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Yerba Mate - South America's Health Drink

Written and compiled by Tony Isaacs

(The Best Years in Life) More than a drink, Yerba Mate (pronounced "yerba mahtay") has become a cultural phenomenon throughout South America and it’s use is rapidly spreading to the United State. Its benefits are obvious. In Buenos Aires, where people carry their Mate with them throughout the day, the site of an obese person is rare

Known to South Americans as the "Drink of the Gods," Yerba Mate is a hot beverage made from the dried leaves of the Ilex Paraguariense bush indigenous to Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay. And thanks to its caffeine-like content, the drink is a natural stimulant.

Yerba Maté has been used since ancient times as a tea, is recommended throughout South America for its rejuvenating, nutritional, and energizing effects, particularly for mental and physical fatigue. Yerba Maté can be taken as an effective weight-loss aid and scientific research shows Maté to be a powerful antioxidant and that it can protect DNA from double-strand breaks. It also has the ability to inhibit LDL oxidation. Maté naturally contains a wide range of polyphenols, methylxanthines, and chlorogenic acid, which together are responsible for its many health benefits.

Traditionally steeped and served in a hollowed-out gourd and sipped through a metal straw designed to filter out stems and leaf bits, Yerba Mate was first consumed by the Guarani Indians centuries ago.

It is the national drink of Argentina, where drinkers of Yerba Mate are even more prevalent than coffee drinkers in the United States - Yerba Mate consumption in Argentina reaches 92% of all households, compared to a consumption rate of 62% for coffee in the U.S. It is not uncommon to see Argentines walking down the street sipping out of a mate gourd.

In recent years, its popularity has spread to the United States, where countless online vendors and teahouses, coffee shops and restaurants from Boston to Los Angeles are catering to an adapting palate. Those who drink it say they have turned to the beverage as an alternative pick-me-up with less caffeine and acidity than coffee and a host of supposed health benefits.

Many Americans may not like Yerba Mate the way Argentinians drink it – as it has an earthy and somewhat bitter taste. For that reason, many sellers in the U.S. are blending Yerba 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 youthful hair color, retard aging, combat fatigue, control the appetite and eliminate insomnia," and more – and research is tending to support many of those claims, such as finding Yerba Mate to have hypocholesteremic (lowering cholesterol), antioxidant, hepatoprotective (protecting the liver) and bitter taste properties – all of which are attributed to the phenolic constituents of the leaves.

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Yerba Mate is packed with naturally-occurring nutrients and anti-oxidants.

There are 196 volatile (or active) chemical compounds found in the Yerba Mate plant. Of those, 144 are also found in green tea. Yerba Mate contains 11 polyphenols. Polyphenols are a group of phytochemicals. Phytochemicals (phyto- meaning plant) are recently-discovered compounds that act as powerful antioxidants and are considered to exhibit anti-cancer effects in mammals by strengthening an organism's natural defenses and protecting it against cellular destruction (i.e. lycopene in tomatoes, flavonoids in blueberries, and isoflavones in soy).

Yerba Mate has caffeoyl derivatives (caffeic acid, chlorogenic acid, 3,4-dicaffeoylquinic acid, 3,5-dicaffeoylquinic acid and 4,5-dicaffeoylquinic acid) and flavonoids (quercetin, rutin and kaempferol).  In addition to polyphenols, Yerba Mate leaves contain saponins (In fact, one recent study yielded 3 new saponins in the Yerba Mate leaf!) Saponins are phytochemicals that have been found to specifically stimulate the immune system and aid the body in protecting against disease.

Each infusion of Mate contains:

  • Vitamins: A, C, E, B1, B2, Niacin (B3), B5, B Complex

  • Minerals: Calcium, Manganese, Iron, Selenium, Potassium, Magnesium, Phosphorus

  • Additional Compounds: Fatty Acids, Chlorophyll, Flavonols, Polyphenols, Trace Minerals, Antioxidants, Pantothenic Acid and 15 Amino Acids.

Yerba Mate and Caffeine

Yerba mate provides 25 mg of caffeine per 2g tea bag in 8 oz of water. By comparison, the average cup of coffee has 135 mg of caffeine. The average cup of black tea contains 50 mg and green tea has about 30 mg.

However, not all 'caffeines' are the same, however. What we refer to as 'caffeine' is actually a group of substances known to chemists as Xanthine Alkaloids.

The caffeine in coffee is very physical and fast acting.

Theophylline is the 'caffeine' found in green tea and it tends to be more mentally stimulating.

Theobromine is the 'caffeine' found in chocolate and It tends to be very slow-releasing.

Yerba mate actually contains a mixture of these three xanthine alkaloids. It also provides minerals to support nervous system function, and B-vitamins to relax muscles. For these reasons, it produces a balanced, long-lasting physical and mental stimulation.

At one point, South American chemists were so intrigued by the differences between Yerba Mate stimulation and coffee stimulation that they invented a phantom molecule called "mateine" to explain it. They claimed that mateine was a unique molecule in the xanthine alkaloid family.

We now know that such is not the case, though mateine is still sometimes referred to as the holistic effect of drinking Yerba Mate.

 

Yerba Mate Research

In 2005, researchers at the University of Illinois studied 25 different types of mate. They found the tea 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, one group of investigators from the Pasteur Institute and the Paris Scientific Society concluded that Yerba 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."

In addition, results from a study done by researchers at the University of Madrid assert a high content of mineral elements, especially K, Mg, and Mn, in Mate. They considered those findings "to be of great relevance" to the nutritional value of Mate infusions.

Yerba Mate Side Effects

Caffeine excess like side effects are possible from drinking too much Yerba Mate tea or taking too high a dose of Yerba Mate supplements.

Author's notes:

The bulk of this article came from the white paper on Yerba Mate available at www.yerba-mate.com: http://www.yerba-mate.com/yerbamate.pdf

Yerba-mate.com is the source of the author's favorite Yerba Mate - Aviva 100% Certified Organic Pure Leaf Yerba Mate.

Other sources for this article included Columbia University, Dr. Ray Sahelian, No Borders and Yerbamate.com

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