Given the severity of diabetes and the ever-growing incidence of the disease, it’s no wonder researchers continue to look high and low for a cure, a treatment, and means of prevention.
In addition to diet and exercise, more and more attention is being given to using herbs as a natural diabetes treatment to help lower both glucose and insulin levels. And one herb that seems to be getting high praise is yerba mate.
Yerba mate is a plant found primarily is South America. The leaves are frequently dried then ground and made into a strong tea. It contains caffeine, theobromine (a stimulant also found in chocolate), antioxidants, amino acids, vitamins and minerals. Due to its caffeine content, it is often consumed as an alternative to coffee.
Several studies have shown that yerba mate can help improve cholesterol levels, protect against oxidation of LDL cholesterol, and even reduce abdominal fat and body weight. However, it has not been studied for its effect on diabetes in humans.
So Brazilian researchers set out to determine if daily consumption of mate tea, along with dietary changes, could affect both glucose and cholesterol levels in people with type 2 diabetes and pre-diabetes.
Drink to Your Health
Researchers recruited 29 people with type 2 diabetes and 29 people with pre-diabetes (insulin resistance or metabolic syndrome). All were over the age of 18 and all diabetic subjects were taking oral diabetes medication.
Both groups were divided into three subgroups:
1. Mate tea alone
2. Dietary changes alone
3. Mate tea plus dietary changes
Those drinking the mate tea drank 330 mL (about 11 ounces) at breakfast, lunch and dinner for 60 days. The dietary changes included increasing consumption of whole grains, fruit, vegetables and legumes, and decreasing sugar and foods high in cholesterol, saturated fat and trans fats.
Researchers took measurements at baseline, day 20, day 40 and at the end of the study (day 60). They tested for things like blood pressure, weight, BMI, blood glucose levels, HbA1c levels and cholesterol.
To Tea or Not to Tea
At the end of the 60 days, researchers found that the people with diabetes who drank the mate had a 17 percent reduction in blood glucose levels. They also had a statistically significant decrease in HbA1c levels (amount of sugar in your blood), as compared to those who made dietary changes alone or changes plus the mate.
While there was no significant change in blood glucose levels in those with pre-diabetes, the people who drank mate alone or in conjunction with dietary changes also enjoyed a significant reduction in HbA1c levels.
When it came to cholesterol levels, the diabetics who drank mate alone had a 13.5 mg/dL reduction in LDL (bad) cholesterol after 20 days, an 11.5 mg/dL reduction after 40 days (in 7 of the 11), and an 8.1 mg/dL reduction after 60 days. (Researchers did not have an explanation for the drop rather than increase as time went on.)
Those in the group making dietary changes alone exhibited no significant changes to cholesterol levels, while those who altered their diet and drank the tea saw an increase in HDL (good) cholesterol levels after 60 days.
In the pre-diabetes group, neither the mate alone nor the dietary changes alone resulted in any significant difference in cholesterol levels. However, those who changed their diet and drank the tea enjoyed a significant decrease in LDL cholesterol (11.0 mg/dL), total cholesterol (19.0 mg/dL), non-HDL cholesterol (21.5 mg/dL), and triglycerides (53.0 mg/dL) after 60 days.
Lastly, those with diabetes, regardless of subgroup, had no significant changes in weight, BMI, abdominal circumference or blood pressure. However, in the pre-diabetes group, those who drank mate enjoyed a significant decrease in both weight and BMI after 60 days. They also had a significant drop in blood pressure after 20 days, including a 6.3 decrease in systolic pressure (top number) and a 4.4 decrease in diastolic pressure (bottom number).
Researchers concluded that, for people with diabetes, mate tea lowered blood glucose levels by 25 mg/dL, while also lowering HbA1c levels. This is significant, as a reduction in both of these parameters is associated with a decrease in diabetes complications. They hypothesized that the caffeine and/or antioxidants in the mate may be the reasons for the changes.
Interestingly, with the exception of HbA1c levels, mate did not seem to have a significant effect on glucose levels in people with diabetes. For those people, the mate combined with dietary changes seems to have a more pronounced effect on cholesterol levels.
Researchers hypothesized that this was also due to the caffeine and antioxidants in the mate, as well as the reduction in consumption of saturated fat and cholesterol and increase in dietary fiber.
Get to Brewing!
Talk about an easy and tasty natural diabetes treatment! Whether you have diabetes or are considered borderline for developing the disease, it sounds like mate tea should quickly become your beverage of choice.
There are many companies that make mate tea in tea bag form. Aim for at least 11 ounces of tea three times a day. If you are caffeine-sensitive, you may want to drink your third cup at least six hours before bed.
And don’t undo all the good in the cup by adding in sugar and excess cream. If you need a bit of sweetness, try stevia rather than sugar or honey.
Then sip your way to stable blood sugar levels.
 Klein, GA et al. Mate tea (Ilex paraguariensis) improves glycemic and lipid profiles of type 2 diabetes and pre-diabetes individuals: A pilot study. J Am Coll Nutr. 2011 Oct; 30(5):320-32.
 American Diabetes Association: Standards of medical care in diabetes – 2010. Diabetes Care. 2010;33:S11-S61.