Yerba mate tea gets great buzz from natural health professionals and athletes. This natural herbal tea contains caffeine to boost your energy, and new research shows that yerba mate tea may help to fight certain types of cancer, promote weight loss and appetite control, increase mental and physical focus, lower cholesterol levels, and more.
However, there has been some concerning research that indicates drinking yerba mate tea in large amounts and for a prolonged period increases the risk for cancer of the mouth, lungs, kidneys, cervix, lungs, and esophagus. It appears that smoking along with drinking yerba mate increases cancer risk by as much as 7 to 10 times. According to the Mayo Clinic, yerba mate should be safe enjoyed in moderation.
What Is Yerba Mate?
Guayaki yerba mate is a member of the holy family from South America. This tall shrub thrives in specific soils and climates and is generally limited to small areas of Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina. The tea is made from the dried leaves and small twigs, creating an earthy flavor.
Some manufacturers smoke or roast the leaves and twigs for their tea, but this is not recommended. Yerba mate tea does contain caffeine, making it a stimulant. If you find the taste unappealing, you can add a natural sweetener like raw honey, coconut sugar, or even maple syrup.
History of Yerba Mate
Yerba mate comes from the Guarani natives, one of the first groups of natives to be contacted by Europeans entering South America nearly 500 years ago. The Guaranis have cultivated, drank, and used yerba mate as currency for hundreds of years before they introduced it to European invaders.
When the Jesuits arrived, they changed the manner in which it was cultivated, and are considered the ones responsible for the yerba mate tea we now enjoy. Today, Argentina is the world’s largest producer of yerba mate, producing and shipping nearly 256 million tons each year.
3 Evidence-Based Studies That Show Yerba Mate Fights Cancer
There is much debate as to whether yerba mate tea fights cancer, or if it is a carcinogen that increases your risk for certain types of cancer. While researchers still debate the issue, there are recent studies that show yerba mate has promise in the fight against specific types of cancer cells.
- Colon cancer: According to an in vitro study published in the journal Molecular Nutrition and Food Research, certain isolated acids in yerba mate kill specific human colon cancer cells. The researchers also note that the dicaffeoylquinic acids found in yerba mate have the potential to “mitigate other diseases associated with inflammation.”
- Breast cancer: Researchers from Uruguay released the results of a case-controlled study using yerba mate and dietary iron to fight breast cancer. The study, while small, found that both yerba mate and iron together create a protective synergy against the development of breast cancer. You can check out the study in the Journal of Breast Cancer Research and Advancements.
- Variety of human cancer cells: In a recent study published in the journal Food Chemical Toxicology, researchers from Spain note that the phenolic components of yerba mate extracts may help decrease the viability and the proliferation of specific cancer cells in the human body. The study also included green coffee bean extract and, head-to-head, yerba mate showed greater antiestrogenic activity.
4 Potential Yerba Mate Health Benefits
Yerba mate’s health benefits have been touted for hundreds of years. But there is very little research that has been conducted in clinical trials with humans. Below are three of the most promising animal studies and a single-blind control trial on humans.
- Boost performance: Yerba mate caffeine levels are less than that of a single cup of coffee but more than a cup of black tea. Yerba mate contains approximately 85 milligrams of caffeine per cup, and proponents claim that it helps to increase energy, focus, and mental and physical performance.
- Protect against infections: There are a number of clinical studies that indicate that a specific extract from yerba mate, Ilex paraguariensis, has impressive antimicrobial properties that inhibit or inactivate E. coli bacteria. And, in a study published in the journal Phytotherapy Research, the authors found that Ilex paraguariensis is also useful when used topically as an antifungal agent.
- Spur weight loss: Researchers in Korea have conducted in vivo studies on yerba mate’s ability to aid in weight loss, belly fat loss, and diabetes control. In one study, mice were given either a normal diet, a high-fat diet, a normal diet with yerba mate, or a high-fat diet with yerba mate. After four weeks, the mice on the high-fat diet with mate showed a decreased food and water intake and less weight gain than the other control groups.
- Lower cholesterol levels: Researchers from Brazil conducted a single-blind controlled trial on the effect yerba mate can have on cholesterol levels. In this small trial of 102 individuals, participants given yerba mate three times a day experienced a 13.1% reduction in bad cholesterol after 40 days.
Yerba Mate Tea Concerns
First the good news about yerba mate, and now to address the concerns. As mentioned above, some studies suggest that drinking yerba mate can increase the risk of certain types of cancer.
Some of the new studies indicate that the cancer risk is due to drinking hot mate frequently. Other researchers blame the increased cancer risk on the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, which are known carcinogens. It is important to note that both tobacco smoke and grilled foods also contain PAHs.
In addition to a possible connection to cancer, yerba mate may:
- not be appropriate for you if you are sensitive to caffeine.
- not be safe for young children, pregnant or breastfeeding women, or alcoholics.
- make anxiety disorders worse.
- increase high blood pressure.
- increase heart rates.
- increase the pressure inside the eye. If you have glaucoma, avoid yerba mate.
There are also certain drugs that are affected by yerba mate. If you take any of the following prescription drugs or recreational drugs, avoid drinking yerba mate:
- Adenosine (Adenocard)
- Cimetidine (Tagamet)
- Clozapine (Clozaril)
- Dipyridamole (Persantine)
- Disulfiram (Antabuse)
- Fluvoxamine (Luvox)
- Riluzole (rilutek)
- Verapamil (Calan, Covera, Isoptin, Verelan)