Cancer is one of the leading causes of death worldwide, causing nearly 10 million deaths in 2020, or nearly one in six deaths. Despite the grim statistics, much can be done to modify cancer risk. The dangers of eating too much red or processed meat should come as no surprise now, but there are less obvious risks.
One potential risk factor that should raise a few eyebrows is drinking yerba mate.
Yerba mate is an herbal tea. Commonly known simply as mate, it is popular in parts of South America.
Yerba mate is not likely to pose a risk to healthy adults who drink it occasionally.
“However, some studies indicate that people who drink large amounts of yerba mate over long periods may have an increased risk of some types of cancer, including mouth, throat, and lung cancer,” the Mayo Clinic warns.
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According to the health agency, drinking very hot yerba mate — 149 F (65 C) or hotter — is associated with a greater risk of cancer than drinking yerba mate at cooler temperatures.
In fact, a review article published in the BMJ cited research that found drinking yerba mate “hot” was associated with an increased risk of esophageal cancer.
The research, published in the journal American Association for Cancer Research, was based on two case studies: a study from Uruguay from 1988 to 2005 and a multinational study from 1986 to 1992 in Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, including 1,400 cases and 3,229 controls.
The researchers found that the intensity of drinking yerba mate did not influence the risk of cancer.
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It doesn’t matter that other studies have found the opposite.
A 2012 study by scientists at the University of Illinois showed that human colon cancer cells die when exposed to the approximate number of bioactive compounds present in a cup of mate tea.
“Caffeine derivatives from mate tea not only induced death in human colon cancer cells, but also reduced important markers of inflammation,” said Elvira de Mejia, associate professor of chemistry at the food and food toxicology of the University of I.
That’s important because inflammation can trigger steps in cancer progression, he said.
In the study, Mejia’s professor and former graduate student Sirima Puangpraphant isolated, purified, and then treated human colon cancer cells with caffeoylquinic acid (CQA) derivatives from mate tea.
As the scientists increased the concentration of CQA, the cancer cells died as a result of apoptosis, the process of programmed cell death.
Therefore, more research is needed to reach a more definitive conclusion about the link between mate tea and cancer.
“If yerba mate is your cup of tea, enjoy it in moderation. But, as always, check with your doctor before trying any herbal product,” advises the Mayo Clinic.
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