Caffeine may offset some of the negative effects of a diet that generates or supports obesity by reducing the storage of lipids in fat cells and limiting weight gain and the production of triglycerides. The study focused on the caffeine in mate tea, rather than the usual coffee.

Rats that consumed the caffeine extracted from mate tea gained 16% less weight and accumulated 22% less body fat than rats that consumed decaffeinated mate tea, scientists at the University of Illinois found.

The effects were similar with synthetic caffeine and that extracted from coffee.

Mate tea is an herbal beverage rich in phytochemicals, flavonoids and amino acids that’s consumed as a stimulant by people in southeastern Latin American countries. The amount of caffeine per serving in mate tea ranges from 65-130 milligrams, compared with 30-300 milligrams of caffeine in a cup of brewed coffee, according to the study.

For four weeks, the rats in the study ate a diet that contained 40% fat, 45% carbohydrate and 15% protein. They also ingested one of the forms of caffeine in an amount equivalent to that of a human who drinks four cups of coffee daily.

At the end of the four-week period, the percentage of lean body mass in the various groups of rats differed significantly. The rats that ingested caffeine from mate tea, coffee or synthetic sources accumulated less body fat than rats in the other groups.

The study, published recently in the Journal of Functional Foods, adds to a growing body of research that suggests caffeinated beverages, including mate tea may help fight obesity. They may also provide other beneficial health effects.

“Considering the findings, mate tea and caffeine can be considered anti-obesity agents,” said Elvira Gonzalez de Mejia, a co-author of the study and director of the division of nutritional sciences at the U. of I. “The results of this research could be scaled to humans to understand the roles of mate tea and caffeine as potential strategies to prevent overweight and obesity, as well as the subsequent metabolic disorders associated with these conditions.”

“The consumption of caffeine from mate or from other sources alleviated the negative impact of a high-fat, high-sucrose diet on body composition due to the modulation of certain lipogenic enzymes in both adipose tissue and the liver,” de Mejia said. “The decreased expression of Fasn and Lpl brought about lower synthesis and accumulation of triglycerides in the adipose tissue.”

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