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Update on Yerba Maté

Why this herbal tea may increase cancer risk

September 1, 2010 |
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Sources Cited

Acknowledgements

Image thanks to Tracy Ruggles.

Transcript

And finally, what about yerba mate, a latin American herbal tea that’s been linked to cancer. Should we continue to avoid it? Yes, an evaluation of the cyto- and genotoxic activity of yerba mate in human white blood cells, found it caused a significant increase in the rate of cell death. Not what you want from your herbal tea.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by veganmontreal.

To help out on the site please email volunteer@nutritionfacts.org

Dr. Michael Greger

Doctor's Note

Please feel free to post any ask-the-doctor type questions here in the comments section and I’d be happy to try to answer them. And check out the other videos on Yerba Maté. Also, there are 1,686 other subjects covered in the rest of my videos--please feel free to explore them as well!

For some context, please check out my associated blog post: Soymilk: shake it up!

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  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/LachicaveganaComefrutas/ Lachicavegana Comefrutas

    But is it bad and have the PAH’s because the Yerba Mate is smoked as part of the “drying” process?? Guayaki says that the Organic, Unsmoked, Air Dried Mate has less Pah’s then Green Tea. I know that they are selling the product, but I also really want to know what in the Mate is bad. For many years I drank the traditional blend, but in the last few years I have switched to Air Dried, Green, Organic Yerba Mate with water that is not terribly hot. And IF it is the “smoking” process that is bad, then are other teas smoked, like Lapsong? And then does it make my beloved Organic, Air Dried, Yerba Mate okay? It’s seriously a major happy tea………Please Miraculous Michael Gregor, do deliver good news to me.

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/mgreger/ Michael Greger M.D.

      That is an excellent question, and unfortunately the answer is that we just don’t know. A study of 8 different brands found “very high concentrations” of carcinogenic PAHs in all of them. As you’ll see if you have a chance to read it, they even go as far as to say suggest “that the benzo[a]pyrene intake associated with drinking mate may be comparable with that associated with smoking cigarettes.” Yikes! If you are going to drink it I’d recommend unsmoked varieties, but unfortunately we’re not sure how much better they are. I’ll definitely keep my eyes peeled for any new data–I used to love the stuff myself.

      • Brian Adams

        This piece of literature, on the other hand, is thought provoking indeed. I am amazed to see the hydrophobics making their greatest impact in the first 5 minute steep, and irrespective of temperature! So my 6g daily Mate is equivalent to 2.7 cigarretes’ worth of benzo- yeesh. I hope the antioxidants have been negating that….

      • Absolutely Stunned

        Does the study include the Organic, non-smoked version sold by Eco Teas,here?
        http://www.yerbamate.com/YerbaMate/

      • Joey

        You’re right to claim that there are “high concentrations” in all 8 brands. But there’s a surprisingly wide variation — let’s compare ‘Brand 5′ against ‘Green Tea’.

        When you do so, you’ll see that Brand 5 only has twice the total level of PAHs compared to Green Tea. Moreover, a large number of Brand 5′s PAHs come in the form of Fluoranthene and Pyrene. Fluoranthene is classified by the International Agency on Cancer Research as “not classifiable as to its carcinogenicity to humans”.
        http://cira.ornl.gov/documents/FLUORANT.pdf
        Pyrene is trickier. Maybe it’s bad for the liver and kidney. But the EPA has placed “pyrene in weight-of-evidence group D, not classifiable as to human carcinogenicity.”

        If we are willing to exclude Fluroanthene and Pyrene from our calculations, then Green Tea and Brand 5 are very similar ~330 vs. ~200.

        I’d guess that Brand 5 is an ‘unsmoked’ variety. The evidence here doesn’t seem damning — what do you think?

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/LachicaveganaComefrutas/ Lachicavegana Comefrutas

    Yeah!! I know, I read some of that stuff. BUT, nearly all the mate in the world is consumed in South America and basically every brand I have ever seen there is Smoked. I think it isn’t very “porteno” to drink unsmoked. So I am assuming that all the varieties they tested were smoked. Maybe I can find out from Guayaki which study they are talking about. I ran into research on the web somewhere, but you had to pay for the rest of the paper. Yeah, I drink it from the gourd and quit a few times and may still because it does elevate the heart rate. We drink vats (well under the 60 cups a day :) of green tea as well, but I don’t feel complete without my Mate! Thanks for your answer!

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/nico_et/ nico_et

      hi, what have you done since this video? I also feel incomplete without mate.Do you keep drinking Organic mate?
      Thanks!

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/TanTruong/ Tan Truong

    Hey Dr. Greger.

    I take Vega Sport pre-workout drink (18g servings) five times a week. For each 18g of serving, there’re 167mg of yerba mate leaf.

    How much of a threat is yerba mate in this form and at the frequency I consume per week? Thanks.

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/drdons/ DrDons

    Hi Tan Truong, Reviewing the product you consume shows it has many good components. However as discussed above it does contain a Mate which contains carcinogens plus a tropical oil(coconut seed oil see http://nutritionfacts.org/video/is-coconut-oil-good-for-you/ and another substance Kombucha see http://nutritionfacts.org/topics/kombucha-tea/. Although the dose is small I recommend avoiding carcinogens as much as possible.

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/TanTruong/ Tan Truong

    Thanks DrDons for your time and research.

    I can’t imagine too many pre-workout drinks that don’t have carcinogens. I’m curious what Vega has to say about this.

    It’s just that it keeps me jacked and focused during workouts. I definitely will cut down on the consumption, and likely eventually eliminate it for good.

  • Ilana

    I’m so confused by this – so why aren’t Argentinians dropping like flies?

    • Argenrina

      I am from Argentina! This is TRAGIC NEWS for my country! lol

  • Brian Adams

    Hello Dr. Greger. The primary lit you quote in the video (Evaluation of the cyto- and genotoxic activity of yerba mate (Ilex paraguariensis) in human lymphocytes in vitro) is highly misleading, and using its results to validate the potential carcinogenecity of Y. Mate demonstrates poor interpretation of the data. The authors utilized caffeine as a control, and found it to perform worse than Y. Mate extract in the two ‘genotoxic’ assays of micro nuclear formation and aneugenic activity. Aside from yielding a non-result, the experimental design was flawed, as the Mate liquer produced was 4-8 times the strength of Mate produced in a normal kitchen (1-2 Tbsp per 8 oz cup yields 25.4-50.8g per Liter; compared to the 200g per Liter used in the experiment.). Couple this with the fact that the brewing method favors the extraction of more lipophilic molecules than would be encountered in normal brewing, (212 deg for 10 min vs 150 deg for 5-8 min) and the whole study is shot due to improper methods before we even get to discussing controls. Finally, the in vivo equivalent of bathing cells i

  • fedex

    Yerba mate triggered my anxiety attacks I developed a week after taking it. Mate contains theobromine–a neurotoxin. Stay away as it messed up by adrenal glands.

  • Nassib

    Do you have an recent studies on Yerba?

  • Mark Hazell

    Dang it, and here I was thinking about using Yerba mate instead of coffee. Thanks for the update.

  • Tealover

    It seems to me that the problem with yerba mate is the SMOKING process of drying, rather than the leaves themselves. I hope research comes out soon on the effect of the NON-SMOKED yerba mate varieties. Please keep updating this topic! Thanks.

    • Charlotte

      I agree – please keep us posted on any updated research on the PAH levels of air-dried yerba.