Maté (Yerba Maté)

What do Pope Francis, Lionel Messi, and Madonna have in common? Maté tea.

Chances are, if you’ve heard about maté tea, you’ve heard of maté (also called yerba maté). Maté (Ilex paraguariensis) is the herb that lends itself to this once exotic drink. This popular beverage of South America (mainly Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Brazil) has now caught on in the USA. You would find maté tea bags and powder in supermarkets and health food stores.

The caffeine-containing leaves and twigs of the plant are used to make beverages. They contain only a little less caffeine than coffee.

Maté contains: caffeine, theobromine, theophylline, saponins, mono and di-caffeoylquinic acids, chlorogenic acid, carotenoids, rutin, vitamins B1, B2, B6, C, potassium, magnesium, calcium, phosphorus

Why It’s So Great

Helps with Weight Control

As you grow older and your metabolism slows down, you need to do a bit more to control your weight. Maté is no magic herb, but it could help induce weight loss.

  • Reduces leptin resistance: Leptin is the hormone that tells your brain you are full and should stop eating. But too much leptin is not good either. When there’s an upsurge, the brain does not respond to the satiety signal. As a result, you don’t know when to stop eating. Maté can help by decreasing two appetite-boosting proteins (SOCS3 and neuropeptide Y) in the hypothalamus and helping you in portion control.
  • Brings down fat cell formation: Maté could reduce the expression of genes that call for fat formation. On the other hand, it could increase the expression of genes that inhibit fat synthesis.
  • Increases fat burning: You know that drinking black coffee before a workout helps you burn fat faster. Maté works similarly. It increases the expression of a protein (UCP-1) in the brown fat tissues and prevents you from packing in the pounds.

Keeps the Heart Healthy

Studies have found that maté is good for your heart. However, the exact way it functions is not known. Some of the possible reasons are:

  • Reduction of the bad cholesterol, that is low-density lipoprotien (LDL) and triglycerides and increase in the levels of the helpful high-density lipoprotein (HDL). HDL helps flush out LDLs, which get oxidized (modified) by highly reactive molecules called free radicals.
  • Improvement in the function of endothelial cells – these cells line the inside of blood vessels and regulate how much the blood vessels widen or narrow down.

Protects the Liver

Among other activities, your liver filters out toxins from the blood and helps you use nutrients. It is the first organ to bear the brunt of your bad habits – junk food, alcohol, smoking. Maté could help your body’s natural defense system keep the liver in good shape.

  • Decreases enzyme activity: The liver has a special group of enzymes, cytochrome P450, that breaks down foreign elements in the body – like alcohol or drugs (medicines). However, in the process, they generate a lot of cell-damaging molecules called free radicals (reactive oxygen species). Free radicals burn off the fat layer in your cell membrane and exposes your DNA to damage. Maté tea extract reduces the activity of one of these enzymes called CYP2E1 (cytochrome P450 2E1).
  • Functions as antioxidants: Antioxidants are the enemies of free radicals. Usually your body has enough to fight them and prevent your cells from damage. Maté can boost them up.
  • Tweaks the genes: Genes create proteins that play a major role in determining how much cholesterol and triglycerides are created in your body. This process is regulated by special agents called transcription factors. SREBP-1c is one such factor. Aqueous extract of maté tea was found to inhibit the action of SREBP-1c and thus regulate the function of genes involved in fat metabolism.

Manages Blood Glucose Levels

Every day, your blood glucose level undergoes fluctuations in response to your food intake and activities. Maté can assist your body in maintaining the glucose balance.

  • Makes cells take up glucose: Maté can restore the levels of a protein (IRS-1), which is essential to the process of glucose absorption in liver and muscle cells. It can also restore a critical step in the process of glucose absorption called AKT phosphorylation. Together, these make cells more receptive to insulin and thereby glucose uptake.
  • Releases less glucose from the liver: Chlorogenic acid in maté modulates an enzyme called glucose-6-phosphate translocase so that less glucose is released from the liver. As a result, the amount of glucose in blood also falls. Other chemicals like gallic and caffeic acids reduce glucose levels in the blood by making the liver cells take up more glucose.

Lifestyle Tips

The leaves and twigs of maté are dried, crushed, and steeped in hot water to make chimarrão and cold water to make tererê. Maté tea is prepared by brewing roasted leaves. Keep your maté intake at about 200 ml of infusion daily.