other types of tea – mainly black and green, but also oolong – is their caffeine content:

Since rooibos tea does not contain caffeine, it does not trigger reflux or worsen heartburn in sensitive people.

Can rooibos tea relieve acidity?

Roobios tea might relieve acidity and heartburn for several reasons:

  • It is rich in anti-inflammatory compounds that inhibit pro-inflammatory mediators. This potentially helps reduce inflammation in the esophagus caused by oxidative stress.
  • These antioxidants also promote appropriate digestion and contraction of the lower esophageal sphincter, preventing reflux and consequently heartburn.
  • Rooibos tea is a relaxant that calms the nerves during stress which can help relieve heartburn sensation. Stress might cause tension in the stomach muscles, increasing the pressure in the stomach, which is a risk factor for acid reflux.
  • Stress can not only increase pressure in the stomach, but also stomach acid secretion, which might make heartburn worse. The calming effects of rooibos tea help to mitigate this extra acid production.

Is rooibos tea good for the digestive system?

Rooibos tea has been proven to be a great tea for improving digestion as they contain many compounds that promote healthy digestion:

  • Rooibos tea has an antispasmodic effect on the stomach muscles, which relieves stomach cramps, abdominal pain, and helps diarrhea.
  • Rooibos tea and rooibos-derived supplements contain vitamin C which is a potent antioxidant that shows anti-inflammatory activities. It activates potassium ions all over the body which helps to alleviate stomach cramps.
  • Orientin, quercetin, and vitexin in rooibos tea are reported to ease feelings of discomfort in the stomach by relaxing the digestive system.
  • Rooibos has a prebiotic effect that strengthens the immune system by enhancing gut microflora growth and eliminating pathogenic bacteria that cause stomach upsets as well as diarrhea.

Side effects of (too much) rooibos tea

Rooibos tea is generally a very safe tea to drink, compared to other caffeine-containing teas.

Excess drinking is usually the case when up to 10 cups of rooibos tea are consumed for a longer period. However, there still exists some side effects with excess consumption though these are very rare.

Possible liver injury

Excessive drinking of rooibos tea was reported to cause injury in the liver. Hepatotoxicity may have been caused by heterogeneity in composition due to manufacturing in small batches. Stopping the consumption of rooibos tea in this case resulted in recovery from the injury.

Drug interactions

Those who are taking medications for high blood pressure or liver problems should consult with their doctor, as rooibos tea might cause unwanted side effects.

Final thoughts

Rooibos tea is a great alternative for those who are sensitive to caffeine and have symptoms after drinking black or green tea.

Rooibos is considered to be a very safe tea to consume and it is unlikely to experience heartburn or other issues after drinking it.

Health complications because of excess consumption are very rare however, moderation is key.

This article has been written by:

Meggy Jones

Expert Nutritionist and Food Scientist,
M.Sc. – Nutrition, ugent, Belgium