As South Africa observes Reproductive Health Month this February, the SA Rooibos Council is shining a spotlight on a growing crisis – plummeting fertility rates – and shares research on how rooibos can help.
Fertility levels worldwide have plunged to an historic low, with scientists predicting that almost 10 million couples will struggle to conceive by 2025.
South Africa faces the same conundrum as more than 20% of couples already struggle to conceive naturally.
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Experts attribute the decline to economic prosperity, urbanisation and the changing models of family life as leading factors.
Modern-day couples are delaying having children due to increased educational and professional opportunities, wanting to acquire wealth, travel and explore the world before having children. As a result, more women are having their first baby in their late twenties to early thirties.
But the increasingly low fertility rate is not just a female issue. According to the Infertility Awareness Association of SA (IFAASA), an estimated 40% of infertility issues can be attributed to men, a further 40% to women, and the remaining 20% are a combination of both.
Dr Crystal Meletiou, a therapist specialising in supporting women with fertility and menopausal challenges says: “In women, fertility generally starts to decline in their 30s, while in men it starts to drop from age 40 when sperm quality and motility decreases.”
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The health factors
Aside from getting the timing right, health also plays an important role in getting pregnant.
“Quitting smoking, limiting alcohol intake, getting adequate rest and exercise, along with eating a nutritionally balanced diet, rich in antioxidants are some of the natural ways in which you can help boost fertility,” advises Dr Meletiou.
She says the benefits of natural products and antioxidants in the treatment of infertility in both male and female patients are supported in several studies.
“One study in particular, published by a team of gynaecologists, obstetricians, urologists, nutritionists and other specialists from theInternational Islamic University of Malaysia, discusses the benefits of antioxidants on sperm production and quality.”
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Besides being an advocate for emotional wellbeing when trying to conceive, Dr Meletiou is a firm believer that the properties of natural remedies can play a significant role in the struggle of infertility.
Adele du Toit, spokesperson for the SA Rooibos Council, refers to several papers which point to how Rooibos could benefit reproductive health in both men and women.
For example, the Department of Biomedical Sciences at Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT), which compared the effects of red and green Rooibos, Chinese green tea, and commercial Rooibos and green tea supplements on rat sperm, found that sperm count and motility were significantly higher for rats on red and green Rooibos due to their high antioxidant content, than with any of the other groups.
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A further two studies, one conducted by CPUT on diabetic rats – a condition which is often associated with male reproductive issues, such as low sperm count and another piloted by the University of the Western Cape and University of Limpopo on rodents that were fed Rooibos tea for 52 days, again confirmed Rooibos’ beneficial effect on sperm concentration, viability and motility.
The tea may also hold advantages for women, says du Toit. According to a study published in the SA Journal of Botany, Rooibos improved the overall health of the uterus, endometrial lining and ovaries in female rats after 21 days of consumption.
Researchers from Stellenbosch University also confirmed Rooibos’ phytoestrogenic properties.
Phytoestrogens are naturally occurring plant estrogens that have a similar chemical structure to human estrogen. The interest in plant-based estrogens or phytoestrogens, as an alternative to hormone replacement therapy (HRT) or estrogen replacement therapy (ERT) is on the increase as many women are reluctant to take conventional medication to reduce menopausal symptoms, which makes this finding significant.
Du Toit says that although many of these studies were conducted in rodents, Rooibos could potentially have the same positive effect in humans. “As with everything, moderation is key, but up to six cups of Rooibos can be consumed daily.”
Author: Pedro van Gaalen
When he’s not writing about sport or health and fitness, Pedro is probably out training for his next marathon or ultra-marathon. He’s worked as a fitness professional and as a marketing and comms expert. He now combines his passions in his role as managing editor at Fitness magazine.
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