Jessie the family Labrador has diabetes‚ which was costing the Rule family from Pretoria almost R2 000 a month to treat with insulin and a special diet.
Then Caroline Rule and her daughter Zaria heard someone tell a radio station they drink green unfermented rooibos to help control diabetes.
We can do that for my school science project‚ decided Zaria‚ who was Grade 6 at the time and is now Grade 7.
The dog had been diagnosed diabetic after she lost weight‚ became sleepy‚ was bumping into furniture‚ had glazed eyes and drank a lot of water.
Zaria gave her dog‚ whose blood sugar was increasingly erratic‚ a bowl of green rooibos made with two teabags every day.
Her vet tested Jessie’s blood sugar every two weeks and found that‚ while the dog remained diabetic‚ her huge blood sugar swings had stabilised after four weeks of tea.
The dose of insulin for the dog halved and costs dropped from R1 200 a month to roughly R600.
The school project research is not conclusive as there was no control involved to compare the intervention to‚ which both Caroline and Zaria admit.
For science to show something works‚ an experiment needs to contain two comparable groups – one that gets the experimental intervention and another that doesn’t.
Solange Durao‚ senior scientist at the Cochrane Centre‚ explained: “The gold standard in evidence-based health research is the randomised‚ controlled trial – where you test an intervention in two groups – one that receives the intervention and the other that receives a placebo or another intervention. The participants are randomly assigned to these groups. In this way you can attribute any differences in outcomes between the groups to the differences in the intervention‚ i.e. you can determine causation.”
Zaria said it was difficult to find enough diabetic dogs for a control group for the experiment‚ as many pet owners with diabetic dogs don’t know they are diabetic.
She even met a dog owner who fed his dog diabetic sugar-free chocolate‚ which is extremely harmful to dogs. Yet he wouldn’t try the tea and then changed his mind about having blood tests to show what happened to his dog without rooibos.
Zaria also says it is hard to control an animal’s diet to ensure they don’t eat anything extra to change their blood sugar levels and confound the experiment – a dog can even catch a bird or rodents in the garden.
She hopes further research by scientists will be undertaken as long as dogs don’t get hurt‚ referring to the more extensive blood testing that would be needed in a scientific study.
Zaria’s mom said: “If supplementing with green rooibos could reduce the amount of insulin that a diabetic dog would require‚ it would not only save dog-owners high medicine costs‚ but their dogs would experience fewer side-effects too. Rooibos is a natural‚ healthy and much more affordable product to give pets.”
Nireshni Chellan‚ senior scientist at the SA Medical Research Council‚ has been studying the effects of rooibos on diabetes for a few years.
Chellan explains that aspalathin – a rare antioxidant found only in the rooibos plant – helps muscle cells to use glucose more effectively and therefore may help to maintain normal blood sugar levels.
“Rooibos has also been proven to protect against oxidative stress in diabetic rodents‚ particularly in the heart‚” she said.
Zaria is particularly happy she was able to publicise pet diabetes‚ which is often undiagnosed.
In an online survey she conducted for her Cornwall Hill College school project‚ she found only half of the 100 people surveyed knew dogs and cats could develop diabetes.