More Miracles from the Rainforest: Yerba Maté Kills Cancer

Yerba mate

Yerba maté, the national drink of South American countries Argentina and Paraguay, has been shown to kill colon cancer cells in a recent University of Illinois study published in the journal Molecular Nutrition & Food Research.

According to the study researchers, the natural caffeine sources found in yerba maté induced death of colon cancer cells and reduced inflammation markers. Inflammation is closely linked to the progression of cancer and a number of other health issues including heart disease. Bacterial colonies found inside the colon absorb and metabolize caffeine compounds like those found in yerba mate making their anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer benefits most effective. “Put simply, the cancer cell self-destructs because its DNA has been damaged,” said study researcher Elvira de Mejia, a University of Illinois associate professor of food chemistry and food toxicology who recommends “drinking maté tea for its bioactive benefits, especially if you have reason to be concerned about colon cancer.”

Revered for its energizing properties and healthy boost of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, yerba maté grows under the canopy of the rainforest where it has been a regional dietary staple for centuries. Technically not a tea plant (camellia sinensis), yerba maté (Ilex paraguariensis) is a member of the holly family ritually consumed through a hollowed out gourd.

Yerba maté became a popular beverage in the U.S. in the 1990s due largely in part to efforts by Guayaki—a leading importer of organic and fair-trade maté. The brand has always emphasized the health benefits of the product, and, says Richard Bruehl, Guayaki’s Vice President of North American Operations, “It is very encouraging to once again see the anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory agents in yerba mate getting studied.” As popularity of the multifaceted herb grows and research into its health benefits persist, Bruehl notes that “we will continue to see more positive results associated with the consumption of this amazing South American herb in the near future.”

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Jill Ettinger

Jill Ettinger is a Los Angeles-based journalist and editor focused on the global food system and how it intersects with our cultural traditions, diet preferences, health, and politics. She is the senior editor for sister websites and, and works as a research associate and editor with the Cornucopia Institute, the organic industry watchdog group. Jill has been featured in The Huffington Post, MTV, Reality Sandwich, and Eat Drink Better.