You probably have coffee in your pantry, and you likely have black tea or green tea. But do you have yerba mate? Yerba mate is an amazing beverage for brain health, but it is one which hasn’t quite caught fire around the world yet.
In South America, yerba mate tea is a ubiquitous beverage, as common as coffee in the USA. Proponents hold that it is an amazing health drink which confers a range of benefits for your body and mind.
And guess what? They’re right. If you haven’t experienced the tremendous benefits of yerba mate, you are missing out!
What is Yerba Mate?
Yerba mate is a tea brewed out of the leaves of the South American holly tree (Ilex paraguariensis). This tree grows throughout South America, principally in Paraguay, Uruguay, northern Argentina, and southern Brazil.
According to Guayaki Yerba Mate, one of the world’s top yerba mate tea manufacturers, yerba mate has “the strength of coffee, the health benefits of tea, and the euphoria of chocolate” all in a single beverage.
In other words, it is one of the most balanced and powerful beverages around, as nutritious as it is delicious.
Yerba Mate Caffeine vs. Coffee
Like coffee and tea, yerba mate is a natural stimulant. Does yerba mate have caffeine? Yes! In fact, it contains caffeine in conjunction with two other stimulants present in coffee, tea, and chocolate: theophylline and theobromine.
How much caffeine is in yerba mate? The answer is less than you’ll find in coffee, but more than you’ll find in green tea. You may think, “The more, the better!” but that is not necessarily the case considering that caffeine has both benefits and drawbacks. Too much caffeine can give you the jitters. Coffee isn’t the ideal beverage for everyone.
Plus, coffee is highly acidic, which can give some people heartburn. It also has a high tannin content. That is what lends it its bitter taste.
Yerba mate has a lower tannin content than coffee, so it isn’t a bitter drink. It isn’t as acidic either, but it still contains a pretty high level of caffeine in comparison to other teas. So it will give you more of an energy and focus boost than green tea—but without the anxious jitters you might get from coffee. Think of it as an “in-between” choice.
Yerba mate has a number of benefits for cognitive function which are backed by science as well as centuries of anecdotal use. Let’s take a look at the research!
Improve Your Memory
Have a hard time remembering names and faces, where you left your keys, or recollecting what you learned in that training session today at the office? Yerba mate may be able to help.
This animal research study demonstrated that oral administration of yerba mate tea leaves was able to boost short-term social memory. Researchers concluded that these results “substantiate the traditional use of mate tea for improvement of cognition.” While the scientists were unable to conclude with certainty exactly how yerba mate boosts memory, their research indicated that the likely mechanism involves adenosine receptors.
Boost Your Mood
Feeling down in the dumps? Stress and depression can adversely impact your cognitive performance, clouding your mind and compromising good judgment. If you can improve your mood, you can clear your mind.
According to this book, yerba mate can help you to do just that. Yerba mate effectively enhances mood, leading to improvements in brain function.
As a bonus, when you are functioning at your best, you have one less thing to feel depressed about. That in turn leads to even more improvements in cognitive function. Think of yerba mate as a shortcut for getting your life back on track. Depression and cognitive decline are a vicious cycle. Yerba mate puts the breaks on that cycle and throws it in reverse!
Protect Your Brain Health and (Potentially) Treat Epilepsy
If you suffer from epilepsy or another condition which causes seizures, it is possible that yerba mate can prevent future episodes or reduce their severity.
Here is a promising animal research study on yerba mate and seizures. When researchers administered yerba mate to rats with PTZ-induced seizures, they were able to reduce the frequency of those episodes. Furthermore, they found that the yerba mate treatments provided a layer of protection to the cerebral cortex, hippocampus, and cerebellum, shielding them against oxidative damage.
The scientists who conducted this study stated that “these results indicate that yerba mate will provide further insights into neuroprotective compounds and may lead to the development of therapeutic approaches in the pharmaceutical area for patients with epilepsy.”
Stimulate Cognitive Function with Caffeine
Caffeine is one of the most well-known cognitive stimulants in the world, and for good reason. The science is solid!
When you drink yerba mate or coffee, caffeine travels through your bloodstream into your brain.
Once it arrives, it blocks a neurotransmitter called adenosine (you may recall that this is the same mechanism the researchers who studied yerba mate’s impact on memory were looking at).
This is a good thing, since adenosine is an inhibitory neurotransmitter. When you block it with a dose of caffeine, your body actually increases production of other neurotransmitters such as dopamine and norepinephrine. This in turn increases neuronal firing. You can read more about this here.
Numerous other studies back up caffeine’s cognitive benefits for mood and performance.
Deliver a Megadose of Nutrition to Your Brain and Entire Body
Guayaki reports that yerba mate leaves contain 24 vitamins and minerals, 15 amino acids, and an abundance of antioxidants. One study conducted by the Pasteur Institute and Paris Scientific Society concluded that yerba mate arguably has the highest nutritional value of any plant in the entire world. That study was conducted clear back in 1964, but it holds true today that yerba mate is still one of the healthiest things you can consume.
Oxidative damage to the brain is one of the leading causes of cognitive decline as you grow older. The more antioxidants you take in, the more protection you provide yourself with against the effects of age.
What about Yerba Mate and Cancer?
Obviously yerba mate has numerous positive health effects, but if you research yerba mate pros and cons, you may run across some potentially scary concerns.
There are studies which have shown a correlation between yerba mate tea consumption and oral, esophageal, and larynx cancer.
What is important to know about these studies is that they do not draw a conclusive link between yerba mate itself and cancer. Yerba mate may or may not be a carcinogen. These studies were all based on extremely hot mate. In other words, it may have been the extremely hot temperatures which produced the detrimental results, not the tea itself.
It is also useful to note that yerba mate tea leaves are often prepared through a process called “smoke-drying.” One byproduct of this process is the increase of chemicals known as Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs). In high concentrations, these are carcinogenic.
PAHs are actually found in other forms of tea and in coffee as well; to some extent, they will always be present in your diet. The trick is to minimize them to the best of your ability.
The best yerba mate is that which has been air-dried instead of smoke-dried. This greatly reduces PAH levels for a healthier beverage (up to 80% reduction in PAH levels).
Traditionally in South America, yerba mate is a beverage which is shared and passed around in a gourd with a silver straw. If you become a yerba mate enthusiast, you might eventually decide to invest in this specialized vessel—but to start with, all you need is a standard coffee mug!
There are many ways you can prepare and enjoy yerba mate. You can purchase yerba mate tea bags or loose leaf tea. You can brew it in a French press, a tea infuser, or a coffee machine or espresso maker. It tastes great hot or cold. You can drink it straight up or you can serve it with honey and milk. Look up yerba mate recipes online, and you will find endless possibilities.
Despite some misleading health scares surrounding yerba mate and cancer, yerba mate is one of the healthiest beverages you can drink, especially if you do your homework and pick a brand which air-dries its leaves to reduce PAH levels.
Yerba mate provides you with the caffeinated boost of coffee without the jitters. It helps you concentrate while balancing and improving your mood. It can increase short-term memory function and protect your brain from oxidative damage. If you suffer from epilepsy, you may even find it helpful in managing your seizures.
On top of all that, yerba mate tastes delicious and delivers a wholesome blast of nutrition to your entire body. Even though it isn’t yet as popular as coffee or green tea outside South America, it is swiftly rising in the ranks of global health beverages. Give it a try; you will find that it provides you with energy, focus and clarity of mind when you need it most!