Story by Laura Stratton, a U of G student writer with SPARK (Students Promoting Awareness of Research Knowledge)

Prof. Amanda Wright

Tea, the world’s most widely consumed prepared beverage, might be gaining a whole new set of fans: people with osteoarthritis.

Prof. Amanda Wright, Department of Human Health and Nutritional Sciences (HHNS) and director of the Human Nutraceutical Research Unit (HNRU), is embarking on research to study a locally grown mint tea’s effect on symptoms of osteoarthritis (OA). If it works as well in humans as it did in previous tests with horses, the results could open the door to an alternative low-cost treatment option for osteoarthritis.

“The tea provides hope in the area of complementary therapies, specifically for OA,” says Wright.

Osteoarthritis occurs when cartilage in the joints begins to break down, resulting in pain, stiffness and inflammation.  To test the efficacy of the tea, Wright will work with HHNS Prof. Alison Duncan and HNRU manager Hilary Tulk to measure cartilage degradation, inflammation and physical function in participants with osteoarthritis. They are currently recruiting research volunteers, who will be asked to drink the tea two times a day for four months.

The buzz surrounding mint tea has percolated at U of G for more than a decade. Prof. Laima Kott, Plant Agriculture, first started working on it. The tea looks, tastes and smells like conventional mint tea, but it has been specifically bred to contain 15 to 20 times the amount of rosmarinic acid (RosA). That’s the component proposed to benefit those with osteoarthritis.

It’s been shown to work in horses. A recent study by post-doc Wendy Pearson attributed anti-inflammatory effects in arthritic horses to consumption of the mint leaves.

Wright says having the capability to validate all these developments in the human model “makes it interesting and exciting.”

Osteoarthritis affects one in 10 Canadians. It is the most common form of arthritis and in the context of an aging population is expected to increase in prevalence. “I didn’t appreciate how prevalent OA was,” says Wright. “With no satisfactory treatment option available, the potential impact of a positive outcome is huge.”

These impacts include significantly improving quality of life and decreasing the direct and indirect economic burdens associated with osteoarthritis, which range from surgical interventions to time off work. Current treatment options primarily entail the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as Advil, which simply act to manage pain and come with undesirable side effects when used over the long-term. The tea offers hope as a low-cost alternative therapy.

The unique collaboration between plant agriculture and HHNS researchers is a prime example of a value chain in action – a key theme of the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs-U of G partnership, which is providing funding for the project.

By linking primary agriculture with human health to create a product that fits in with community health care, “this could be a real coup for Guelph,” says Wright.

Participant recruitment is currently underway. If you’re interested, contact or call 519-824-4120, Ext. 53925.