(Health Secrets Newsletter) It’s much more than a drink! Yerba Mate (pronounced “yerba mahtay”) is an entrenched cultural phenomenon throughout South America, and its use is galloping across the U.S. The health and weight loss benefits of Yerba Mate are readily apparent. For instance, in Argentina, most of the people carry Mate with them to sip throughout the day, and the sight of an obese person is rare.
Yerba Mate is known to South Americans as the drink of the gods. Mate, as it is simply referred to, is a hot beverage made from the dried leaves of the Ilex Paraguariense bush indigenous to Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay. Thanks to its caffeine-like content, the drink is a natural stimulant.
Mate has been used since ancient times as a tea, and is revered throughout South America for its rejuvenating, nutritional, and energizing effects, and as a tonic for mental and physical fatigue. Mate can be used as a weight-loss aid, and scientific research shows Mate to be a powerful antioxidant that can protect DNA from double-strand breaks. Mate is able to inhibit LDL oxidation. Mate naturally contains a wide range of polyphenols and chlorogenic acid, which together are responsible for many of its health benefits.
Traditionally steeped, served in a hollowed-out gourd, and sipped through a metal straw designed to filter out stems and leaf bits, Mate was first consumed by the Guarani Indians centuries ago. Today consumption has been ritualized as a social event in many homes, with family members and friends passing the Mate filled gourd from person to person and each taking a sip.
In the U.S. countless online vendors and teahouses, coffee shops and restaurants from coast to coast are catering to an adapting palate and a desire for good health. Those who drink Mate say they have turned to the beverage as an alternative pick-me-up with less caffeine and acidity than coffee and a host of health benefits.
Traditional mate has an earthy and somewhat bitter taste. For this reason, many sellers in the U.S. are blending Mate with mint, vanilla, orange or other flavorings.
Web vendors claim the beverage, which contains a mix of vitamins and amino acids, can “boost immunity, restore hair color, retard aging, combat fatigue, control the appetite and eliminate insomnia”, and more. Research is tending to support many of their claims, such as finding that Mate normalizes cholesterol levels, protects the liver, and is a powerful antioxidant.
There are 196 volatile (or active) chemical compounds found in the Mate plant. Of those, 144 are also found in green tea. Mate contains 11 polyphenols, a group of recently discovered phytochemicals that exhibit anti-cancer effects in mammals by strengthening natural defenses and protecting against cellular destruction.
Mate has caffeoyl derivatives and flavonoids (quercetin, rutin and kaempferol). In addition to polyphenols, Mate leaves contain saponins (one recent study just found 3 new saponins in the Mate leaf!) Saponins are phytochemicals that have been found to specifically stimulate the immune system and aid the body in protecting against disease.
In 2005, researchers at the University of Illinois studied 25 different types of mate. They found Mate to contain “higher levels of antioxidants than green tea”, and based on cell studies, “may help prevent oral cancer.”
According to Dr. Mowrey, Director of Mountainwest Institute of Herbal Sciences, a group of investigators from the Pasteur Institute and the Paris Scientific Society concluded that Mate contains “practically all of the vitamins necessary to sustain life“. They focused especially on Pantothenic Acid, remarking that it is “rare to find a plant with so much of this significant and vital nutrient… It is indeed difficult to find a plant in any area of the world equal to Mate in nutritional value.”
A study done by researchers at the University of Madrid found a high content of mineral elements in Mate, especially potassium, magnesium and manganese.
Mate is able to inhibit angiogenesis, the mechanism by which cancer cells set up their own blood supply. Mate is also a proteasome inhibitor that acts against psoriasis and inflammatory disorders.
The action of Mate helps prevent diabetic complications due to high blood sugar’s, specifically advanced glycation end products (AGEs).
Mate lessens the damage from heart attack, and its cardioprotective action involves lessening of oxidative damage through a nitric oxide-dependent mechanism.
Side effects similar to caffeine excess are possible from drinking too much Mate tea or taking too high a dose of Mate supplements.