Cancer occurs when the body loses control of human cells, leaving them to multiply and divide at their own pace. The end result is the development of tumors, which can be difficult to contain. Marked improvements in cancer care have led to significant growth in survival trends, but prevention remains essential. A herbal tea, originally from South America, has been linked to six different forms of cancer.
Yerba mate, an herbal tea traditionally served in a gourd with a metal straw, has been widely touted for its high antioxidant content.
In fact, the brew has often been compared to green tea, with some sources claiming it contains 90% more antioxidants than the latter.
But despite displaying numerous minerals, vitamins and antioxidants, studies suggest the drink may increase the risk of certain cancers.
Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center explains, “High doses and prolonged use of mate tea are linked to an increased risk of cancers of the prostate, bladder, mouth, esophagus, lung, and head. and neck.
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The study, published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology Biomarker and Prevention, was conducted on a sample of 1,000 Uruguayan adults.
The results suggest that the brew could increase the risk of respiratory or digestive cancer.
They also found that patients were more likely to be diagnosed with small cell lung cancer, which is a less common form of the disease.
Small cell lung cancer is strongly associated with smoking, but the researchers controlled for this variable in the study.
The results led the authors to suggest that mate may be responsible for one in five cases of these cancers in South America.
The findings were consistent with other research published in the same journal in 2003, which looked at a sample of 800 adults.
This time, the results revealed that mate consumption could triple the risk of esophageal cancer.
In an article published in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Science and Technology in 2012, the researchers explained: “Recent evidence shows that mate consumption may be a major source of PAH exposure, possibly causing as many exposure than smoking.
Elsewhere in the document, the researchers added: “[if we] suppose that using an average of 50 grams of leaves per (gourd) and then drinking an average cup of mate in the traditional way would expose the consumer to [the] equivalent smoke content of 100 cigarettes (five packs).”
It should be noted, however, that while the results urge caution for heavy mate drinkers, the evidence is conflicting.
Separate lines of research have identified a set of unique plant compounds in tea that have the potential to reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer.
Additionally, the above results come from epidemiological studies, so no causal relationship has yet been confirmed between yerba mate and cancer.
The researchers point out that moderate consumption of mate is safe, but those who regularly consume large amounts should limit their intake.