The hibiscus flower is an ancient health remedy used in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine for the past three centuries. Modern medicine is only beginning to uncover the benefits of this ancient remedy. Benefits include the ability to strengthen the immune system, aid weight loss, maintain cardiovascular health, and of course, use its antioxidant properties to protect against inflammatory conditions.
For women, the positives are even more pronounced. Studies are beginning to show a positive correlation between hibiscus flower use and women's reproductive health.
In this article, we delve into those benefits and see which are myths and which have the backing of science.
Science-Backed Gynecological Effects of Hibiscus Tea
1. Relieves Menstrual Cramps
Menstrual cramps occur because of the release of a chemical called prostaglandin when the endometrial lining starts thinning out during menstruation. This prostaglandin causes contraction of the smooth muscles of the uterus, reducing the blood supply to the uterus, and thus leading to cramps.
A recent study showed that hibiscus has smooth muscle relaxant and analgesic properties. This effect was also demonstrated in a 2007 study in which hibiscus extract was shown to cause uterine and bladder relaxation in rats, implying that it could possibly be a natural alternative to medications for period cramps. However, they might not be as strong alternatives when compared to current medications.
Apart from hibiscus extract, tea is also linked with reduced dysmenorrhoea.
2. Hibiscus Tea Can Help With Menopausal Symptoms
Hibiscus is a homeopathic remedy that has been used for managing menopausal symptoms. Menopause a natural part of aging in women happens as a result of low estrogen in the body. Hibiscus exhibits estrogenic effect; attributed to the phytoestrogen (plant-based estrogen) present in it. They bind to the estrogenic receptors in our body and mimic the effects of estrogen. This helps ease the uncomfortable symptoms that women report during this time.
Although taking hibiscus was found to be effective in human trials, more research is needed to establish their safety levels and dosage, and whether they can be a replacement to hormonal therapy. It's worth noting that no side-effects were seen in the study.
3. Hibiscus Tea: A Natural Contraceptive
Hibiscus is known to have contraceptive effects on both males and females, making it a good contraceptive, but at the same time not suitable for someone who is trying to conceive.
Although, it's recommended that you don't depend on your hibiscus tea completely for contraception.
While these effects could be helpful to couples who are not looking get pregnant, the opposite is true for couples trying to conceive. Therefore, avoid hibiscus tea if you are trying to conceive.
4. Is Hibiscus Tea Safe for Pregnant Women?
Hibiscus may not be safe for pregnant women. In a study done in mice, hibiscus caused pregnancy loss in 92% of the cases. The termination of pregnancy was the result of changes that ultimately caused lowered progesterone levels (the hormone that supports pregnancy) and increased uterine acid phosphatase levels in the body.
Although the study was done in mice, it's wise to not consume any hibiscus containing products while pregnant to avoid any loss.
5. Does Tea Promote Female Reproductive Health?
Tea for PCOS
So far, there's no link between hibiscus and the management of PCOS, but tea, especially green tea is linked with the improvement of PCOS.
Green tea help reduces the abnormally raised hormone (LH) in PCOS, manages the body weight as well as the weight of the ovaries, improves the number of follicles in ovaries and improves insulin resistance.
All of these factors together bring about improvement in PCOS.
Tea for Uterine Fibroid
Although hibiscus doesn't help in managing uterine fibroid either, it's been found that green tea is effective in reducing the size of uterine fibroid and providing symptomatic relief as well. It reduces overall blood loss and improves anemia. A significant improvement in the quality of life was observed in the study.
A serving of 800 mg of green tea extract for 4 months was found to be effective.
While it is not recommended to totally depend on your tea for managing fibroid, it can be used as a supportive measure.
So the bottom line is that it seems like the combination of green tea and hibiscus can prove beneficial for your reproductive health.
Anecdotal Evidence of the Effects of Hibiscus Tea on Reproductive Health:
It has been suggested that hibiscus induces menstrual bleeding or periods because of its emmenagogue properties; meaning it increases the blood flow to the pelvic region, including the uterus. Emmenagogues are capable of inducing menstrual flow. However, the emmenagogue properties are exhibited by the mucilage from the bark of the hibiscus plant, rather than the flower. So, it's less likely that hibiscus tea would have this effect, which primarily contains hibiscus petals.
Some other claims say that hibiscus helps with heavy bleeding during periods, and regulates the menstrual cycle. But there is no scientific study, even in rats, to back this claim.
Traditionally, hibiscus has been used for centuries for many purposes, including reducing postpartum hemorrhage, inhibiting lactation, treating mastitis and uterine prolapse, and many other pregnancy-related conditions. But again, there are no scientific studies to back them up.
How to Prepare Hibiscus Tea
You can very easily steep hibiscus tea at home. For this, you can use fresh hibiscus flower petals growing in your garden. If you don't have a hibiscus plant at home, you can always get dried hibiscus petals from your nearest store or online. Fresh petals would be less concentrated when compared to dried petals.
Although, not all species of hibiscus are edible. Hibiscus sabdariffa is a species that can be used in the kitchen. Hibiscus acetosella is another species that is edible. Make sure which species you are buying when purchasing the dried petals.
If you choose to make the tea from fresh petal you need to do the following:
- Take one fully-bloomed hibiscus flower and separate the petals and rinse them clean.
- Boil the water, and then put the fresh petals or about 1 to 2 teaspoons of dried hibiscus in the water, and let it steep for 15 to 20 minutes. If you want it stronger, put more fresh or dried petals. You can prepare a separate hibiscus drink like this, or you can steep the hibiscus petals directly with your tea.
There is a wonderful YouTube video on this if you rather see how it is done:
You can also find pre-made tea bags containing hibiscus if that is more easily available to you.
You can experiment and find out how strong you want it. Hibiscus is tart; similar to cranberry. So you might want to start with the lowest dose possible and then go up as desired. You can also add honey if it is too tart for your taste. Or you can also add more flavoring agents like ginger and lemon.
Side-Effects of Hibiscus Tea
Hibiscus tea is generally quite safe to drink. 3-4 cups of hibiscus tea won't hurt. But at a very high dose, it can cause some serious side-effects.
1. Liver toxicity: It was found in a study that very high consumption of hibiscus (more than 300mg/kg/day) for a period of 3 months caused liver toxicity. So, limit your hibiscus extract intake to moderate levels. Also, if you have severe liver disease, it would be best if you avoid it completely. For mild diseases, consult your physician for recommendations.
2. Might exaggerate gout: A very high amount of hibiscus consumption is also linked with increased serum uric acid levels; the substance that causes and exaggerates gout. Although at a lower dose it might be beneficial for you. Hibiscus extract intake of 1.5 g per day has shown to have a uricosuric effect, i.e. it excretes uric acid in urine.
If you have gout, it's best to monitor your hibiscus intake.
3. Might cause electrolyte disturbances: It was noted in some studies that hibiscus extract at small doses led to increased chloride levels in the serum and increased the excretion of sodium.
Though, the change in their levels was mild at lower doses of hibiscus; not enough to cause any serious damage in a healthy individual. But its effect on sodium and chloride indicates that at a very high dose it can cause a higher degree of electrolyte disturbance. However, more research is needed to say anything conclusively. Until then, keep it at moderate levels.
4. Drug interactions: Hibiscus is known to cause drug interactions with certain drugs. Hibiscus causes reduced excretion of hydrochlorothiazide (which can lead to toxicity), increased elimination of acetaminophen (Tylenol/paracetamol), leading to therapeutic failure, and reduces the effectiveness of chloroquine, an anti-malarial drug.
It is best to avoid drinking hibiscus tea if you are using any of these medications.
5. Side-effects of tea: Apart from the side-effects caused by hibiscus, also be mindful of the side-effects of tea. Tea contains caffeine which can cause and exaggerate anxiety, disturb your sleep and cause gastric distress.
Hibiscus tea has many health benefits in general, as well as in women's reproductive health specifically. Again, not many studies have been done to understand and back all the anecdotal claims, and whatever studies have been done so far were done on rats and mice.
Although most studies are not done in humans, evidence of certain effects in rats suggests that hibiscus tea needs to be used with caution; at least until more studies prove otherwise.
Special precautions should be taken by those trying to conceive and women who are pregnant. But otherwise, it is pretty safe and healthy to drink!