When a study in her lab showed that mate (mah tā) tea drinkers had experienced a significant increase in the activity of an enzyme that promotes HDL (good) cholesterol while lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol, University of Illinois scientist Elvira de Mejia headed for Argentina where mate tea has been grown and taken medicinally for centuries.
She returned with a five-year agreement signed by administrators of La Universidad Nacional de Misiones (UNaM) to cooperate in the study of 84 genotypes of mate tea, both cultivated and wild, never-before-studied, varieties. The arrangement calls for the writing of joint grants and an exchange of students and professors between UNaM and the U of I.
The scientist is also negotiating a grant from the National Institute of Yerba Mate to fund further research, she said.
Our studies show that some of the most important antioxidant enzymes in the body are induced by this herbal tea, said de Mejia of her study in Septembers Planta Medica.
Because Argentina has the different mate varieties, well be able to do more comparisons and characterizations between the different genotypes and the benefits of different growing conditionswhether in sun (on a plantation) or in shade (under the rainforest canopy), she added.
Not only does de Mejia hope to identify the most nutritionally beneficial genotypes of the herbal tea, she hopes that Argentine experience with drying and processing mate will lead to improved extraction of the teas bioactive compounds. Food companies are very interested in adding tea extracts to juices, soda, and even beer to increase the nutritional value of their products, she said.
In 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. Activity of the enzyme increased an average of 10 percent for mate tea drinkers compared to the
|Contact: Elvira de Mejia|
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign