Yerba maté gets a lot of love for its smooth energy boost and high antioxidant content, but if you’re a regular yerba maté drinker – especially if you like to sip with with the leaves still in the mug – may want to cut back. Recent research suggests that yerba maté might increase your risk for certain types of cancer.
Back in 2003, I was lucky enough to spend a week in Buenos Aires visiting a couple of friends who were living there for school. The coffee in Buenos Aires is delicious, the empanadas are mind-blowing, and I came back with a dried gourd, a metal straw, and a bag of yerba maté tea. My yerba maté habit tapered off over the years. Coffee was just so much more convenient, especially since my husband takes care of brewing it every morning. It turns out this unplanned switch may just have reduced my cancer risk.
Lifetime yerba maté drinkers have a higher risk for mouth, head and neck, esophagus, bladder, larynx, kidney, and lung cancer, along with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL). Yikes! According to Dr. Reshma L. Mahtani:
“Other research supports that yerba mate naturally contains carcinogenic (cancer causing) compounds, and this is the reason why the drink is linked with increased cancer risk. Two research programs that evaluate carcinogenic activity of hundreds of chemicals, mixtures, and natural substances are the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans and the US National Toxicology Program’s Report of Carcinogens. The information from these agencies places yerba mate in the category of having a moderate level of evidence of posing a cancer risk to humans.“
The concentration of carcinogens can vary from cup to cup of yerba maté, but it stays at harmful levels whether you drink it hot or cold. One major difference researchers found is that the traditional preparation – where you don’t strain out the leaves before serving – is more harmful than if you brew and strain the tea before drinking. They say that regularly drinking unstrained yerba maté is equivalent to smoking a pack of cigarettes a day.
What do you yerba maté drinkers out there think about this research? Do you feel like there’s enough evidence to warrant cutting back, or would you want to see more studies first?