The Science Behind Yerba Mate Health Benefits
TeaConstruction: A Scientific Breakdown of Yerba Mate Health Benefits and Chemical Makeup
Yerba Mate: Everyone’s heard of it, but who actually knows what it is and what it can do for you? Most people are in the know, so to speak, of the awesome properties of Yerba Mate besides knowing that it’s tea! So let’s get to it: was is this powerhouse tea that makes up the base of Chocolate Hustle?
A Brief History
Yerba Mate has been consumed in South America for at least 500 years. It’s traditionally cultivated in Brazil and Uruguay, where consumption of the tea originates. Today, the tea is popular in Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, southern Brazil and parts of Bolivia and Chile. It also happens to be popular in communities Syria and Lebanon, who import the tea from South America.
We do often refer to Yerba Mate as a tea... although technically it's also kind of not a "tea" in the classic sense as it does not originate from the camellia sinensis plant.
Traditionally, yerba mate leaves are dried, ground, and steeped in hot water to make tea, although variations exist depending on where you’re going. Today, dried leaves are often aged to develop different attributes, much like different alcohols are fermented for various amounts of time for flavor. By itself, Yerba Mate is fairly bitter, so some places add sugar or juice to their tea, and in the summer sometimes lemonade is mixed in. The biggest consumer of Yerba Mate is Uruguay, where people use about 22lbs per capita annually. In Argentina, consumption is only about 11lbs per person.
If you want to get authentic about drinking your yerba mate, you’re going to need a calabash gourd and a metal straw called a bombilla.
Traditionally, the gourd is hollowed out and lined, and tea is drunk from the gourd with the bombilla.
Folks in the US don’t drink quite as much Yerba Mate, but it is growing in popularity as part of the trend towards drinking more health beverages – it’s easy to buy soft drinks and pre-made teas with Yerba Mate in them at your local drugstore or grocery store – but does Yerba Mate actually have all the benefits that we keep buying it for?
The Chemical Makeup of Mate
There are three main groups of compounds that are in yerba mate: polyphenols, xanthines, and saponins. Each group has their own, distinctive set of benefits.
Polyphenols are a group of naturally-occuring, organic compounds often found in plants. You may have heard about them as they relate to wine (along with reserveratol), but yerba mate is also full of these brain and immune-boosting compounds! The polyphenols in yerba mate include caffeic acid, caffeoyl derivatives, caffeoylshikimic acid, chlorogenic acid, feruloylquinic acid, kaempferol, quercetin, quinic acid, and rutin.
Polyphenols can impact a variety of functions in the body, from fat metabolism to the brain and immune system:
- Flavanoids and phenolic acids, sub groups of polyphenols, like kaempferol, feruloyquinic acid, and caffeic work by inhibiting enzymes like pancreatic lipase and lipoprotein lipase, which play a role in fat metabolism and have the potential to facilitate weight loss.
- Polyphenols in yerba mate have been shown to have powerful antioxidant effects, like those in green tea. They reduce oxidative stress that can cause aging, cancer, cardiovascular disease and inflammation.
- Polyphenols all contribute to the antimicrobial activity against foodborne pathogens, so if you’re eating your week-old leftovers, yerba mate might help ward off food poisoning!
- Certain polyphenols, like cholorogenic acid, have analgesic effects and can alleviate mild pain and promote relaxation.
- Since polyphenols are powerful antioxidants, they also protect the brain from oxidative stress, reducing the risk of dementia and memory loss.
- In general, polyphenols have been documented to promote general brain health. They’re great brain-boosters, and drinking a little yerba mate every day is great for your noggin!
Xanthines are a class of purine alkaloids found in many different plants. Caffeine, theobromine, and theophylline are the three xanthines in yerba mate, and give yerba mate its characteristic bitter aroma and stimulant effects. Xanthines also have several other positive benefits, including:
- Certain xanthines, like theobromine have relaxing effects that can help reduce anxiety and calm nerves.
- Psychostimulant, or stimulating, effects. Caffeine is one of the main causes of this effect, and psychostimulation can dramatically improve cognitive performance and productivity.
- Treatment of cognitive dysfunction: the jury is still out on this one, but some studies have suggested that xanthines can help treat cognitive dysfunction.
Saponins are notable for a couple of health-related reasons, including one big correlation to cognition:
- Saponins have been reported to have a positive effect on cholesterol reduction by inhibiting the passive diffusion of colic acid through the formation of micelles and preventing absorption.
- They’re also been noted as having anticancer, antiparasitic, and anti-inflammatory properties.
- Findings also suggest that saponins can improve hippocampus-dependent learning and memory, possibly through improvement of synaptic transmission and enhancement of the level of brain-derived neurotrophic factor, a protein that supports growth, maturation, and maintenance of brain cells.
In addition to these three main groups, yerba mate also contains a notable amount of quercetin, rutin, potassium, magnesium, and manganese. Quercetin is a powerful anti-inflammatory and can be used to mitigate allergic reactions, rutin is a powerful antioxidant, and the elements potassium, magnesium, and manganese have all been documented as improving cognition and focus.
Another interesting tidbit about yerba mate is that a paper from the University of São Paulo claims that it is an inhibitor of monoamine oxidase activity. A monoamine oxidase inhibitor is a type of antidepressant, which means it’s possible that yerba mate has a calming effect and can help stabilize mood.
The Power of the Mate
Yerba mate packs a lot of power into a few crunched up, steeped leaves. It offers a whole range of health benefits, including many attributes that support cognition and mood. When used synergistically with other compounds, it can be quite powerful for stimulating cognition, enhancing focus, and stabilizing mood, all of which can help you function better on a daily basis. The powerful brain boosting punch that yerba mate can deliver is further enhanced when paired with other brain-boosting herbs, like those you’ll find in Chocolate Hustle - chocolate mint performance tea.
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