TOXICITY OF MATE: IS MATE POISONOUS?
No, mate (Ilex paraguariensis) is NOT a toxic plant. Its use in recommended doses is safe.
The Food and Drug Administration of the United States (FDA.) considers a safe plant and has been included in the list of safe GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe).
Some studies suggest that the excessive consumption of mate may be related to oropharyngeal cancer and esophageal cancer. This fact has been observed in Paraguay, where mate consumption is important and there is a high incidence of these diseases.
The research is not conclusive, but it seems that in the appearance of this type of cancers some other factors also take part, such as smoking (something quite common in people who also take a lot mate) or take drinks regularly at very hot temperature.
What are the components of yerba mate?
Photo of mate such as it is traditionally consumed
The bitter taste xanthines are the active principle of mate,. Caffeine or mateine, which is the major component, has diuretic and nervous system stimulating properties. Its effects to increase the frequency of respiration and heart are also well known. (Often, caffeine in the case of mate is called mateine, although it is the same substance than caffeine)
Hazards and adverse effects of mate
Mate is not a toxic plant, but care must be taken with its use because of its caffeine content. Indeed, it is a plant with high caffeine content (0.2 to 2%), reaching the same concentration as coffee seeds (1-2%).
Mate infusion may contain from 80 to 100mg. of caffeine, the same dose of caffeine that would bring us espressos. The effects of this plant may be different according to individual sensitivity to caffeine.
When caffeine is absorbed, it travels through the bloodstream to the brain, where it works. Caffeine binds to a type of brain receptor called adenosine, causing increased mental alertness, wakefulness and promote better association of ideas and greater resistance to fatigue.
An estimated 1 hour after drinking mate, were consumed from 80 to 100mg. of caffeine, the equivalent of a cup of coffee, with similar stimulant effects. Mate also contains B vitamins that boost energy functions. The stimulant effects of mate is associated with increased sexual libido, being an aphrodisiac remedy.
In general, it is recommended not to exceed the dose of 300mg. of caffeine a day. Pregnant women or breastfeeding should reduce the dose to 200mg. or less of caffeine per day. (More information: Foods rich in caffeine).
The withdrawal of the plant can produce the symptoms of caffeine abstinence, which are: insomnia, palpitations and headache.
Caffeine and osteoporosis
Caffeine can influence bone density. When caffeine is metabolized, the urine is expelled along with calcium, which is also removed from the body.
Taking caffeinated beverages like mate frequently helps the body to eliminate calcium and, at long-term, it may be a factor influencing osteoporosis.
Mate in pregnancy and lactation
It is recommended that pregnant and breastfeeding women do NOT take mate. Caffeine travels through the blood to the placenta and stimulates the baby, increasing its heart rate and metabolism, which directly affects the health of the fetus. Small amounts of coffee, tea or colas could be taken, but it is preferably not to take them.
More information on mate.