In the US, the hibiscus plant is most widely known for its beautiful flowers, but this plant actually offers unique health benefits that have been valued around the world since ancient times.
I used to have many of them but replaced them with fruit trees and berries, which are far more easily edible. However, I still enjoy hibiscus tea and regularly consume it from the far more convenient extracts.
When the petals of the hibiscus flower fall off, deeply colored red calyces (cup-like structures) grow into pods that resemble flower buds. These red calyces are used to make hibiscus extract and a brightly colored (and delicious) red hibiscus tea (sometimes called “sour tea”).
It’s thought that ancient Egyptian pharaohs drank hibiscus tea to help maintain a normal body temperature and stay cool. In Iran, hibiscus tea is used to relieve occasional restlessness and sleep problems.
Other traditional uses include support of heart health (including blood pressure) and respiratory health. More recently, the metabolic benefits of hibiscus tea have been explored with research suggesting it may support healthy weight and much more.
While hibiscus extract is still relatively unknown in the US, it’s not likely to stay that way for long as research continues to reveal its health potential, courtesy of its potent polyphenol content.
Hibiscus Extract Reduces Obesity, Abdominal Fat, and Fatty Liver
Hibiscus sabdariffa extracts (HSE) are known to have both metabolic-regulating and liver-protecting potential. In February 2014, research was published showing that obese people aged 18 to 65 who consumed hibiscus extract for 12 weeks had some interesting findings.
They had reduced body weight, body mass index (BMI), body fat, and waist-to-hip ratio. If that wasn’t impressive enough, HSE also lowered serum free fatty acid (FFA), high levels of which are associated with obesity and uncontrolled diabetes.
Additionally, those taking the hibiscus extract also had improvements in liver steatosis (fatty liver), with the researchers concluding the benefits “should mainly be attributed to the polyphenols” it contains. They stated: “HSE could act as an adjuvant for preventing obesity and non-alcoholic fatty liver.”
It’s only the latest study to confirm the anti-obesity effects of hibiscus. In 2007, research similarly showed that hibiscus extract significantly reduced body weight gain in obese mice.
5 Additional Benefits of Hibiscus Extract
Polyphenols are plant compounds recognized for their disease prevention, antioxidant and anti-aging properties, and hibiscus extract is a potent source. Research has shown that hibiscus extract has been used “commonly and effectively… in native medicines” against high blood pressure, diabetes, and liver disorders. To date, the variety of studies showing health benefits of hibiscus extract are impressive and include:
- Potential anti-cancer effects: Research has shown that polyphenol-rich extracts of hibiscus induced cell death in human gastric carcinoma cells. Hibiscus extract has also induced cell death in human leukemia cells.
- Antioxidant benefits: Research revealed that consumption of hibiscus extract enhanced systemic antioxidant potential and reduced oxidative stress in study participants. The study also found a “high biotransformation” of the ingested HSE polyphenols, which suggests the compounds are in a highly bioavailable form.
- Kidney stones and liver protection: One study found that hibiscus extract has anti-urolithiatic activity, which means it may help reduce the formation of kidney stones. It’s also been shown to help protect the liver against chemically induced damage in fish.
- Diabetes: Hibiscus extract has shown promise for improving both blood pressure and blood lipid profiles in people with diabetes.
- Metabolic syndrome: Hibiscus extract has even shown promise for preventing and treating metabolic syndrome, with one study finding a daily dose of hibiscus extract for just one month lead to improvements in glucose, cholesterol and triglyceride levels as well as improvements in insulin resistance in people with metabolic syndrome.
Hibiscus Tea May Be Even More Beneficial Than Black Tea
A growing body of research suggests that many of the health benefits attributed to tea are largely imparted by its polyphenols. However, green and black tea get most of the attention in mainstream health reporting. In reality, each type of tea has unique properties due to its special blend of polyphenols, and there is some evidence to suggest that hibiscus tea may outshine black tea in this department.
For instance, in one study, people with diabetes drank either hibiscus tea or black tea twice a day for one month. Those in the hibiscus group benefited from a significantly improved blood lipid profile while those in the black-tea group did not.
In a similar study, diabetic patients with mild hypertension who drank hibiscus tea lowered their blood pressure levels while those drinking black tea actually had an increase. If you’re a tea drinker, it may therefore make sense to experiment with other types of tea, like (preferably organic) hibiscus tea (which, additionally, is caffeine-free, unlike black tea). In addition to blood pressure and cholesterol support, the polyphenols in hibiscus tea may also:
- Aid in weight control challenges
- Help support memory and concentration
- Promote a healthy heart
- Support your immune system
- Boost the effectiveness of vitamin C in the antioxidant network
If you’re currently struggling with weight control, I urge you to read my top tips for conquering obesity now. However, a simple change for most people to make would be replacing sugary beverages with pure water and, on occasion, a healthful, anti-obesity option like hibiscus extract tea.