March 26/Guelph, Ont./Guelph Mercury -- Tea lovers have proclaiming the beverage’s health benefits for generations, and now, researchers at the University of Guelph are steeping a new brew that could be a virtual panacea for illnesses ranging from arthritis to HIV.

The tea contains an anti-inflammatory agent called rosmarinic acid or RosA found in spearmint. Research scientist Professor Laima Kott and her research team in the Department of Plant Agriculture, at the Ontario Agricultural College, have bred a variety of spearmint that has as much as 20 times the amount of RosA found in the regular, garden-variety.

“In regular leaves, you would probably have 0.5% rosmarinic acid,” said Kott. “We have had it up to 13%, but we are aiming for eight.”

The main focus of the research is to measure the effects the tea has on treating osteoarthritis, a disease that affects roughly 10% of Canadians.

A controlled study using 50 participants ranging in age from 18-70 has been underway since last September.

Professor Amanda Wright, director of the Human Nutraceutical Research Unit in the department of Human Health and Nutritional Sciences at the U of G, said they have 40 participants from the community but need at least 10 more volunteers to complete the human trials by October.

Participants must be non-smokers over the age of 18 who have osteoarthritis of the knee. Successful applicants will be required to consume two cups of the tea a day for four months and allow doctors and researchers to periodically monitor their condition.

 “The study is intended to be something people could incorporate into their daily lives,” said Wright, “a cup in the morning and a cup in the afternoon. We made teabags from the dried mint, and amounts are carefully controlled. Participants are given a mug so they use the same amount of water each time. It’s not a double double, but they can add sugar or a sweetener if they want.”

Wright and Kott are reluctant at this stage to call the tea a cure for osteoarthritis, but previous trials on horses and pigs yielded very promising results.

“They did some control work in the lab and with the horses, and it worked beautifully -- absolutely beautifully,” said Kott. “They could see the swelling go down, and the horses had no pain. Whenever a horse has a lot of swelling in the knees, there is a lot of cartilage damage that cannot be resurrected. With our tea, guess what? No cartilage damage.”

Whether the human trials will have the same results is yet to be seen.

“The tea reduces inflammation which is great because inflammation is a huge part of osteoarthritis,” said Wright. “The pain is different with every experience but the horse study seemed to suggest a cartilage protective effect so that is something we will be looking for in the human study. “

Unlike many pharmaceutical products, the tea has no negative side effects.

“One of the things with osteoarthritis is there are really no good treatments right now,” said Wright. “We’re tracking people’s reactions. How they feel about the tea. Are they having any stomach issues, but there is nothing that has been revealed to us so far. It doesn’t have any adverse effect. There is a lot of evidence to suggest that beyond osteoarthritis it is good for a number of other conditions.”

 From the March 27, 2012, Prepared Foods’ Daily Update