By Summer Banks on Dec 13, 2017

Guarana, scientifically known as Paullinia cupana, is a medicinal plant that comes from the Amazon rainforest.

Originally used by the Amazonian tribal people to brew a healthy tea-like drink, the reputation of this nourishing plant has spread worldwide.

Once a popular soda ingredient is Brazil, it comes as no surprise it is now one of the preeminent ingredients in many popular energy drinks. [1]

Amongst its many revered health benefits, guarana is a time-honored aphrodisiac, weight-loss supplement, stress-reliever, and solution for mental or physical fatigue.

It contains caffeine, theophylline, and theobromine. These natural chemicals help to jump-start the central nervous system, cardiovascular system, and muscles. [2] [3]

The following guide will help you to learn everything there is to know about guarana, including its origin, popular uses, benefits, and side-effects.

What is Guarana?

Guarana is a tree-like vine that is native to the Amazon and parts of Brazil.

Throughout its natural cycle, the plant produces large green leaves, clusters of white flowers, and small reddish-brown seeds.

Amazonian tribes, such as the Sateré-Maué, would grind the guarana nuts into a fine powder that would be used to brew a sweet, tea-like substance. According to historical accounts, “Sateré-Maué who live along the Maués River and its affluents cultivate guaraná extensively and have incorporated the plant in their mythology.” [4]

Eventually, European missionaries and colonialists who came across these tribes would be introduced to the healing elixir. Not soon after, the wild plant was cultivated at plantations nearby.

While traditional guarana extract was carefully smoked and cured before being turned into hardened cylinders, modern farmers now roast and grind the plant in a way similar to coffee. [5]

Modern industrial food preparation took these refinements even further.

Guarana had no trouble finding a place in the Brazilian soda market in the 1900s. From there, guarana’s many health benefits were publically abridged, and the plant became widely known as merely an aphrodisiac or energy booster.

Nevertheless, scientific studies of guarana continue to showcase its numerous strengths.

There are several ongoing studies that have been done to help identify guarana’s specific health benefits, including ones that focus on its effect on reducing fatigue of chemotherapy patients, boosting skin aesthetics, reducing blood platelets, and eliminating anxiety. [6]

Bottom Line: From a traditional infusion to a modern energy drink ingredient, Guarana is a strong stimulant with many healing qualities.

Guarana Uses

In ancient times, guarana was used to promote longevity and health.

Traditionally, the nut would be collected, roasted, ground, and stored to be later used as an appetite suppressant during fasting season.

Later on, French colonists considered it a revered stimulant, anorectic, and even a popular treatment for dysentery. The colonists quickly spread the word about the exotic nut and began widespread cultivation of the plant. [3]

In today’s Brazil, guarana is considered a therapeutic seed that is still frequently added to drinks, such as carbonated soda.

Around the world, it is added to herbal supplements, energy drinks, and drink powders. Doses vary, though no more than two to four grams should be consumed.

Moreover, careful consideration should be given when consuming other stimulants, as pure guarana seeds contain twice the amount of caffeine as coffee beans. [7]

While whole guarana seed powder or capsules can be purchased, it is often combined with other herbal ingredients.

For example, many popular over-the-counter weight-loss supplements are made from a combination of guarana and glucomannan, another plant-based anorectic.

In energy drinks, it is often combined with other sources of caffeine to produce a heightened, protracted energy boost. [8]

Bottom Line: Guarana was once used by Amazon natives to create a powerful herbal drink. Today it can be found in everything from herbal supplements to sodas and energy drinks.

Guarana Benefits

Guarana is a potent natural stimulant that can be used to improve a number of bodily functions and aid ailments. One of the most frequent health claims of guarana is its ability to curb appetite and improve weight loss.

A recent study by a group of scientists at the Institute of Biomedical Sciences demonstrated that the caffeine content of guarana helps to speed fat metabolism.

Moreover, other studies have been shown that demonstrate a reduction in weight gain that correlates to guarana intake. [9]

Guarana is often heralded for its neurological benefits.

From improved cognition to reduced anxiety, there are several studies that demonstrate guarana’s effect on the human brain.

One such study, from the Brazilian Archives of Biology and Technology, demonstrated that the guarana seed might possess unknown chemicals, other than caffeine, that can boost cognitive performance. [10]

Studies on rats even demonstrated “an antidepressant-like effect after long-term administration.” [11]

It is also proven to improve cardiovascular health by cleansing, regulating, and balancing the blood and heart.

When platelets, or thrombocytes, collect inside an artery or vein, it causes blood clots. Studies show than guarana extract can help to de-aggregate or reduce this sort of abnormal accumulation. [12]

It is also demonstrated the ability to have an antioxidant like effect on protecting cells and radical-scavenging properties. [13]

In fact, a recent study by the University of São Paulo helped demonstrate that guarana extract can help reduce ” the oxidative stress of clinically healthy individuals.” [14]

There are a limited number of studies that also suggest guarana extract can aid in the reduction of oxidized low-density lipids, or oxidized LDL.

This is a form of cholesterol that accumulates due to a diet high in saturated fats, habits such as smoking, and poorly managed diabetes.

Research on elderly guarana-consuming individuals demonstrates low levels of cholesterol and has provided an incentive for further studies. [15]

Since it is a natural stimulant, it is also often used to improve athletic or sexual performance.

Additionally, caffeine is not a controlled drug, which makes it a safe choice for many athletes. Moreover, it can provide a highly-desired boost in endurance and focus.

Bottom Line: Guarana extract can help aid the cardiovascular, muscular, and nervous system of the body. It can also help improve bodily deficiencies and ailments.

Guarana Side Effects

Many people assume that guarana and other natural supplement are safer because they are plant-based.

However, care should always be taken to properly research a supplement before consumption. With that being said, the main side effects of guarana correlate to its caffeine content. [16]

Such as in the case of excess or unregulated caffeine consumption, side effects include:

  • Insomnia
  • Restlessness
  • Nervousness
  • Increased Heart Rate
  • Headache
  • Anxiety
  • Tinnitus
  • Stomach Aches

Moreover, special precautions should be taken when taking guarana if you have a medical condition. For example, check with your doctor if you are pregnant, lactating, suffering from anxiety, bladder disease, bleeding disorders, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, glaucoma, or osteoporosis. [17] [18] [16]

While the side effects of caffeine consumption are moderate compared to other stimulants, large doses are probably unsafe and have the potential to cause a number of adverse health conditions.

Bottom Line: Guarana is a relatively safe, effective supplement but should be taken with caution because of its significantly high caffeine content.

Guarana Dosage

For healthy individuals who are not otherwise restricted by their doctors, the recommended daily dose of guarana extract is around one gram.

The typical caffeine content of such as dose is between “3.6% and 5.8%.” Keep in mind, the average cup of coffee contains about “1.2 percent to 1.8 percent caffeine.” [19]

When taking guarana, whether as a supplement or as an added ingredient, be mindful of how it will interact with other drugs and substances.

Plan your consumption so that the caffeine is no longer effective during your desired sleep period.

For athletes wishing to take guarana before a workout session, carefully consider how supplement-boosted energy will impact your workout, appetite, and overall weight loss plan.

Moreover, guarana is often added to sugar-laden energy drinks or multi-ingredient herbal supplements. The negative side effects of these mixtures can sometimes negate the healing properties of guarana.

Bottom Line: Guarana intake should be limited to one gram a day, and careful consideration should be given to additional ingredients, drug interactions, and noteworthy medical conditions.

How Does Guarana Work?

Guarana’s main active chemical compounds are caffeine, theophylline, and theobromine. All three compounds are naturally-occurring stimulants with unique characteristics.

For example, theobromine has mood-enhancing properties and theophylline is often used to treat asthma and bronchospasms. [20]

Guarana seeds are also known to contain tannins, which many scientists believe may cause the natural caffeine to disperse slower.

Tannins are naturally-occurring polyphenols present in plants. The concentration of tannins in guarana is said to be between four and six percent.[21]

In fact, blind studies have been done to demonstrate that it is not just the caffeine content of guarana that makes it an excellent supplement.

In addition to caffeine and the other alkaloids, guarana also contains cyanolipids and saponin. [21]

Bottom Line: Guarana contains a powerful trio of alkaloids, including caffeine, theophylline, and theobromine. It also contains natural tannins that help regulate the caffeine’s distribution.

What is the Future of Guarana?

Guarana is an emblem of the rich biodiversity and cultural practices of the Amazon rainforest.

The demand for coveted guarana seeds has grown exponentially as of late. Paired with widespread knowledge of the plant’s health benefits, global market analysts predict a 7.1% increase in the global guarana market.

Furthermore, studies, such as “Modulatory Effects of Guarana (Paullinia cupana) on Adipogenesis,” Nutrients magazine, suggest that guarana will be a therapeutic agent soon. [22]

In addition, continued investigations may help us to understand why guarana extract is more effective than pure caffeine.

Bottom Line: As people and scientists learn more about the guarana plant, the market for guarana products is expected to grow. This crop is both profitable and culturally relevant to the people of the Amazon basin.

Guarana Myths and Misconceptions

While guarana offers several scientifically proven benefits, the plant also comes with its fair share of folklore and embellishment.

The name “guarana” translates to “looks like living people,” and is part of a Guarani Legend about a ferocious jaguar, noble old man, and rewarding gods. In the story, the guarana plant is given to give thanks for the old man’s heroic deed.

Even today, the plant’s reputation for healing has surpassed its scientific authentication.

For example, many companies and people boast that guarana is a powerful aphrodisiac. Meanwhile, little is known about the plant’s libido-boosting qualities.

In addition, many people often underestimate the caffeine content of guarana, especially when it is seen as an ingredient in addition to caffeine.

Since energy drink manufacturers are not required to label caffeine content, many people consume far more than they should. This can also happen when more than one serving is packed into a single-serve can. [23]

Bottom Line: Use trusted sources when researching guarana. Many companies make presented claims that are not backed by scientific research.

The Bottom Line on Guarana

Originally used by the tribal people of the Amazon basin, guarana is now widely used throughout the energy drink and herbal supplement industries.

It is well-known for its energy boosting caffeine content and scientifically-proven a variety of bodily functions.

From improvements in the cardiovascular and central nervous systems to improved weight loss, better workout results, and improved cognition, there are so many ways in which guarana can be used to improve a person’s quality of life.

Studies show that guarana is a safe plant supplement, but talk with a health professional before taking it, especially if you have any health conditions or are taking additional medications.

About the Author:

Summer Banks, Director of Content at Dietspotlight, has researched over 5000 weight-loss programs, pills, shakes and diet plans. Previously, she managed 15 supplement brands, worked with doctors specializing in weight loss and completed coursework in nutrition at Stanford University. full bio.