Rooibos, a unique South African herbal tea, is known to be an important source of unique polyphenolic compounds. In the present study we have quantified the main polyphenolic compounds in both fermented/traditional and unfermented/"green" rooibos (Aspalathus linearis) and evaluated its cardioprotective effects against ischaemia/reperfusion injury. Male Wistar rats consumed aqueous rooibos and green tea (Camellia sinensis) extracts (2%, w/v) for 7 weeks before their hearts were rapidly excised and perfused in a working heart perfusion apparatus. The results showed that the rooibos supplemented hearts significantly improved aortic output recovery after reperfusion when compared to the green tea supplemented hearts. Additionally, we showed that the rooibos extracts, containing the highest amount of flavonols, significantly decreased the level of cleaved caspase-3 and PARP, both pro-apoptotic proteins, during reperfusion when compared to green tea. Green tea supplementation increased phosphorylation of total PKB/Akt, Akt (threonine 308) and Akt (serine 473). The rooibos extracts did not cause significant change in the levels of the pro-survival PKB/Akt (threonine 308 and serinet 473). The GSH/GSSG ratio in the hearts of the green tea supplemented group was significantly (p<0.05) lower when compared to RF (37.78±28.63), RU (33.20±4.13) and C (45.50±14.96). The results clearly demonstrate the cardio-protective properties of aqueous rooibos extracts via the inhibition of apoptosis which can possibly be related to the flavonol content of this unique South African herbal tea.
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