As a part of the cholesterol study, blood levels of the cardio-protective enzyme paraoxonase-1 were measured before and after healthy volunteers consumed either 0.5 liters of mate tea, milk, or coffee.
De Mejia found that the activity of the enzyme increased an average of 10 percent for mate tea drinkers as compared to other drinks.
"The tea used in the study was prepared at the same concentration used in South America, although they usually drink 2 to 3 liters per day," said de Mejia.
In South America, mate is usually drunk from a dried gourd and consumed through a metal straw. About 50 grams of dry leaves are packed into the gourd and hot water is poured over them; this is repeated many times, with as much as ˝ to 1 liter of water.
This method of consumption allows tea drinkers to slowly extract the antioxidants and polyphenols before they can be oxidized. "To duplicate these results with mate teabags, you would need to use four or five teabags instead of one. It's a strong taste, but many people say that coffee has a strong, bitter taste. This is more of a grassy herbal taste," said graduate student Caleb Heck who accompanied de Mejia to Argentina.
Funded by the University of Illinois Research Board, the study was published in September's Planta Medica.