On the Haley Concourse in February 2019, Auburn University students may have noticed ambassadors of Guayaki passing out an herbal tea called yerba mate. The beverage, free to passing students, is known to be a South-American herbal tea that has many health benefits, but actually has a lesser-known health cost.
The Mayo Clinic warns consumers to be aware that the drink is not harmful as long as it is not drank frequently and is at a cool temperature.
“Yerba mate isn’t likely to pose a risk for healthy adults who occasionally drink it,” Katherine Zeratsky writes on the Clinic’s website. “However, some studies indicate that people who drink large amounts of yerba mate over prolonged periods may be at increased risk of some types of cancer, such as cancer of the mouth, esophagus and lungs.”
She goes on to say that drinking the tea at a hot temperature, 149 degrees Fahrenheit and above, heightens the risk of getting cancer from drinking the beverage.
This cancer risk comes from carcinogens found in the product. The carcinogens in yerba mate are the same ones found in cigarettes and red meats, according to Zeratsky’s post.
Guayaki Products responded to questions about if the product is a health hazard.
“More recent studies on this topic have linked carcinogenicity to the consumption of very hot beverages where the risk is associated with the temperature at which the beverage is consumed, rather than the type of beverage,” the company said.
Sign up for our newsletter
Get The Plainsman straight to your inbox.
Abbigail Hickey, Auburn’s coordinator of Nutrition Services, looked into whether the beverage is potentially cancerous.
Hickey was unable to give a definite answer on the stance of the beverage’s potential health concerns.
“In terms of increasing the risk of cancer, there are a few epidemiological studies that look at the intake of yerba mates,” Hickey said. “In these cultures, the tea is drunk at really high temperatures, which can increase the risk for cancer as it can damage the esophagus.”
She noted there may be a variety of factors as to why someone may get cancer from consuming yerba mate, such as not eating a proper diet, smoking cigarettes and living in a rural or urban land area.
Hickey said experts warn on the consumption of yerba mate tea and say it should be consumed in moderation; however, there is not definite evidence from recent studies that fully prove if mate tea causes cancer on a large scale.
Guayaki Products provided an attachment to a press release of a study done in 2016 by the World Health Organization on carcinogenicity in coffee, regular tea and yerba mate tea.
The release states that “drinking very hot beverages was classified as probably carcinogenic to humans.” It also stated that drinking yerba mate at temperatures that are “not very hot are not classifiable to its carcinogenicity in humans.”
Another document sent was from Lancet Oncol from 2016 that further explained the studies.
The document noted the traditional consumption of the beverage was at hot temperatures, and in the early 1990s, the carcinogenicity was looked at when it was discovered that drinking hot yerba mate was “probably carcinogenic to humans.”
“A pooled analysis of the most available studies showed the risk of esophageal cancer increasing with the quantity of mate consumed,” the document said. “However, the trend was statistically significant only for mate consumed ‘hot’ or ‘very hot.’”
It noted that cold yerba mate was not a as
sociated with this form of cancer from a single study, and a large trend was noticed “with drinking temperature independent of the amount consumed.”
Yerba mate tea does have many health benefits as well.
“Mate teas may mitigate inflammation, protect against DNA damage and help with DNA repair,” Hickey said. “However, I would be careful as studies such as these are conducted in laboratory settings with high dosages, much higher than may occur if drinking yerba mate one to two times a day or in mice models.”
A study done on energy drinks by Sherry Heckman and Meja Gonzalez for Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Safety also found healthy components in yerba mate tea.
“Yerba mate possesses anti-inflammatory and antidiabetic properties, as well as acts as an inhibitor to oxidative stress,” the study reads. “Moreover, yerba mate has shown in vitro cytotoxicity to cancer cells and inhibition against topoisomerase II, which plays a role in cell division and therefore works to inhibit cancer cell proliferation; however, in vivo studies are needed.”
Also, purchasing yerba mate teas from Guayaki Products does have a charitable factor.
“Every purchase of Guayaki Yerba Mate drives rainforest stewardship, indigenous culture resilience, carbon drawdown and regenerative practices at each product life cycle stage,” the company said.
While the brand ambassadors have not frequently been on campus passing out the teas, their presence has been noticed along with students drinking the teas they are given for free.
Guayaki did not respond to questions on who the ambassadors are or how they are allowed onto campus, but their website has a page on how someone can become an ambassador and what the job entails.
“As a University Ambassador (someone who shares and serves yerba mate), you will be actively involved in growing awareness of both yerba mate and the Guayaki brand across your university campus and the social networks that you’re involved in,” the page says.
Do you like this story? The Plainsman doesn't accept money from tuition or student fees, and we don't charge a subscription fee. But you can donate to support The Plainsman.Support The Plainsman