A scientist at the University of Illinois has begun a study on the health benefits of mate tea, pronounced mah’ tâ tea, a tea that is popularly drank in Argentina in social settings and valued for its medical benefits.
Scientist Elvira de Mejia at the University of Illinois learned from a lab study at the university that the enzyme that produces HDL, or good cholesterol, increases activity levels in people who drink mate tea. Drinking mate tea also lowers LDL levels, or bad cholesterol.
The study consisted of asking healthy candidates to consume either 0.5 liters of either mate tea, milk, or coffee. The level of cardioprotective enzyme paraoxonase-1, which stimulates good cholesterol levels, was measured in their blood levels before drinking the beverages. The results demonstrated that after consuming mate tea the candidates showed and increase of an average 10 percent in the activity of the enzyme.
Although mate tea drinkers in Argentina usually drink 2 to 3 liters a day, the tea used in the study had the same concentration level as it is consumed in Argentina.
In Argentina, mate tea drinkers pack about 50 grams of dry tea leaves into a gourd and pour hot water over them. They drink the tea through a metal straw. They repeat the method continuously and use about 1/2 to 1 liter of water. Through this method, the tea’s antioxidants and polyphenols can be consumed before they are oxidized.
After her discovery, de Mejia decided to travel to Argentina and enlist the research assistance of La Universidad Nacional de Misiones, or The National University of Misiones. The National University of Misiones signed a 5-year agreement to work with the University of Illinois in studying 84 genotypes, or varieties of mate tea that have never been studied before. The will be studying both already farmed varieties of mate tea and wild varieties.
Scientist de Mejia also received a grant from the National Institute of Yerba Mate for funding her research.
Caleb Heck, graduate student from The National University of Misiones, has analyzed the tea used in the cholesterol study and is now analyzing the tea that was brought back from Argentina. Heck knows that mate tea contains a lot of xanthines, mostly caffeine. His research has also shown that mate tea contains 12 polyphenolic compounds at different concentration levels. The concentration levels depend on where the tea is grown. Science has already shown that polyphenols may protect against cancer and heart disease.
Their further research will compare the different benefits found in each variety and hopefully show which varieties of mate tea are the most healthful. They will also compare the different benefits of different growing conditions such as on a plantation, or under a rainforest canopy. She will also study the Argentine methods for drying and processing mate with hopes of learning more about the methods of extracting bioactive compounds from tea as research for food companies that wish to add tea extracts to juices, soda, and beer to increase the beverage’s nutritional value.
Heck and de Mejia have already written one comprehensive review of mate tea’s chemistry, health benefits, and the technologies that are being used in processing mate tea.
Elvira de Mejia, “More on mate tea: lower cholesterol and an international agreement,” University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.