Compounds in mate tea kills cancer cells

Could preventing colon cancer be as simple as developing a taste for yerba mate tea? In a recent University of Illinois study, scientists showed that human colon cancer cells die when they are exposed to the approximate number of bioactive compounds present in one cup of this brew, which has long been consumed in South America for its medicinal properties.

“The caffeine derivatives in mate tea not only induced death in human colon cancer cells, they also reduced important markers of inflammation,” said Elvira de Mejia, a U of I associate professor of food chemistry and food toxicology.

That’s important because inflammation can trigger the steps of cancer progression, she said.

In the in vitro study, de Mejia and former graduate student Sirima Puangpraphant isolated, purified, and then treated human colon cancer cells with caffeoylquinic acid (CQA) derivatives from mate tea. As the scientists increased the CQA concentration, cancer cells died as a result of apoptosis.

“Put simply, the cancer cell self-destructs because its DNA has been damaged,” she said.

The ability to induce apoptosis, or cell death, is a promising tactic for therapeutic interventions in all types of cancer, she said.

de Mejia said they were able to identify the mechanism that led to cell death. Certain CQA derivatives dramatically decreased several markers of inflammation, including NF-kappa-B, which regulates many genes that affect the process through the production of important enzymes. Ultimately cancer cells died with the induction of two specific enzymes, caspase-3 and caspase-8, de Mejia said.

“If we can reduce the activity of NF-kappa-B, the important marker that links inflammation and cancer, we’ll be better able to control the transformation of normal cells to cancer cells,” she added.

The results of the study strongly suggest that the caffeine derivatives in mate tea have potential as anti-cancer agents and could also be helpful in other diseases associated with inflammation, she said.

But, because the colon and its microflora play a major role in the absorption and metabolism of caffeine-related compounds, the anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer effects of mate tea may be most useful in the colon.

“We believe there’s ample evidence to support drinking mate tea for its bioactive benefits, especially if you have reason to be concerned about colon cancer. Mate tea bags are available in health food stores and are increasingly available in large supermarkets,” she added.

The scientists have already completed and will soon publish the results of a study that compares the development of colon cancer in rats that drank mate tea as their only source of water with a control group that drank only water.

This in vitro study was published in Molecular Nutrition & Food Research, vol. 55, pp. 1509-1522, in 2011. Co-authors include Sirima Puangpraphant, now an assistant professor at Kasetsart University in Thailand; Greg Potts, an undergraduate student of the U of I; and Mark A. Berhow and Karl Vermillion of the USDA, ARS, National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research in Peoria, Illinois. The work was funded by the U of I Research Board and Puangpraphant’s Royal Thai Government Scholarship.


7 thoughts on “Compounds in mate tea kills cancer cells

  1. Screening for colorectal cancer does not prevent colorectal cancer, it detects it. Just looking for something does not prevent it from appearing.

    • Actually screening does prevent Colorectal cancer by detecting and removing polyps before they turn to cancer. It also detects cancer early when it is most curable, but the real value is finding adenomas and snipping them out.

      Other screening, like mammography, does focus on early detection, but cervical and colon cancer can be prevented when screening finds precancerous lesions.

  2. So does this mean that people from Corrientes, Argentina (where everyone drinks yerba mate) have a lower rate of colon cancer. Some relationship to the real world would have made this study more relevant.

    • Studying populations where more people drink the tea would help establish a connection that might support the experiments in cells, but that wasn’t what this study did.

      There is many a slip between cells and mice and humans.

      My concern with any study that leaps from cells to people is that it may lead people to ignore symptoms or screening because they feel safe drinking a tea or eating chocolate (another preventive now in the media).

  3. This is the dumbest article ever. . we both feel similar amounts of pain its just that men aren’t going to cry and bitch about it as much as women do. Girls are more sensitive in their feelings more than guys. whatever though haha im just high

  4. Kate Murphy – How is it irresponsible to suggest that yerba mate tea might prevent cancer? The studies certainly suggest that this might be the case.

  5. This is fine if you are a cancer cell living in a Petrie dish, maybe– if research works out– a mouse who drinks the right amount of mate tea.

    But this doesn’t mean much at all in the prevention of colon or rectal cancer for human beings. It is irresponsible to tell people that it might.

    The best way to prevent colorectal cancer right now is to be screened beginning at age 50 for average risk people, earlier if you have a family or personal medical history that puts you are higher risk.

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