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Guayakí Yerba Mate - A Powerful Rainforest Experience

Buzz in the Press
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Buzz in the Press

Buzz in the Press

Yerba mate: Names and claims

This brew has buzz, but does it really fight disease?

Yerba mate
YERBA MATE    Crowned the next "it" drink by trend watchers.
The claim: Want to promote optimum health? “Then consider making Yerba Mate part of your daily life.” So begins one manufacturer’s press release for the exotic tealike beverage yerba mate (pronounced mah-tay). The release goes on to say that research now supports claims that yerba mate can help with conditions such as allergies, constipation, diabetes, hay fever, and hypertension. And if you check the Web sites of other mate manufacturers, you’ll see that the list doesn’t stop there; mate makers have said that the beverage aids in weight loss and fights bad breath, among other things.

Crowned the next likely “it” drink by trend watchers, mate is made from leaves of the tree Ilex paraguariensis and has long been popular in South America, where it is drunk out of special gourds. And in case the mild, grassy taste of the tea doesn’t hook consumers here, marketers are hoping its purported health benefits will. But how well supported is the hype?

A growing number of researchers are, in fact, investigating the drink. But “we still have a long way to go before we really know its benefits and risks,” says Elvira de Mejia, associate professor of food chemistry and food toxicology at the University of Illinois. What’s particularly lacking is human studies, she says, because most mate studies involve cells or animals.

CR's Take

The jury's still out on yerba mate's possible health benefits, so beware of marketing claims that make the drink sound like a cure-all.

Some test-tube studies suggest that mate may fight cancer cells; other research suggests it may lower LDL cholesterol or have other cardiovascular benefits. But additional research is needed. Likewise, Natural Medicine Ratings from the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, the leading medical reference on natural remedies, states that mate might aid in weight loss when combined with other botanicals, but there‘s not nearly enough reliable evidence to be sure.

Mate’s makeup is, however, unique. It contains both polyphenols and saponins, chemicals believed to be anticarcinogenic. (In fact, according to de Mejia, it’s possible that the tea might help fight bad breath, because polyphenols have an antimicrobial effect.) But while some researchers have found mate to pack more antioxidants than green tea, de Mejia says it depends on the brand.

Some studies have reported an increased risk for esophageal and other cancers among heavy mate drinkers in South America. But the evidence is inconclusive and suggests that the way mate is consumed there--at extremely hot temperatures and intensely concentrated amounts--might be a key factor.

Mate does contain caffeine. The drink can have anywhere from half to slightly lower levels of it than coffee, which can affect blood glucose and blood pressure and elevate your heart rate. Talk to your doctor before drinking it if you have diabetes or hypertension or if you are trying to get pregnant.