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Yerba mate is one of several Amazonian caffeine-containing plants used to create stimulating beverages, like mate tea. Widely consumed in South America, the extract derives from the dried leaves of a tree cultivated in Paraguay, Brazil and northern Argentina. For centuries, yerba mate has been consumed as a traditional tonic and naturally caffeinated beverages. Drinks infused with yerba mate are enjoyed hot and cold, and people use them to help alleviate fatigue, suppress appetite, stimulate the body and mind, and boost metabolism.

A small Korean study suggests a beverage popular in South America may also help obese people lose weight. The research, published in September 2015 in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, found that an extract from the plant yerba mate helped promote fat reduction in 30 South Korean study participants with a body mass index (BMI) over 35. A BMI of 30 or more is considered obese.

Researchers at the Clinical Trial Center for Functional Foods (CTCF2) of Chonbuk National University Hospital in Jeonju, Republic of Korea conducted the study, which was randomized and controlled, adhering to the highest standard of medical research. To control dosages, they gave participants a capsule of concentrated yerba mate extract three times daily, equivalent to one gram of extract daily. A placebo group took capsules of useless material. Over the course of 12 weeks, those who consumed the yerba mate saw their BMIs fall to an average of 30. Participants didn’t modify their diets or lifestyles throughout the experiment.

Study authors’ findings support previous animal and clinical trials that have also hinted at a weight loss benefit of yerba mate. The plant’s natural properties also suggest that, consumed in tea form, yerba mate can help reduce obesity.

This way, the plant can hydrate, provide fluid for detoxification, and assist in a moderate diuretic effect, which contributes to modest water weight reduction. Two or three cups of yerba mate daily can help you reap benefits similar to those seen in the study of extract capsules.

Yerba mate leaves naturally contain about .56 percent caffeine, which promotes thermogenesis, a process that expedites calorie burn. But perhaps more significant is the theobromine in yerba mate. Like caffeine, theobromine is a central nervous system stimulant alkaloid, but it is appreciably weaker than caffeine. Theobromine is diuretic, and may also be at least partially responsible for an appetite-suppressing effect of the herb.

Another group of compounds in yerba that contribute to healthier body weight are the chlorogenic acids. These compounds are well studied for their capacity to inhibit fat gain, control blood glucose, enable the body to burn more fat calories, and offer potent antioxidant protection. Chlorogenic acids can help regulate glucose metabolism, and contribute to healthier weight and body fat percentage.

To reduce obesity, the aforementioned factors of glucose control, thermogenesis, appetite suppression and increased diuresis can enhance your ability to reduce weight and keep it off. Yerba mate performs these functions, thereby improving the odds of achieving weight goals. Drinking yerba mate also can help to stabilize blood sugar, suppress appetite, increase caloric burn rate, and reduce overall body water weight.

Due to its popularity in the U.S. market, yerba mate is easy to consume as a tea in various flavors and types, from plain to chai spiced. Yerba mate ready-to-drink beverages can also be found in natural food stores and Whole Foods.

Chris Kilham is a medicine hunter who researches natural remedies all over the world, from the Amazon to Siberia. He teaches ethnobotany at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he is Explorer In Residence. Chris advises herbal, cosmetic and pharmaceutical companies and is a regular guest on radio and TV programs worldwide. His field research is largely sponsored by Naturex of Avignon, France. Read more at MedicineHunter.com.

One thought on “Could this South American plant hold the key to weight loss?

  1. I received my first Gourd Gift Pack from a friend in 2004. At that time I had never held a mate gourd in my hand. I had never sipped the herb. I had never heard of the word, Bombilla. I had no connection with a culture or a geography. And I had NO idea that my love and fascination with these unique artisan gourds, coupled with the energizing effects of Yerba, would lead me into the writing of a novel…ACAJU And there had to be a Master Artisan Gourd maker in my story. His name is Jasy. I spell the herb, Yerba Mahtay, so that English readers would not be confused with the word “Mate” spelled the same way and meaning friend
    Excerpt from ACAJU
    “For Jasy’s work the heat of the sun was not enough. Rows of fist-size calabash gourds lined the top of the stone wall on the edge of the mission garden. He knew the drying could not be rushed. The rocks of the wall would receive the sun’s light sending warmth into the gourds. They would bake slowly and become in time as hard as wood. If they dried too quickly cracks would split the inner skin of the calabash. The sun was not enough, but he knew the heat of an oven would destroy his work. Each day Jasy made the decision to wait. He remembered Moema’s warning to be patient. “Bellawood Fazenda has asked for fifty and there is talk of more orders up the coast. Even the mission fathers in Paraguay are drinking from your gourds.”
    The paper record of the Santo Corazon accounting dropped from her hands as she twirled him around. “They have discovered you, Jasy!”
    He could not remember when it had changed. He still thought of himself as just a boy but some were calling him “artisan.” Others used the word “master.” He could not remember when he realized that he had found his work. Ubi had taken him far into the largest stand of jacaranda where the branches spread thick across the sky. There in the center of the forest the light of sun struggled to make its way to the floor, but in the midst of trees lay an open patch of ground where the sun broke through. The vines of wild calabash had looked to Jasy like some kind of forest treasure. The fruit curved out from the stem and formed a bulb at the bottom. There was something about the shape and the soft feel of the gourd’s skin that asked to be held. And the boy cut one from the vine allowing Ubi to guide his fingers along the lines of the fruit.
    “Calabash must be full and wet, yet soft as the cheek of a child,” he told him.
    They picked as many as they both could carry and brought them back to Mission Santo Corazon. Ubi separated the fruit into piles. “Remember the ones that are strong with two rounded cups. These are the seeds we will save for planting.”
    Ubi showed him how to cut. He tied a length of hemp around the neck of the calabash so that his knife would be guided around the fruit clean and straight. He used his knife to cut along the gourd’s curve. Together they scraped out the flesh and separated the seeds from each of the gourds. On that first day they sat together on the ground admiring the rows of rounded cups left to dry in the sun.
    Jasy could not remember when the change had come, when others began to see him in a different way. In the beginning it was just something his hands were drawn to do. Ubi had shown him the way of fire-carving where the tips of hardwood sticks burned red in the coals. He took his designs from the carvings of his crucifix and sent snakes and vines down the body of the gourd. He found a way to fashion a bleeding Christ or the image of an angel with wings among the clouds. Padre Manuel urged him to tell the stories of the gospels on the hardened skin of the calabash. Padre Manuel had told him, “You have been given this gift for a reason.”
    So Jasy gouged and burned the image of the Temple Christ into the walls of gourds. Into the dried skin of the fruit he made a soot engraving of Christ healing the lepers. And there was Jesus receiving John’s baptism burned black and deep into the skin of a calabash gourd. But the pictures that truly satisfied his heart were not from the scriptures. They were the drawings etched from his natural world. Feathers of hawk or spotted geckos surrounded by ferns, a fawn emerging from a glade, vines and leaves and seed pods hanging thick from high branches of the canopy, the antics of a tiny tamarin monkey caught in mid-swing — all of these things found their way carved into the walls of his gourds. Then one day he carved the J of his name and gave it a swirl that ended in a single leaf of the calabash vine. And he was pleased. He was pleased because on that day and from that moment into all the days that would come after, they would know. This mahtay gourd was carved by Jasy. ”

    And when I held that gourd in my hand in 2004 I had no idea that the history of The Jesuits and their cultivation of yerba as their primary source of income, would compel me to include a passionate Jesuit Yerba grower in my novel.
    Excerpt from ACAJU
    “The Padre was walking faster now, his heart beating in an excited rhythm. He passed through the gated arch of the west mission wall and by this time he was almost running. There before him lay the yerba mahtay fields of Santo Corazon . The mahtay chief, Ubirajara, was busy guiding water into small ditches that had been dug along rows of plants. This was the project of his heart, the work that would bring coin into the mission. Already the bushes were taller than a man, the shiny leaves sprouting from gnarled branches. They would never become trees the size of Copaiba or as tall as Eucalyptus, but they would be the gold of The Mission. Padre Manuel was sure of that. The bushes were thriving at last and Ubirajara had made this happen. He had fled east out of Paraguay running from bandeirantes. They said he ran like the clouds pushed through the sky by a rain storm. He carried mahtay seeds that had passed through the bodies of birds , brought to vitality in the burning juices of feathered stomachs. Ubi could not explain how it happened, but there was something in the acids of bird stomachs that was magic. No longer would they have to spend days in the swamps gathering the leaves of tea. In Paraguay many were gone for weeks at a time in search of wild plants. There were deaths from snakes and thirst and sickness. The time was different now. Yerba mahtay grew in cultivated soil.
    Ubi waved and held his calabash gourd high above his head. Beckoning the priest he motioned his friend to come closer. He spoke in a voice that was safe and familiar, “Share a bowl with me, Hermano?” Manuel remembered that voice years earlier after an hour’s trek through the forest. Ubirajara had found shelter among the Guarani of Minas Gerais. Padre Manuel returned the greeting to Ubi and it was the same way each morning. “ I will share a bowl with you, Hermano!” The two friends passed the calabash from hand to hand between them .Each of the men took his turn sipping the steaming liquid until the grounds lay spent in the bottom of the gourd. A pot was lifted from a morning fire and hot water was added again to the top of the rim . It took several steepings to release the last of mahtay’s gift. Ubi then emptied the gourd’s contents onto the base of a young plant. And this too was the same every morning. The packed wet remnants of exhausted tea would then become the soil that would feed the trunk of yerba. “From the earth, returning to earth” Ubi would say. And before other workers arrived to pick leaves and bundle them for transport, Padre Manuel would repeat the words of his friend , “From the earth, returning to earth.”
    At first the priest had accepted mahtay from the forest people as a way of entering into a trust. Trust would bring them into the heart of God. This much he knew. As he sat and observed he imagined a ritual that had been repeated for centuries. Dried leaves were crushed by stone into a coarse powder. A small calabash gourd about the size of a closed fist was filled to half with the ground leaves. Boiling water was then poured to the top of the gourd for steeping. He noticed something remarkable. The ritual of Yerba mahtay was not private. The drink was passed through many hands and the rim of the gourd was brought to rest on many lips. In time he worked through his lack of ease with the practice and came to accept the gourd when it was passed to him. He watched the Tupi hold the gourd close to their lips and draw the tea through their front teeth as a way of filtering the soaked mixture. The leaves were bitter to him in the beginning and pieces of twig would lodge in his teeth as he attempted to filter the liquid into his mouth. He remembered the Tupi children laughing and falling over each other as the remnants of mahtay leaves coated his lips and fell onto his robe. He accepted the gourd at first to enlist the trust of a forest people in order to bring them under the cloak of faith.
    But then it happened and he couldn’t quite remember when the change had taken place inside of him. He began to enjoy the flush of energy as the tea took hold. The colors of his world seemed to become richer. A warmth settled into his lungs that spread up the back of his neck into the crown of his head. He began to look forward to his walks down the trail through the dense forest of inland Brazil. There was a power in this drink that lifted his spirit and helped bind his heart to a people. He felt it to be a kind of language, a way of entering into an ancient understanding. For Padre Manuel De Nobrega Yerba Mahtay was pleasure. The Tupi called it medicine and said it made the body stronger. Mahtay was given for fever or to cleanse away the poisons that putrefied the flesh. And if a soul descended into a deep sadness of heart yerba mahtay became the herb of happiness. This was not quite like the coffees of Africa or the fragrant teas of China. Yerba mahtay came out of the forest rains . And now there were markets up the coast of Brazil, into the mission settlements of Paraguay and across the Andes into Peru.”

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