Guarana, or Paullinia cupana, is a rainforest vine native to the Amazon basin. It has been used in Brazil to treat fatigue, fever, headache, painful menstruation, indigestion, rheumatism, malaria, neuralgia and severe diarrhea. Guarana seeds are traditionally roasted, ground into powder, made into dough with water, rolled into sticks and dried. The seeds contain 2 to 7.5 percent caffeine, which is more than any other known plant in the world and may be up to four times more than is present in coffee beans.
Guarana, in combination with other herbal stimulants such as ma huang, which contains ephedra, may help with weight loss. Body weight, hip circumference and blood triglycerides were lower in human subjects consuming the herbal mixture for eight weeks than in subjects consuming placebo, according to a study published in the March 2001 issue of the “International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders.” However, 23 percent of the subjects receiving the herbal combination, which contained a daily dose of 72 milligrams of ephedrine alkaloids and 240 milligrams of caffeine, withdrew from the study because of dry mouth, insomnia and headache.
Fatigue and Cognition
Guarana was first reported as a remedy for a migraine-like condition called “sick-headache” in the April 27, 1872, issue of the “British Medical Journal.” More recently, a study published in the March-May 2008 issue of “Appetite” reported improved cognitive performance and reduced mental fatigue in healthy young adults 30 minutes after ingesting a drink containing guarana and multivitamin and mineral supplements. Ingesting more guarana may not further increase its cognitive benefits, according to a study published in the January 2007 issue of the “Journal of Psychopharmacology.” A 75-milligram dose of guarana extract was more effective than a 300-milligram dose.
Consuming guarana in excess can produce insomnia, dizziness and impotence. Guarana’s high caffeine content may also cause anxiety, abnormal heart rhythm and hyperactivity. In addition, guarana should be avoided during pregnancy and lactation. A study published in the June 2005 issue of “Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics” found that taking guarana with ephedra according to supplement label recommendations elevated heart rate and blood pressure in people. The May 21, 2001, issue of “The Medical Journal of Australia” reported the death of a 25-year-old woman with a previous heart condition after ingesting a guarana energy drink containing 60 times the caffeine content of a typical cola beverage.
After the seeds are shelled and washed they are roasted for six hours, then put into sacks and shaken till their outside shell comes off, they are then pounded into a fine powder and made into a dough with water, and rolled into cylindrical pieces 8 inches long; these are then dried in the sun or over a slow fire, till they became very hard and are then a rough and reddish-brown colour, marbled with the seeds and testa in the mass. They break with an irregular fracture, have little smell, taste astringent, and bitter like chocolate without its oiliness, and in colour like chocolate powder; it swells up and partially dissolves in water.
A crystallizable principle, called guaranine, identical with caffeine, which exists in the seeds, united with tannic acid, catechu tannic acid starch, and a greenish fixed oil.
Medicinal Action and Uses
Nervine, tonic, slightly narcotic stimulant, aphrodisiac febrifuge. A beverage is made from the guarana sticks, by grating half a tablespoonful into sugar and water and drinking it like tea. The Brazilian miners drink this constantly and believe it to be a preventive of many diseases, as well as a most refreshing beverage. Their habit in travelling is to carry the stick or a lump of it in their pockets, with a palate bone or scale of a large fish with which to grate it. P. Cupana is also a favourite national diet drink, the seeds are mixed with Cassava and water, and left to ferment until almost putrid, and in this state it is the favourite drink of the Orinoco Indians. From the tannin it contains it is useful for mild forms of leucorrhoea, diarrhoea, etc., but its chief use in Europe and America is for headache, especially if of a rheumatic nature. It is a gentle excitant and serviceable where the brain is irritated or depressed by mental exertion, or where there is fatigue or exhaustion from hot weather. It has the same chemical composition as caffeine, theine and cocaine, and the same physiological action. Its benefit is for nervous headache or the distress that accompanies menstruation, or exhaustion following dissipation. It is not recommended for chronic headache or in cases where it is not desirable to increase the temperature, or excite the heart or increase arterial tension. Dysuria often follows its administration. It is used by the Indians for bowel complaints, but is not indicated in cases of constipation or blood pressure.
Guarana is a vine native to the Amazon rainforest of Brazil, where its fruit has been used for centuries in traditional medicine to treat fevers, headaches and dysentery. Traditionally, mature fruit was collected, roasted, ground, dried into a hard powder and turned into a beverage by adding hot water. In the early 1900s, guarana soda became popular in Brazil. The vine is now cultivated on farms, and the fruit is roasted and ground in large facilities in a manner similar to coffee beans. The processed guarana is exported to countries such as the United States, where it's added to weight-loss products and energy drinks.
According to an article published in "Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine," guarana seeds contain more caffeine than any other plant in the world and have about four times as much caffeine as coffee beans. Scientists believe that the plant produces caffeine as a way to ward off pests and insects. In the body, this high level of caffeine will stimulate the central nervous system, relieving fatigue and improving mental focus. Guarana is often included, along with other stimulating ingredients, in energy drinks and sodas.
Guarana is known to suppress hunger and appetite and is often marketed in weight-loss products. In Brazil, hunters used to drink guarana to give them energy and reduce their hunger while on long trips. The flavor of guarana is very bitter, and even though it may suppress your appetite, many energy drinks contain high fructose corn syrup or other sugars to reduce the bitterness. This gives them high calorie and sugar content, which compromises the goal of losing weight by supressing appetite. To avoid all this sugar, consider taking guarana capsules instead.
The safety of guarana and its health effects have not yet been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The high caffeine content can also cause unwanted side effects, such as insomnia, nervousness, restlessness, irritability, increased heart rate, upset stomach and muscle tremors, according to the MayoClinic.com. Everyone has a different sensitivity level to caffeine, and you may experience side effects with even just a small amount of guarana. Because caffeine is addictive, you might get headaches and feel fatigued if you attempt to cut back.