Yerba Mate: The Latest Health Drink (In Moderation of Course)

Kara Bauer Health Guide
  • Living in South America the last 6 years, I ´ve developed an acquired taste for the native drink, yerba mate. Considering I don´t drink coffee, tea or soft drinks, it was a surprise to me that I enjoy this drink so much given the smokey bitterness that turns most North Americans off. However, even so, there has been an increasing awareness and market for yerba mate developing in other parts of the world, especially the United States over the past few years. People have been turned on by the amazing health benefits contained in this herb, while also providing the energy boost that many seek in coffee and other stimulent teas, without the negative side effecs such as the jitters or inability to sleep that are normally associated with high caffeine consumption.

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    In the sub-tropical countries where yerba mate is cultivated, Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay and Uruguay, the leaves are harvested from the tree called Ilex Paraguariense. Yerba means herb in spanish. The leaves are sold dried and then typically consumed in a hollow gourd (called mate in Argentina) by steeping the herbs in hot water rather than boiling water. The tradition of sharing the mate between friends and family is wide-spread in this region of the world and it is not uncommon to see groups of people sitting in the park passing mate amongst themselves. Although I don´t see many individuals in Buenos Aires carrying around their mate gourd and thermus on the streets, although I´ve noticed that this is quite common in Uruguay and probably other parts of Argentina, many people do drink yerba mate in their homes and place of work on a daily basis.


    Even though most Americans are consuming mate as a loose or bagged tea rather then with the traditional gourd method, many of which are sweetened or flavored to offset the bitterness most aren´t accustomed to, the enthusiasm for this health drink continues to grow in popularity. So what are those health benefits being touted? Well, for starters, mate is said to be rich in antioxidants, even higher than those found in green tea. One of these antioxidants called polyphenols (11 of which are found in yerba mate) is a phytochemical that is said to fight cancer by protecting against cell damage. Yerba mate also contains a multitude of Vitamins (A, C, E and B), minerals (iron, magnesium, mangonese, potassium, calcium, selenium and phosphorous) as well as fatty acids, chloryphyll, pantothentic acid and 15 amino acids![1]


    In addition to the benefits associated with reduced oxidative stress on the heart and liver cells, the multitude of nutrients found in yerba mate, and the rejuventaing, energetic physical effect of this natural stimulant, studies have also show a positive correlation between consumption and weight loss (by improving fat oxidation and hunger level)[2], the prevention and/or control of diabetes (improves glycemic and lipid profiles)[3], higher bone mineral density (potentially preventing or treating osteoporosis)[4], and anti-cancer properties due to its ability to protect against DNA damage and repair DNA activity[5]


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    Even though there are numerous health benefits that have been discoverd by researchers, there is still much debate on whether regular and/or high consumption (as you more typically see in South America) can increase the probability of oral cancers[6]. Although numerous studies have shown a possible correlation, it is unclear whether this is due to the yerba mate itself, the high temperature of the beverage, or even the carcinogenic constiuents resulting in the production process[7].


    It is also important to remember that even though yerba mate may not produce the same side effects as coffee, it does still contain caffeine, albeit about 50% less then coffee. Even so, it seems that the benefits outweigh the cons and that as long as one is consuming yerba mate in moderation, it can provide a boost of energy and a sleu of health benefits.


    [1] Isaacs, T. (2008, September 8). Yerba mate: south america´s health drink. Retrieved from


    [2] “Ilex paraguariensis extract ameliorates obesity induced by high-fat diet: potential role of AMPK in the visceral adipose tissue,“ J. Pang, et al. Archives of biochemistry and biophysics, August 2008:476(2):178-85. Epub 2008 Feb 26.


    [3] “Mate tea (Ilex paraguariensis) improves glycemic and lipid profiles of type 2 diabetes and pre-diabetes individuals: a pilot study,“ GA. Klein, et al. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, October 2011: (5):320-32.


    [4] “Yerba Mate (Ilex paraguariensis) consumption is associated with higher bone mineral density in postmenopausal women,“ AS. Conforti, et al. Bone, January 2012: 50(1):9-13. Epub 2011 Sep 3.


    [5] “Protective effects of mate tea (Ilex paraguariensis) on H2O2-induced DNA damage and DNA repair in mice,“ DD. Miranda, et al. Mutagenesis, July 2008: 23(4):261-5. Epub 2008 Feb 27.


    [6] Conis, E. (2009, March 16). Yerba mate tea: drink in moderation. Retrieved from


    [7] “High levels of carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in mate drinks,“ F. Kamangar, et al. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev., May 2008: 17(5):1262-8.

Published On: August 11, 2012