What is Yerba Mate?
Today, we have more scientific knowledge about health and nutrition available to us than ever before. Traditional health wisdom combined with cutting edge science and new nutrition insights provide us with greater opportunities for wellness and longevity. Yerba mate comes from traditional societies, but has become mainstream in recent years.
Yerba mate, widely consumed since the late 16th century, is the traditional tea of South America. It grows naturally and is consumed in many parts of South America, with Argentina being the biggest producer and exporter of commercial yerba mate[i].
The yerba mate plant begins as a shrub, which matures into a tree. The leaves are used for brewing the tea. Somewhat bitter when simply steeped in water, and slightly less so when sweetened with sugar, milk or fruit juice, or blended with other herbs. In Paraguay and Uruguay, many people walk the streets with their yerba mate vacuum flask in hand[ii].
Modern Versions of Yerba Mate
Yerba mate is now consumed all over the world. Modern manufacturers also produce energy drinks, extracts and canned iced teas containing yerba mate. The leaf extract is a supplementation form of the traditional tea. It provides a concentrated form of the compounds contained within the plant.
Yerba Mate Benefits and Side Effects
Studies show some pretty amazing health benefits. Many of the studies are carried out on cells or animals, but some clinical trials on humans show promising results. As is the case with most health products, there are potential side effects and risks associated with this traditional tea. However, it’s important to examine the context of these risks (e.g. dosage and other factors that amplify the risk) before jumping to conclusions. First, a look at some of the emerging research regarding the benefits.
Early clinical trials on humans have shown some potential between the tea and weight loss. A Korean study with obese subjects showed decreased waist to hip ratio, body fat mass, and percentage of body fat with 12-weeks of yerba mate supplementation. No side effects from the supplementation were observed[iii].
A study on 14 healthy males and females explored the role of yerba mate supplementation on fatty acid oxidation and energy expenditure derived from fatty acid oxidation during exercise of varying intensities. Results showed that the supplement increased both fatty acid oxidation and energy expenditure from fatty acid oxidation in all sub maximal intensities. Maximal exercise performance wasn’t affected, and the study concluded that yerba mate has the potential to increase exercise effectiveness for weight loss[iv].
A study of the effects of saponins contained in yerba mate highlighted their potential use against obesity. The study was carried out on rats, so more studies are needed to correlate results with humans[v][vi]. Other studies on mice support the hypothesis that yerba mate tea may be useful in treating obesity[vii].
Some of the health benefits related to weight loss may be due to the caffeine content of yerba mate tea. It contains more caffeine than green tea and slightly less than a brewed cup of coffee[viii]. The caffeine content is similar to that of matcha green tea. Caffeine containing beverages are known to promote fat loss through the processes of appetite suppression and thermogenesis[ix].
102 human subjects participated in a study investigating the effect of yerba mate on lipid and lipoprotein levels. Participants took yerba mate infusions three times per day for 40 days. Yerba mate consumption reduced “bad” cholesterol levels in all subject groups (normal lipid profile, abnormal lipid profile and hypercholesterolemia subjects). The results highlighted the potential for yerba mate to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease[x].
Antioxidants for Disease Prevention
An overload of free radicals cause oxidative stress on the body. Oxidative stress plays a major role in health and in the development of a number of diseases and health conditions. The human body works to counteract oxidative stress by producing antioxidants, either naturally, or via food and supplements[xi].
Yerba mate tea is exceptionally high in antioxidants, and could, therefore, play a role in reducing oxidative stress on the body and decreasing the risk for disease. High in polyphenols, it plays an important role as an antioxidant.
The capacity of antioxidants between yerba mate and green tea is quite favorable.[xii]. That says a lot since green tea is widely known and accepted for its high antioxidant qualities. The antioxidant qualities of green tea largely come from catechins, a type of polyphenol. Yerba mate tea doesn’t contain catechins like green tea and black teas, but rather, chlorogenic acid, another type of polyphenol[xiii].
It also contains a wide range of vitamins and minerals like vitamin C[xiv], which further contribute to antioxidant potential[xv]. Flavonoids are a class of polyphenols contained in yerba mate, which provide antioxidant effects[xvi].
Studies on yerba mate tea have highlighted its potential in other areas of health:
- Inhibits the progression of atherosclerosis in rabbits[xvii]
- Shown to have anti-inflammatory effects on mice with high fat diet-induced obesity[xviii]. This effect, along with the ability of yerba mate to lower cholesterol levels, could be attributed to the saponins contained in the tea[xix] [xx]
- Used as an anti-fungal[xxi] and anti-microbial agent[xxii] [xxiii]
- A potential anti-cancer agent based on research on human colon cancer cells[xxiv]
First of all, like many herbs and health supplements, yerba mate has the potential to interact negatively with some drugs. If you are taking any medications, check first to find out whether it’s likely to have any negative interaction with them[xxv].
Any beverage with caffeine exhibits potential for side effects for those sensitive to it. Therefore, err on the side of caution if you experience health concerns exacerbated by caffeine. A cup of yerba mate tea contains slightly less caffeine than a brewed cup of coffee.
People who consume it regularly report that it doesn’t give them the “jitters” or subsequent energy crash that comes after coffee. However, this doesn’t mean that more is better.
Can Yerba Mate Cause Cancer?
The question of whether yerba mate increases the risk of certain cancers has been one of the most widespread concerns floating around, despite studies to the contrary. However, some studies exists showing as association between heavy mate consumption and the development of certain cancers. Other risk factors, however, likely influence these observations. Regions with increased cancer also showed high rates of smoking and alcohol consumption.
Risks for oral cancers increase with very hot beverages. Regular consumption of strong and extra hot tea increases these risks. However, the risk for these cancers increases with regular consumption of other very hot beverages like coffee, broths and other teas[xxvi] [xxvii].
Our overall verdict is that there are benefits and risks associated with most health products. We believe that the benefits of yerba mate tea should outweigh the potential risks when taken in sensible doses as part of an overall approach to health and wellness. Remember to check with your primary health care practitioner if you are unsure.
What do you think of this tea? Do you like the taste, and what benefits have you noticed from taking it? We’d love to hear what you think so please feel free to leave a comment in the box below!