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Yerba Mate is the HEALTHIEST DRINK in the WORLD!

Jan 23, 2012

Jamaican boy drinking yerba mate tea

Yerba mate tea has all of the vitamins necessary to sustain life.

This isn’t a chemistry lesson, and I’m not someone with a scientific background (bear with me!), but I’m going to do my best to explain several chemicals, compounds, molecules, and vitamins that are key to Yerba Mate’s chemical composition, which makes it one of the healthiest and most amazing natural cocktails in the world. Within this article, I’ll discuss the following things that are only a few of the things that constitute Yerba Mate:

  • Polpyhenols
  • Saponin
  • Xanthines (and methylxanthines)
  • Theophylline
  • Theobromine
  • Caffeine
  • Vitamins: A, C, E, B1, B2, Niacin (B3), B5, B Complex
  • Minerals: Calcium, Manganese, Iron, Selenium, Potassium, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Zinc
  • Additional Compounds: Carotene, Fatty Acids, Chlorophyll, Flavonols

Yerba Mate is NOT Green Tea

Yerba Mate (llex paraguariensis) is a member of the Holly family, and is native to South America. Tea (Camellia Sinensis) comes in many varieties such as White, Green, Oolong, Black and Pu’erh, and is native to Asian countries such as China and Japan, but now grown all around the world. Tea is also the second-most consumed drink in the world, surpassed by water. Hopefully Yerba Mate will become the second-most consumed drink within 20-30 years (if not sooner)! Despite these differences, out of Yerba Mate’s 196 active chemical compounds, 177 are shared with Green tea. Also, while both tea and coffee have higher amounts of caffeine, Yerba Mate surpasses them in its amount of antioxidants.

Read a comprehensive comparison of yerba mate and green tea >>

In 2005, researchers at the University of Illinois studied 25 different types of mate. They found [it] to contain “higher levels of antioxidants than green tea”… and, based on cell studies, “may help prevent oral cancer.” Other studies have shown Yerba Mate to possess up to 90% more metabolism-boosting nutrients than green tea!

Yerba Mate and Antioxidants

People, especially doctors and health nuts, are always talking about drinks and fruits that are rich in antioxidants (i.e. pomegranates), but few know what an antioxidant is beyond something that doctors say is good for your health.

An antioxidant is a molecule that is capable of inhibiting the oxidation of other molecules. But why do we want oxidation to be inhibited? This is because oxidation is a chemical reaction that can produce things called free radicals. These free radicals are bad because they can start chain reactions within cells that can either damage or kill them. Through the inhibition of oxidation, or being anti-oxidation, antioxidants prevent these chain reactions from taking place through removing the production of free radicals. Therefore, antioxidants are key to treating hundreds of diseases, and preventing them. Ironically, antioxidants do this through being oxidized themselves! An example of an antioxidant is what is known as a polyphenol, which Yerba Mate contains 11 different kinds of!

Yerba mate lowers bad cholesterol

It is because of these antioxidants that yerba mate has the ability to inhibit LDL oxidation. Low-density lipoproteins , or LDL, are a combination of cholesterol and a protein that circulate through the body and carry cholesterol from the liver and small intestine to other tissues and cells in the body that need it. In short, LDL is bad cholesterol, and when oxidized it can produce inflammation in your arteries that supply blood to your organs and other tissues, which can lead to a heart attack or stroke.

To get the maximum amount of antioxidants, brew the mate at a water temperature of 70º Celcius Degrees (158º Farenheit) using 50 grams of loose mate and half a litre of water.

Polyphenols and Yerba Mate?

In the same way that doctors and health gurus boast about the importance and glory of antioxidants, Yerba Mate enthusiasts often harp on the fact that Yerba Mate contains 11 polyphenols (caffeic acid, chlorogenic acid, 3,4-dicaffeoylquinic acid, 3,5-dicaffeoylquinic acid, 4,5-dicaffeoylquinic acid, and Flavonoids (quercetin, rutin and kaempferol), but what in the world is a polyphenol? In short, a polyphenol is an example of an antioxidant, which you have already learned about. But let’s go a bit further.

Polyphenols are a group of chemical substances found in plants (phytochemicals), characterized by the presence of more than building block per molecule, or, phenol unit. Polyphenols are generally divided into hydrolyzable tannins (gallic acid esters of glucose and other sugars) and phenylpropanoids, such as lignins, flavonoids, and condensed tannins. Without going into tannin and all of these other things, such as phenylpropanoids, we can stop here. Notable sources of polyphenols include berries, tea, beer, grapes/wine, olive oil, chocolate/cocoa, coffee, walnuts, peanuts, pomegranates, and other fruits and vegetables. They are also usually bitter; therefore Yerba Mate’s bitter taste can be attributed to the phenolic constitution of its leaves. Maybe host your own mate, beer, and chocolate party!

Caffeic Acid

Caffeic acid is a polyphenol that is a natural ingredient not only in coffee beans but also in apples, bell peppers, pears, and other crops (such as Yerba Mate)! According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Caffeic acid outperforms other polyphenols in Yerba Mate, like Chlorogenic acid, is specifically adept at thwarting what are known as Aflatoxins. Aflatoxins are toxins that are known to be carcinogenic. Once again, yerba mate proves itself as an amazing drink!

Read more on coffee vs yerba mate here >>

Chlorogenic Acid

Like Caffeic acid, Chlorogenic acid is a polyphenol that can help prevent type 2 diabetes, and it is claimed to have antiviral, antibacterial, and antifungal effects.


Saponins are a naturally occurring class of chemical compounds that are often plant-derived. Like the polyphenols, Saponins are bitter. They also have a soapy character, which may account for the soapy film at the top of the Mate after water is poured in! The root of the plant where the chemical compound was initially derived from served as a type of soap for Native American tribes in California. According to Dr. Ray Sahelian, Saponins affect the immune system in ways that help to protect the human body against cancers, and also lower cholesterol levels. They also decrease blood lipids, lower cancer risks, and lower blood glucose response. Next time you’re in the woods armed only with Mate and water, don’t be afraid to take a Mate shower, maybe the Saponins will clean you up! And if you actually do this, please take a picture and send it to Circle of Drink.

Read more on how saponins increase mate’s health benefits here >>


A xanthine is a purine base (in the simplest terms, an organic compound that can accept hydrogen atoms). Stimulants such as theobromine and caffeine are derived from it.

Caffeine vs. Mateine

Does Mate have caffeine, or some weird alien-like chemical called “Mateine?!” And if it does have mateine, what the $@#! is that? Well, I’m here to say that Mate —albeit I’m going off of all of the conclusive and inconclusive evidence that I have—has caffeine. People, such as Dr. Mowrey whom I quote later in this article, believe that Mate contains little to no amount of caffeine, but instead has something called mateine as its primary xanthine.

Learn more about mateine in mate here >>

I’m going against Dr. Mowrey for a few reasons. First, he doesn’t support himself with any reputable scientific sources other than his own word. According to Erowid, an online library of information about plants, chemicals, and other things, the big error with the mateine argument is that people claim that mateine is a stereoisomer of caffeine. Stereoisomers are molecules that have the same molecular formula and sequence of bonded atoms, but that differ only in the three-dimensional orientations of their atoms in space. Now, why should we trust Erowid ?

In all honesty, I’ve never heard of Erowid before, but I trust it because many people have stated that it is an extremely honest and accurate source, including Edward Boyer, an emergency-room physician and toxicologist, who said, “Erowid is so comprehensive, and so much of the information is correct.” Mateine doesn’t exist. But then you may say, if Mate just has Caffeine, why do I experience such a different feeling from drinking coffee or tea? Well, this is because of the interaction of caffeine with Mate’s other two main xanthines (theobromine and theophylline), in addition to all of the other great stuff in it.

Mate and Theobromine

Theobromine (C7H8N4O2) is found in chocolate and tea. It’s a bitter alkaloid (naturally occurring chemical compounds that that contain mostly basic nitrogen atoms). This is another reason why Yerba Mate can be bitter for some people! Yerba Mate is among the eight plants that contain the most theobromine, including tea. Theobromine is honestly one of the most amazing xanthines I have ever encountered. It’s a vasilodator, which means that it widens blood vessels, and therefore is good for high blood pressure. It’s a heart stimulator, a diuretic (like tea and coffee, cleans you out), reduces coughing, and, according to espacenet (which contains over 70 million patented documents), uses of theobromine in possible cancer prevent have already been patented!

In addition to all of this, theobromine is also a product of human metabolism of caffeine, but unlike caffeine, it isn’t as addictive, and stimulates the heart more. It also may be a compound that contributes to chocolate being considered an aphrodisiac! Next time you’re getting ready to end a hot date, whip out a gourd, bombilla, and brew up some mate to end the night right!

Mate and Theophylline

Theophylline is a methylxanthine, which basically means that it is a xanthine, like caffeine and theobromine, which has methylated. Theophylline, among other things, contains anti-inflammatory effects. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine (The world’s largest medical library) it is also used to prevent and treat wheezing, shortness of breath, and difficulty breathing caused by asthma, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and other lung diseases. It relaxes and opens air passages in the lungs, making it easier to breathe. No wonder it’s used as a remedy for severe asthma!

Vitamins & Minerals in Yerba Mate

As previously stated Yerba Mate contains vitamins A, C, E, B1, B2, Niacin (B3), B5, B Complex, Calcium, Manganese, Iron, Selenium, Potassium, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Zinc, and Carotene, Fatty Acids, Chlorophyll, Flavonols. We all know that many vitamins and minerals are good for you, so I’ll spare you a definitions of the those previously listed. Visit this Harvard research page for definitions of all of these vitamins and minerals!

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 [vitamin B5], 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.” Yerba Mate all day!

Yerba Mate and Weight Loss

Yerba Mate has become known as a weight-loss supplement in many parts of Europe, and it is also portrayed in this way by a few blogs and doctors. While there is no conclusive evidence as to whether yerba mate promotes significant weight loss, it most definitely curbs one’s appetite, and its interactions with glucose may play a role in some form of weight loss.

The Big Picture

Overall, yerba mate is an amazing beverage to consume. But it’s more than a drink, it’s a lifestyle. While the beverage works to promote physical health, it also does indescribable wonders for spiritual and emotional health. According to Andrea Segovia, a Uruguayan native and co-founder of Madison, Wisconsin-based yerba distributor Natural Latitudes, “Yerba Mate is more than a beverage when shared between two or more people. It is a ritual of friendship that can break the barriers of language and differences in culture. In essence, it creates and strengthens the bond of positive attitudes between people.” Dr. Oz stated that Yerba Mate is “My favorite pick me up,” and like coffee and tea, is considered safe by the FDA and is on their GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) list. Mate is considered one of the most healthful natural beverages on earth!

Drink on!

Sources (in somewhat of an order, let me know if you want specific sources)

  1. http://www.mymateworld.com/yerbamateantioxidant.htm
  2. http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsweek/Listing_of_vitamins.htm
  3. http://www.raysahelian.com/saponin.html
  4. http://www.raysahelian.com/yerbamate.html
  5. http://www.yerbamatecafe.com/healthandchemistry.html
  6. http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/AR/archive/oct06/nuts1006.htm
  7. http://aje.oxfordjournals.org/content/164/11/1075.abstract
  8. http://www.yerba-mate.com/health.htm
  9. http://www.doctoroz.com/videos/oz-approved-miracle-drinks
  10. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0000522/
  11. http://www.epicurean.com/articles/yerba-mate.html
  12. http://goldbook.iupac.org/S05983.html
  13. http://web.archive.org/web/20050324095519/http://www.laweekly.com/ink/04/23/features-davis.php
  14. http://www.yerba-mate.com/download.htm


  1. David

    Excellent, informative articles on the health benefits of yerba mate — well done, man!

  2. Hargarten

    So I’ve been trying to find out as much as I can about the pros and cons of drinking yerba mate because my brother got be some for Christmas. He’s been drinking it every day since he heard from Tim Ferriss that it’s like 10 times better for you than green tea. But then I came across this: Mayoclinic.org and WebMD both claim that drinking yerba mate in large amounts over prolonged periods can increase the risk of cancer of the mouth, esophagus, and lungs. Now I’m not sure what would be considered “large amounts”, but according to my brother you’re suppose to drink like four cups a day to get the full benefits. Would you say that there’s any truth to what Mayo Clinic and WebMD are saying?

    • Dave Mate

      Glad that you’ve been introduced to mate. Welcome to the Circle. Up to this point, there hasn’t been a single scientific study that has shown mate to cause cancer. Conversely, there have been several to show that mate destroys cancer cells. Throughout the mate drinking countries of the world, an average of 1L is consumed daily — a good eight cups! I suggest you read our article on yerba mate and cancer association here: circleofdrink.com/yerba-mate-and-cancer

    • turn2

      Could the Mayo Clinic be right in linking cancer to something that has anti-carcinogenic properties? I think not. I looked at the articles on the subject on the sites, but didn’t see anything at all conclusively linking the herb itself and cancer, though it was damned by implication.

      I don’t doubt that some studies have found a correlation between mate drinking and certain cancers, but notice the qualifications I’ve made here: not “mate”, but “mate drinking”, and not simply “cancer”, but “certain cancers”. Those distinctions are very important.

      In the first instance, it’s not the yerba mate that’s the culprit, but that in South America some people consume it insanely hot (how hot? try 190 degrees).Introducing a liquid–any liquid–into the mouth that temperature is risky, but a popular way to drink it is to sip it from a hollowed out gourd through a metal straw called a bombilla (sold on this site–I’ve also seen them made from bamboo). Near scalding hot mate kept that way by the bombilla is asking for trouble.

      My personal belief is that to the extent there’s any truth to the connection, the combination of extremely hot beverage sipped through a bombilla is the culprit (possibly more so for yerba that’s been through the smoked drying process, as there may be a risk with smoked foods–however, not all mate’s smoked).

      But not everyone drinks it that hot (some even consume it cold). A personal note: I drink quite a bit of yerba mate, but make it in a drip coffee maker, so it’s not too hot, and drink it straight out of a cup.

      My second qualification was about how mate is almost exclusively linked to specific types of cancer: mouth, throat, larynx and esophagus. What do these body parts have in common?

      They’re all in the same oral neighborhood, which is evidence highly suggestive that the yerba mate isn’t to blame itself, but rather how it’s consumed. Also, frankly the methodology of the studies that have drawn the connection leaves much to be desired: There were no meaningful controls on how the information was collected, as the subjects were people who were already ill, drank alcohol and smoked tobacco, were poor and undernourished in many cases. No attempts were made to determine how they drank their mate (hot or cold, with or without a bombilla).

      Dave Mate has done a good job of examining the evidence on this website. Sure, he has a pro-mate bias, but he doesn’t let it get in the way of presenting what’s claimed and what’s known in a very objective manner. Here’s the page (I watched the video, but he also has an article with extensive source material and tips on the proper consumption of yerba nate: http://circleofdrink.com/yerba-mate-and-cancer

      Finally, I came across this useful study from the American Journal of Public Health (2009) that tends to exonerate mate from the charge that it is of itself a carcinogen, but rather it’s consumption very hot, along with other environmental factors, noting there’s never be evidence linking cancer with cold mate drinking. It concludes by saying more studies need to be made for us to better understand the issue, since the ones conducted so far have been flawed. Note: The article’s in Spanish, but the online translation is in excellent English: http://www.scielosp.org/scielo.php?pid=S1020-49892009000600010&script=sci_arttext

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