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Everything You Need To Know About Yerba Mate

Everything You Need To Know About Yerba Mate
Reading Time: 7 minutes

What Is Yerba Mate?

Yerba mate is obtained from the leaves and other parts of the Ilex paraguariensis plant. It is native to South America, with countries such as Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Brazil consuming a large amount on a daily basis. Yerba mate has a high nutritive value, containing 24 vitamins and minerals and 15 amino acids, as well as being loaded with antioxidants. The flavor and nutritive qualities of Yerba mate are greatly impacted by how it is grown, as those grown in shady areas are of a better quality than those grown in a sunny farm-like setting. The vitamins present in Yerba Mate are vitamin A, B1, B2, B3, B5, C, and E. Minerals consist of calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, sodium, sulfur, and zinc. Yerba mate also contains caffeoyl and polyphenols, which are powerful antioxidants. Furthermore it contains saponins, which are bitter compounds that have anti-inflammatory and cholesterol-reducing properties. [1] [2]

Yerba mate contains three stimulants: caffeine, theophylline, and theobromine. These are primarily found in coffee, tea, and chocolate respectively. All three give Yerba mate a more balanced stimulant effect, making it as strong as coffee but without the adverse side effects. In addition, the concentration of tannins present in yerba mate is also less than that found in coffee. It is therefore less bitter, as well as less oily; hence the reduced possibility of causing gastrointestinal problems. [3]

Facts About Yerba Mate [2] [3]

  • Yerba Mate contains all the vitamins needed in order to sustain life.
  • Yerba Mate is the national drink of the following countries: Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Southern Brazil.
  • In Argentina, approximately 90 percent of the population drink their yerba mate using a gourd and bombilla (straw-filter).
  • Yerba Mate of the best quality is grown in the shade.
  • Yerba Mate is known as “the drink of the gods,” with the strength of coffee, thehealth benefits of tea, and the euphoria of chocolate” all in one beverage.
  • When Yerba Mate is shared from a gourd it is a sign of friendship and bonding.
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Foods Containing Yerba Mate

Yerba mate is obtained from the plant Ilex paraguariensis and may be brewed hot or cold to make teas and drinks. It is also available in supplemental form as capsules, typically at a dosage of 500mg per day.[2]

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Health Benefits Of Yerba Mate

Yerba mate has numerous suggested benefits associated with it, some of which include:

  • an increase in cognitive function
  • alertness
  • improved physical performance
  • antibacterial and antifungal properties
  • plays role in weight management
  • increased cardiovascular health
  • may be used to treat diabetes
  • boosts the immune system
  • aids digestion
  • regulates cholesterol level

The caffeine in Yerba mate enhances cognitive function, as well as improving alertness. Numerous studies have confirmed that caffeine has a positive impact on memory and increasing one’s focus, as it has an effect on the nervous system. When compared to coffee and tea, yerba mate has a caffeine content which is less than that of coffee but greater than tea; thus the caffeine content is somewhat balanced. This gives yerba mate the characteristics of having all the benefits of coffee and tea, minus the adverse side effects associated with caffeine such as jittery feeling and headache. [4]

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Due to its caffeine content, Yerba mate may also enhance physical performance during exercise, as it allows more fat to be utilized to supply energy. One study, published in 2014 in London’s Nutrition & Metabolism journal, found that when 1000 mg of yerba mate was taken in supplemental form before exercise, it was observed that 24 percent more fat was burned during moderate to rigorous type exercise. Note: the study had only 14 participants, which is a very small group for any clinical study. More studies will be needed to verify whether these results are indicative of an overall benefit. [5]

The many vitamins, essential amino acids, and antioxidants yerba mate contains give an overall boost to the immune system. Caffeoyl derivatives and polyphenols rapidly oxidize free radicals, which are the primary cause of cancers in the body. Yerba mate may also have the ability to flush the body of harmful toxins, as well as antimicrobial properties. Studies conducted suggest that yerba mate has the ability to inhibit the growth of certain bacteria such as E. coli and Malassezia furfur (a fungus responsible for some skin disorders, including dandruff). Note: most of these types of studies are done on isolated cells of these bacteria. More research is needed to see if results in a human body concur. [1]

Yerba mate acts as a vasodilator—causing the blood vessels to open up—enabling a much better blood flow; this action can improve cardiovascular health. In addition, the saponins present in yerba mate possess anti-inflammatory properties. Saponins also have cholesterol-reducing properties—one of the leading risk factors associated with heart attack and stroke. The resultant effect of these properties of yerba mate may be improved cardiovascular health. [6]

Yerba mate can play role in weight loss management, as it appears to aid in both suppressing one’s appetite and delaying food exiting the stomach—making one feel fuller longer, leading to a decrease in overall food consumption. This resultant effect is a reduction in the amount of calories available and an increase in fat that is used from the body’s storage.

In a 2011 study, with 3g of yerba mate supplement being administered each day, it was found that participants lost an average of 1.5lbs (0.7kg) over a 12-week period. They also experienced a 2 percent reduction in their waistline. Yerba mate is most effective when taken in combination with guarana and damiana supplements. Note: again, the number of participants in this study was small; only 30 men and women. Larger trials will be needed to verify the results. [7] [8]

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Yerba Mate: Is It Ever Bad For You?

Yerba mate is relatively safe for healthy individuals. However, it does contain certain carcinogens which may increase your risk of some types of cancer. The National Cancer Institute has conducted research on yerba mate. The areas affected are the bladder, esophagus, lungs, kidney, mouth and larynx.[9]

  • Studies conducted in relation to the incidence of bladder cancer showed a correlation between the frequency of consumption of yerba mate and the risk associated with its occurrence.
  • The formation of esophageal cancer was more related to the temperature of the water used to brew the yerba mate tea. The studies indicated that the hotter the water used for brewing the tea, the more susceptible the drinkers were to developing esophageal cancer, irrespective of the frequency of consumption.
  • As it relates to lung cancer, the studies found that the amount of yerba mate tea consumed was the deciding factor. Persons who consume a large amount of mate tea had a 1.6% higher risk of developing lung cancer. It should also be noted that persons who smoke and drink increase this risk up to seven-fold.
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The carcinogenic effects may be due to the traditional drying process, which involves heavy wood smoke. There are “organic,” air-dried varieties available as well.  I did find some evidence that air-dried varieties have been found to contain smaller amounts of carcinogens than even green tea. [10]

Caffeine-related side effects of Yerba mate include insomnia, nervousness, restlessness, stomach upset, nausea, vomiting, headache, increased heart rate, high blood pressure and ringing in the ear.

Yerba mate is not recommended for children, pregnant or lactating women due to effects of the caffeine present and the propensity of it to cause cancer. In pregnant women, the caffeine may pass through the placenta and affect the fetus leading to complications such as miscarriage, low birth weight, or other birth defects. In addition, the caffeine may also be transferred into the milk when breastfeeding, causing irritability and some level of gastrointestinal discomfort in babies.

Yerba mate may worsen the symptoms of certain diseases and conditions due to the caffeine content. For persons suffering with irritable bowel syndrome, glaucoma, high blood pressure and osteoporosis, yerba mate may increase the side effects or worsen the symptoms of these conditions.

  • The caffeine content in yerba mate may worsen diarrhea and the other symptoms associated with irritable bowel syndrome.
  • For persons suffering from glaucoma, the caffeine in yerba mate causes an increase in the pressure of the eye therefore care should be exercised when consuming mate tea.
  • The consumption of yerba mate tend to increase one’s blood pressure therefore it is recommended that persons with high blood pressure avoid yerba mate in all forms.
  • As it relates to osteoporosis, one should consult their health care provider before consuming yerba mate tea or take the supplements as yerba mate will cause calcium to be excreted in the urine leading to worsening of the symptoms of osteoporosis.

Yerba mate has a wide range of drug interactions, and extreme care should be taken if you are on medications.

  • Yerba mate has very strong drug interactions with other stimulants such as amphetamines and cocaine. These stimulants increase blood pressure and heart rate, and taking yerba mate will further compound the situation leading to very dangerous consequences.
  • Other drug interactions include that with antibiotics and other drugs such as Cimetidine, Clozapine, estrogen, Fluvoxamine and Disulfiram. This drug interaction causes a decrease in the body’s ability to remove caffeine thereby resulting in prolonged caffeine-like side effects.
  • Yerba mate also reacts with Dipyridamole, which is used for cardiac stress tests, by blocking the action of this drug; therefore discontinue consumption of yerba mate at least 24hrs before use of this drug.
  • Medications used to treat depression such as monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOIs) may cause serious side effects if taken while consuming yerba mate. These drugs generally have a stimulant effect and as such coupled with the caffeine content in yerba mate, the side effects experienced may be life threatening.
  • Yerba mate also has moderate drug interactions with anticoagulants such as aspirin, Ibuprofen, Diclofenac and warfarin; the resultant effect may be excessive bleeding as caffeine also slows down the blood clotting process.
  • For those persons using pentobarbital to help them sleep it is not recommended that yerba mate be consumed while taking this drug as it decreases the effectiveness of it.
  • Yerba mate has minor drug interactions with contraceptives namely, Triphasil, Ortho-Novum 1/35 and 7/7/7. This interaction causes the symptoms of nervousness, headache and increased heart rate to be prolonged.
  • Medications for diabetes such as insulin, Amaryl and Avandia also interact with yerba mate which decreases the effectiveness of these drugs.
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Should You Worry About Yerba Mate?

Because you have to go looking for Yerba mate, it’s not likely you’ll come into accidental contact with it. The one exception to this is when dealing with diet pills or multi-ingredient shake mixes—always read ingredient labels, especially if you have any of the conditions listed above.

At the moment there is not a recommended dose for Yerba Mate. However, many experts and researchers definitely advise drinking this supplement in moderation, since very high doses have been linked to increases in the risk for certain types of cancers. As with anything else, you would want to check with your doctor or qualified medical professional before adding this supplement to your normal routine. [11]

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Final Thoughts

Yerba mate has been consumed traditionally for both its medicinal and social significance that is attached to it by persons of different age groups in certain South American countries. Its consumption has yielded many benefits; however—as is the case with most herbs, whether consumed for recreational purposes or for direct medicinal properties—care and due diligence must be taken, as these plants contain chemical compounds—in varying concentrations depending on the way in which they are grown—as well as other factors. Yerba mate is also available in supplemental form, making it a bit easier to regulate how much is actually taken into the body. But there are side effects associated with yerba mate, especially in large quantities or if you wish to include it in your everyday diet, so you should first consult your health care provider.

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