Can Guarana Improve Energy, Focus and Vitality?
For thousands of years, the seed of a suspiciously familiar fruit has been revered by indigenous tribes living throughout the southern regions of the Brazilian Amazon basin.
Paullinia cupana or Guarana, is a climbing plant so deeply rooted in indigenious culture that the Sateré Mawé, a local Amazonian tribe, believe it to have created life. In a somewhat gruesome tale, the Mawé believed guarana’s domestication was the byproduct of an innocent child’s murder at the hands of an evil diety. Feeling sympathetic, a more righteous god, wanting to right the wrong of the first, snatched the left eye of the deceased child and planted it in the forest, giving rise to the wild variety of guarana. Next, the god took the child’s right eye and once again planted it, but this time, giving birth to the Mawé people and instilling in them the knowledge to domesticate the rainforest vine and its precious fruit for centuries to come.
With a red to brownish fruit and a black seed surrounded by a white arils, it is no surprise that the Sateré Mawé origin story compares guarana fruit to that of a human eyeball. Interestingly, for the Guarani, another Amazonian tribe, Guarana can be roughly translated to mean, “fruit like eyes of the people”.
Like our eyes, guarana is said to be the beginning of all knowledge for the indigenious peoples living in the densely forested regions of the Brazilian Tapajós and Madeira. Consumed as both a drink and as an ingredient in a type of bread, guarana has been esteemed for its curative benefits and energy boosting properties. In fact, João Felipe Betendorf, a 17th century Jesuit missionary, noted that the Sateré Mawé people, after consuming a guarana-based tea, would stay sharp, effectively navigating their convoluted landscape and hunting for days without eating. Thankfully, there are now a number of studies that support Betendorf’s observation, helping to better explain why guarana might be an effective tool in stimulating brain activity and promoting longevity.
The Benefits of Guarana:
Guarana may boost energy and improve focus*
Guarana may enhance cognitive function and improve learning*
Guarana is rich in antioxidants*
1. Guarana May Boost Energy and Improve Focus
Guarana is a clean and natural source of caffeine that helps to boost mental energy and improve focus.* In fact, there is two to four times the amount of caffeine in guarana seeds as there are in coffee beans. When caffeine from Guarana crosses the blood-brain barrier it binds to adenosine receptors, promoting an increase in nerve cell activity and encouraging wakefulness.* In contrast to coffee however, guarana tends to have a longer lasting stimulatory effect without the crash.* Although more research needs to be done, it is believed that guarana’s plateau-like stimulatory effect is caused by a number of constituents in addition to caffeine such as catechins, tannins and other alkaloids such as theophylline and theobromine.1
2. Guarana May Enhance Cognitive Function and Improve Learning
In a double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial, researchers found that guarana significantly improved mood, learning and cognitive performance.* Most interestingly, researchers concluded that due to the low dosages administered, the benefits could not be attributed to caffeine alone.2 These human studies support mounting evidence that guarana can have a positive effect on learning, memory and attention-based tasks at low doses and therefore low caffeine quantity.*3
3. Guarana Is Rich In Antioxidants
From their origin story to the warrior’s drink of choice, guarana has been deeply woven into Mawé culture. During a coming of age ritual for example, young boys must plunge their hands into mittens constructed from leaves and woven with hundreds of venomous bullet ants. Believed by indigineous wisdom to be the elixir of youth, a gourd filled with guarana-tea is passed around and consumed before beginning the initiation to purify and protect the body. After consuming the tea, the boys stand expressionless as the stinging pain surges through their entire body, proving their bravery and warrior-like mentality in front of their entire tribe. The excruciatingly painful ritual, which can cause hallucination and temporary paralyzation, must be repeated for a total of twenty times before the boys are considered men.
Interestingly, there is some truth to the Mawé’s elixir-like belief in guarana. Studies have shown that guarana is loaded with antioxidant compounds, representing a profile similar to that of green tea. The darling of the anti-aging and longevity community, antioxidants have increased in popularity over the years due to their ability to neutralize disease causing free-radicals in the body. In some preliminary test tube studies, guarana has demonstrated anti-aging properties that may have potential in combating cancer and heart disease.*4 5
Is Guarana Bad for You? The Risks Associated with Guarana
Like most North Americans, you were likely first introduced to Guarana after reading the lengthy ingredient list of an energy drink. At some point in your life you probably heard that energy drinks are bad for you. Does that mean guarana is bad for you too? Well, no, not exactly.
To better understand the risks associated with consuming guarana its helpful to have a better understanding of the energy drink industry and why they could be giving guarana a bad name.
Brazil is the third largest consumer of soft drinks in the world with Guaraná Antarctica, the country’s most popular beverage, leading the way since 1921. Only until recently have guarana-based “energy” beverages gained market share in the United States. Unfortunately for the misinformed, energy drinks and their wildly irresponsible formulas could tarnish guarana’s reputation as a brain enhancing and immune supportive plant medicine. In addition to guarana, the ingredients in energy drinks commonly include sugar, synthetic caffeine, B vitamins, amino acid derivatives and other herbal extracts. At no fault to guarana, energy drink manufacturers seem compelled to load their formulas with sugar. For example, a standard sized beverage can contain between 27 and 54 grams of sugar. Consuming energy drinks with high concentrations of sugar can lead to elevated blood sugar levels and serious health concerns such as diabetes. Furthermore, excess sugar consumption is linked to chronic diseases caused by oxidative stress and inflammation in the body.6 7
Aside from sugar, one of the major drawbacks to energy drinks is the amount of caffeine they contain. Caffeine has been shown to improve cognitive performance in most healthy adults, but like anything, overconsumption can be dangerous. Consider for a minute, drinking water to stay hydrated or getting enough vitamin D from the sun. Both contribute to a healthy lifestyle, but drinking too much water or staying in the sun for too long can lead to illness, disease and even death. Balance is important.
Energy drinks contain upwards of 200mg of added caffeine and anywhere from 1.4mg to 300mg of guarana extract. Unfortunately, brands in the USA are not required to list the amount of guarana extract used - so it can therefore be difficult to tell the total amount of caffeine per serving. Since a standard 150mg dose of guarana extract contains approximately 30mg of caffeine, consuming one too many energy drinks can make it dangerously easy to exceed the recommended maximum 400mg daily intake of caffeine. Pushing your intake into these levels can lead to increased blood pressure and a faster heart rate, leaving your nervous system in an abnormally heightened state. For some people, higher amounts of caffeine can cause irritability, anxiety, diarrhea and sleeplessness. Consuming over the recommended daily limit, especially in a short period of time, could lead to cardiac arrhythmia and even death. As you can see, it is not that guarana is bad for you but rather it is the over abundance of caffeine and sugar found in energy drinks that could pose potential health concerns if consumed over prolonged periods of time.*
Guarana Side Effects:
Guarana may cause increased blood pressure
Guarana may increase heart rate
Consuming small amounts of guarana, tea, coffee or any caffeine for that matter is generally safe for most healthy adults.* However, anyone with a known medical condition or sensitivity to caffeine should speak to a doctor before use. If you experience any adverse side effects we recommend seeing to a healthcare professional immediately.
Summary: Guarana The Beginning of All Knowledge
Guarana is a Brazilian climbing plant native to the Amazon basin that has been domesticated and used by local indigenous tribes for centuries to enhance brain function, boost energy and improve overall wellness. The seeds are removed from the fruit and ground into a powder to create an extract. Studies have shown that guarana extract contains powerful antioxidants such as tannins, saponins and catechins and stimulants such as caffeine, theophylline and theobromine.8 Since guarana is relatively new to the American market, it is tough not to associate it with unhealthy and highly caffeinated sugary drinks found at your local corner store. What's unfortunate is that energy drinks often contain excessive amounts of caffeine and sugar.
As studies have shown, even small doses of guarana extract are effective in boosting cognitive function, improving learning, and maintaining a healthy immune system.* A standard dose of guarana extract at 150mg accounts for approximately 33mg of caffeine, which is less than a single espresso and about the same amount of caffeine found in a cup of green tea. Unlike coffee or green tea however, researchers now believe there are a number of other constituents in addition to caffeine that contribute to guarana’s brain boosting benefits.* All of this suggests that a small amount of guarana could provide significant benefits to the brain and body without the potentially negative side effects associated with other synthetic and non-synthetic options.
*The statements made in this article have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Any products mentioned are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The information in this article is intended for educational purposes. The information is not intended to replace medical advice offered by licensed medical physicians. Please consult your doctor or health practitioner for any medical advice.