Guarana (Paullinia cupana) is an Amazonian shrub with seeds resembling that of an eyeball. This has of course lead to a lot of folklore around this plant being the "watcher of the jungle".
Gurana seeds, like coffee, contains high amounts of caffeine. In fact, it has more than double the caffeine content!
The Sateré-Mawé, a Brazilian indigenous tribe, have been using guarana for thousands of years. They used it for many aspects of life, including social celebrations, to increase stamina for hunting and work, for menstrual pains and after childbirth.
Guarana is found naturally throughout the Amazon, and is also farmed. These farming operations can be very sustainable, and generate a lot of income to the region in ways that don't cause damage to the forest. It is important to support these practices in the region because many of the current agricultural and logging projects wreak permanent havoc on the jungle. Toxic and destructive practices are generally preferred for their more lucritive natures. Guarana offers a solution to this, by bringing sustainable financial support to rainforest farmers.
The benefits of guarana include: adaptogenic actions, increases energy, improves memory and concentration, combats atherosclerosis, provides antioxidant support, antidepressant effects, lowers blood pressure, heart tonic, tones the digestive tract, and supports weight loss.
Guarana can be mixed into smoothies, capsulated, or tinctured and consumed on a regular basis.
Seeds (usually powdered, sometimes tinctured)
- General tonic
Standardised Extract (2.5% Caffeine)
This is about 27 mg of caffeine.
Liquid Extract (1:1)
Mix into water to create a thick paste.
- General tonic for heart and kidneys
- Sexual impotency
- Guarana da Amazonia
- Va ran
In the Amazon, various indigenous cultures have used this herb as a stimulant, astringent, analgesic, febrifuge, general tonic, as well as for diarrhea, hypertension, migraines, neuralgia, dysentery, and more modernly to prevent cardiovascular disease (Adriana Basile et al., 2005).
The Satere-Mawe indians used a mortar and pestle to grind the seeds, then mixed with water to form a paste, which was then shaped into cylinders and sun dried. This formed a sort of “stick” which was usually then smoked and could last upwards of a year, and preserved the characteristics of the plant quite well.
A few more modern uses of this plant involve its use as an aphrodisiac, and for mind expanding purposes, especially when mixed with other herbs.
The Jesuit’s expedition into South America, revealed the first reports of guarana to the outside world in 1669, when the missionary João Felipe Bettendorf recorded the use of the herb by the Satere-Mawe indians (F.C. Schimpl et al., 2013).
A study conducted on the effects on health associated with long term consumption of guarana, noticed a significantly higher prevalence of males ingesting guarana long term over females. These researchers suggested this may be due to the indications for guarana in this region (Maue Brazil) being as an aphrodisiac, and to decrease fatigue, combined with the labor intensive work of fishing, and agricultural work most often conducted by males.
The Satere-Mawe are most often associated with this botanical historically, and referred to the beverage as Çapó. This was drunk by women during their period, while pregnant, and after giving birth. The males consumed this beverage during festivals, in mourning, before hunting trips, and after their wives gave birth (SOURCE).
Paullinia cupana is a creeping shrub indigenous to South America. There are a few varieties of guarana found throughout the Amazon rainforest, Paullinia cupana var. Typica (also referred to as Venezuelan guarana), P. cupana var. Sorbillis (a Brazilian variety). The Brazilian variety is the most commonly exported, and is the variety that is most studied (F.C. Schimpl et al., 2013).
The family Sapindaceae, that guarana belongs to, contains 140 genera, with about 2000 species, P. cupana belongs to the subfamily sabindoidiae. The genus itself, Paullinia, contains about 200 species. This genus is almost exclusive to tropical and subtropical America, except for one species, P. pinnata L. which also lives in tropical Africa. There are a few species that are considered very similar, however not much research has been done on these other species (F.C. Schimpl et al., 2013).
The word guarana, uarana, varana means “vine” in various indigenous dialects, and refers to the growth habit of the botanical. It has tendrils that can grow up to 10m in length, and uses other rainforest trees to support itself on.
The leaves are alternate, and odd-pinnate. The leaflets are oval, and serrated, and glossy on top with a venous bottom.
Guarana is a monoecious plant, the racemes can contain up to 95 flowers, and are around 30cm in total length, containing small zygomorphic flowers. The calyx of each flower contains 5 sepals, with a white corolla consisting of 4 petals. Each flower is pseudo-hermaphrodite, and most (4.5:1) are male flowers, though this varies plant to plant (F.C. Schimpl et al., 2013).
The fruit is in the form of a capsule, starting dark green, and as it ripens becomes more yellow-orange, or yellow-red in color and sometimes can be found bright red. The seeds are dark brown, with a strikingly white aril. This gives the seed the appearance of an eye, which has been the subject of a few local legends, and provides a strong identifying feature of the plant.
The guarana seed has roughly 4-5 times the amount of caffeine as Coffea arabica (2.5-8%) (F.C. Schimpl et al., 2013).
Guarana is very commonly used in soft drinks, energy drinks, cosmetic applications, pharmaceuticals, and as elixirs or capsules marketed for such purposes as weight loss, and energy supplements, such as for athletic enhancement purposes (F.C. Schimpl et al., 2013).
Habitat, Ecology, Distribution:
P. cupana is indigenous to tropical and subtropical South America, and grows abundantly throughout the Amazon rainforest.
It is cultivated in various areas throughout the region, however most production comes from Brazil, specifically in the states of Amazonas and Bahia (which combined produces 95% of production in Brazil) (F.C. Schimpl et al., 2013). The rough cost of this herb from these farmers is R$ 7.45/kg (Amazonia), and R$5.90 (Bahia). F.C. Schimpl et al., (2013) reports that although the need for guarana is growing as the herb becomes more well known, production land has not grown much in the last 10 years, but suggests that before this happens there is room to increase productivity of these current farms. Much of the reason behind low productivity in this region is due to low technical qualifications by farmers, who mainly consist of small scale farms, with unskilled laborers.
The method of seed dispersal is generally by way of bird. The high caffeine (and other purine alkaloids) content is generally thought to be a chemical defense mechanism against herbivores. The lack of alkaloids in the aril of the seeds, and habit by which birds eat the seed without breaking, or fully digesting the seeds, prevents the alkaloids from exiting the seed and causing toxicity to the birds, while also providing sugar to the birds via the alkaloid free, sugary aril. Later, the seed is deposited intact where it may then attempt to germinate (F.C. Schimpl et al., 2013).
Harvesting, Collection, and Preparation:
Guarana fruit, ripens at different times along the same inflorescence, which make harvesting fairly labor intensive, as it needs to be hand picked often in order to gather only the ripe berries. This can take up to 3 months to complete. The plants can start being harvested yearly after about year 3, and produces large amounts of seed from about year 6 and on (F.C. Schimpl et al., 2013).
Guarana, like coffee (Coffea spp.), tea (Camellia sinensis), yerba mate (Illex paraguariensis), and cacao (Theobroma cacao), which all contain similar xanthine alkaloids, are usually heated (roasted) and ground into a powder before use. Guarana seeds are also sometimes fermented for a few days before retrieving the seeds from the fruit (very similar process to Theobroma cacao). Mechanical processing usually skips this fermentation step, and strips the seeds while fresh. The seeds are then dried once more in large pots, slowly over the course of a few hours, in order to avoid burning. This similarity in processing for botanicals containing the same xanthine alkaloids from various cultures around the world suggests the need for further investigation on what differences these plants contain without this heating process, in accordance with how they are traditionally used as stimulants.
In a patent outlined by Coca-Cola, the seeds are ground to a powder, and extracted using 40-60% alcohol solution, and then concentrated through various processes. Separately, there exist processes by which the tannins are largely broken down, resulting in a concentrate with high caffeine, and low tannin. This process is used in the manufacture of energy drinks to avoid the brown color associated with its use, which is in fact a visual indication of the oxidation that has already occurred due to a complex hydrophobic interaction of tannin and caffeine (F.C. Schimpl et al., 2013).
Guarana contains xanthic acids, including Caffeine, theobromine, and theophylline. Adriana Basile et al., (2005) suggests that the seeds only contain caffeine, whereas the other two as well as caffeine are found in the bark, leaves, and flowers. In the seed, the aril was noted to be almost alkaloid free, where as the seed kernel, and seed coat contained high concentration of alkaloids (namely caffeine) (Adriana Basile et al., 2005).
The seeds of guarana also contain large amounts of polyphenols, such as tannins. These tannins are primarily in the form of condensed tannins, or proanthocyanidins, with a high incidence of catechins, and epicatechins, which are largely held responsible for the antioxidant activity of the seeds (F.C. Schimpl et al., 2013).
Saponins are also contained within guarana, though in small amounts (F.C. Schimpl et al., 2013).
The constituents of guarana, as listed by F.C. Schimpl et al., (2013) include starch (60 g/100g), tannin (8.5-9.5 g/100g), protein (7.5-8.5 g/100g), soluble sugars (8g/100g), reducing sugars (2.3-4.9g/100g), caffeine (3.2-3.8g/100g), fiber (2.4-3.2g/100g), pentosan (0.2-0.6 g/100g), ash (1.4-2.1 g/100g), humidity (8.75-10.5 g/100g). In the oil of guarana seed contains methylbenzenes, cyclic monoterpenes, sesquiterpenes, oleic acid, paullinic acid and methoxyphenyl propene (F.C. Schimpl et al., 2013).
Pharmacology and Medical Research:
2 long term studies of P. cupana on rodents using low dose administration of the extract (9 months at 3 mg/kg) was able to improve swimming time of the mice, and reversed performance deficits in rats. Adriana Basile et al., (2005), suggested that this was due to more than the caffeine content because it was found in low concentrations in this dose, and produced stronger results than the larger (30 mg/kg) dose. Both extracts however reversed scopolamine induced cognitive deficits. The suggested constituents responsible for this action is the tannin, and saponin contents. Saponins in particular are strongly associated with adaptogenic and various other effects. Kennedy et al., (2004) defined saponins as “high molecular weight glycosides combining a sugar element and a steroid aglycone or triterpene molecule”.
The caffeine contained in P. cupana, is reported to be between 4% and 8% in the seeds. Caffeine has been the subject of many studies on cognitive function, and other effects. With a half life of only 6 hours, these acute effects may need to be continually consumed in order to achieve any adaptogenic effects (Gianluca Ivan Silvestrini et al., 2013). It has also been reported that xanthine alkaloids do not build up in the body. This is on track with other xanthine alkaloid containing “adaptogens” such as yerba mate. Where both traditionally, and modernly, this beverage is consumed throughout the day, often over long periods of time.
F.C. Schimpl et al.,( 2013) reports that habitual use of this botanical was associated with lower rates of hypertension, obesity, and metabolic syndrome in seniors compared with those that did not take the botanical (F.C. Schimpl et al., 2013).
Though suggested to produce cognitive improvement, and adaptogenic effects during long term use, there exists conflicting evidence in this area. Particularly noted with the effects of long term use of this botanical on cognitive function. One study reportedly showed no significant cognitive improvement in elderly volunteers taking guarana long term, though how long is unknown by the author (Gianluca Ivan Silvestrini et al., 2013). Another study also noticed no improvement in cognitive function after 5 days at a dose of 1080 mg/day taken just after breakfast (Gianluca Ivan Silvestrini et al., 2013). More research is needed to further understand why these contradictory results have been obtained. Perhaps it could be in the amount of processing, such as roasting, and fermenting, and how much the plant has oxidized, that account for this difference in findings.
An aqueous extract of P. cupana inhibited platelet aggregation, which is suggested to be due to the procyanidin, and catechin content in the extract (F.C. Schimpl et al., 2013). Catechins are also contained in high amounts in Camellia sinensis, and are well studied as having antiatherosclerotic effects from that plant.
The ethanol extract of Paullinia cupana seeds, showed antibacterial effects against both gram negative, and gram positive bacteria. Most notably Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Proteus mirabilis, Proteus vulgaris, and Escherichia coli (Adriana Basile et al., 2005).
P. cupana has been shown in multiple studies to produce strong antioxidant effects. These effects were suggested to be due to the polyphenol content in the seeds, most notably catechol, as well as other catechins and epicatechins (flavonoids) (Adriana Basile et al., 2005).
Guarana was shown to partially reverse scopolamine induced amnesia in mice (Adriana Basile et al., 2005). This is most likely due to the antioxidant profile of guarana.
Gianluca Ivan Silvestrini et al., (2013) suggests the antidepressant effects of guarana are due to its xanthine alkaloid content, which have been shown many times to improve symptoms involved with depression, though it should be noted that very few studies have looked thoroughly at the effects of caffeine and other xanthine alkaloids on mood specifically.
The antihypertensive effects of guarana were noticed in a study done on the effects of long term consumption of guarana by Brazilian seniors. This study (C. da Costa Krewer et al., 2011) noted that the alkaloid caffeine has been shown to actually increase blood pressure, but also noted the low incidence of test subjects in the chronic guarana consumption group over the group that did not consume guarana. These researchers suggested that this contradiction could be due to the development of a tolerance to caffeine, which once achieved, allows caffeine consumption to take place without any increase in blood pressure. (check for acute effects of guarana in patients who do not consume caffeine).
Has been shown to inhibit platelet aggregation, as well as promote weight loss, which in turn lowers the chances of developing cardiovascular disease (C. da Costa Krewer et al., 2011). Other factors are likely due to the antioxidant effects, and vasodilatory effects of guarana.
C. da Costa Krewer et al., (2011) reports of a study that investigated the relationship between caffeine consumption and cardiovascular events. The results of this study reported that their is a significant reduction in cardiovascular events (heart valve disease, cardiovascular mortality) associated with caffeine consumption in patients without moderate or severe hypertension. This same study also refers to a study that found that the reduction of sugar in such beverages as coffee, also resulted in a reduction in blood pressure, but noted no relationship between caffeine consumption and blood pressure. this is important to note because much of the guarana “health drinks” being sold around the world, contain large amounts of sugar.
The tannins and related gallotannins contained in green tea, which are also contained within guarana, have been shown to inhibit Ca2+ activated Cl- channels (CACC). These potent CACC inhibitory effects are suggested to provide strong cardioprotective, as well as antisecretory effects (C. da Costa Krewer et al., 2011).
H. Fukumasu et al., (2008) investigated the chemoprotective effects of P. cupana, and reported that the botanical was able to provide chemoprotective effects, controlling the growth of melanomas in vivo. These effects were noted to be through a reduction in cancer cell proliferation, and increased apoptosis.
Guarana has been shown to produce protective effects against gastric lesions, which is suggested to be due to its polyphenol content (caffeic acid, gallic acid, tannic acid) (Adriana Basile et al., 2005).
The xanthine alkaloids contained in guarana have all been shown to produce psychoactive effects (SOURCES). These alkaloids are able to freely pass the blood brain barrier to exert their effects (SOURCE). In guarana, caffeine is by far in the highest concentration of these alkaloids. One study however showed that this was not the only psychoactive constituent of guarana, by evaluating the effects of low dose guarana, and pure caffeine (containing 16 times the amount of caffeine than the guarana dose), which resulted in the same effects on fatigue and memory tasks (Kennedy et al., 2004).
Guarana contains xanthine alkaloids (especially caffeine) which are well known stimulants. It has been shown to acutely improve cognitive performance, enhance secondary memory performance,increase alertness, and attenuates mental fatigue associated with extended task performance. It was also shown to combat the fatigue associated with chemotherapy, however did not affect radiation induced fatigue. Caffeine has a half life of about 5-6 hours in the body, and therefore the stimulating effects produced by these chemicals may expire in this time (Gianluca Ivan Silvestrini et al., 2013).
WEIGHT LOSS Supportive
Guarana has been shown to produce positive effects on both lipid metabolism, and increase basal energy expenditure (C. da Costa Krewer et al., 2011). Both of which play a role in weight loss. Obesity is also associated with increased activity of the renin–angiotensin–aldosterone pathway (a hormonal system regulating blood pressure and fluid balance) (C. da Costa Krewer et al., 2011). Therefore the same activity guarana produces on preventing, and possibly reducing hypertension, may also play a role in its effects on obesity. Obesity is also associated with various processes of the sympathetic nervous system, as well as with mineralocorticoid activity, and insulin resistance, and reduced kidney function (C. da Costa Krewer et al., 2011). This suggests that the diuretic activity of guarana may also provide beneficial actions in the mechanism of weight loss, and preventing or treating obesity.
Guarana, mixed with Illex paraguariensis, and Turnera diffusa, were used in powdered, capsule form (95 mg guarana, 112 mg yerba mate, 35 mg damiana), and shown to produce a 53% increase in gastric emptying times, and produced a noticeable body weight reduction after 45 days in vivo compared to placebo control group (F.C. Schimpl et al., 2013).
Another study showed that guarana mixed with Ephedra sinica (40 mg P. cupana, 12 mg Ephedra sinica), at 6 tablets/day showed significant reduction in serum triglyceride levels, hip circumference, and weight loss, over 8 week duration of study, as compared to placebo group (F.C. Schimpl et al., 2013).
Another study combining 200 mg caffeine from guarana, and 90 mg EGCG from Camellia sinensis found an increase in energy expenditure, however also produced a slight increase in blood pressure, and lack of a reduction in lipid oxidation (F.C. Schimpl et al., 2013). These results suggest the caffeine, and EGCG are not the only active ingredients in guarana combined with camellia sinensis.
Still compiling research. Low toxicity.
No indication of use in Ayurvedic, or traditional Chinese medical literature.
This is a herb that is rarely taken alone, it is commonly taken with such herbs as ginseng (Panax ginseng), tea (Camellia sinensis), and damiana (Turnera diffusa).
P. cupana has been shown to have considerable synergy with Ginseng (Kennedy et al., 2004). Producing nootropic effects, and increased resistance to various stressors both physical, and cognitive. These researchers suggested this synergy was due to both of the botanicals combined saponin content, as well as guaranas added caffeine benefits. The dose used in this combination was 75 mg Guarana, and 200mg Ginseng (Panax ginseng).
The Sunlight Experiment
Updated: June 2017
Recent Blog Posts:
- Adriana Basile, Lydia Ferrara, Marisa Del Pezzo, Guido Mele, Sergio Sorbo, Paola Bassi, Domenico Montesano. (2005). Antibacterial and antioxidant activities of ethanol extract from Paullinia cupana Mart. Journal of Ethnopharmacology. Vol 102. 32-36.
- Cristina da Costa Krewer, Euler Esteves Ribeiro, Ednéa Aguiar Maia Ribeiro,2 Rafael Noal Moresco, Maria Izabel de Ugalde Marques da Rocha,
- Greice Franciele Feyl dos Santos Montagner, Michel Mansur Machado, Karin Viegas, Elorídes Brito1 and Ivana Beatrice Mânica da Cruz. (2011). Habitual Intake of Guaraná and Metabolic Morbidities: An Epidemiological Study of an Elderly Amazonian Population. Phytotherapy Research. Vol 25: 1367–1374
- D.O. Kennedy, C.F. Haskell, K.A. Wesnes, A.B. Scholey. (2004). Improved cognitive performance in human volunteers following administration of guarana (Paullinia cupana) extract: comparison and interaction with Panax ginseng. Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behaviour. Vol 79. 401-411.
- Flávia Camila Schimpl, José Ferreira da Silva, José Francisco de Carvalho Gonçalves, Paulo Mazzafera. (2013). Guarana: Revisiting a highly caffeinated plant from the Amazon. Journal of Ethnopharmacology. Vol 150. 14–31.
- Gianluca Ivan Silvestrini, Franca Marino and Marco Cosentino. (2013). Effects of a commercial product containing guaraná on psychological well-being, anxiety and mood: a single-blind, placebo-controlled study in healthy subjects. Journal of Negative Results in BioMedicine. Vol 12:9
- H. Fukumasu, J.L. Avanzo, M.K. Nagamine, J.A. Barbuto, K.V. Rao, and M.L.Z. Dagli. (2008). Paullinia cupana Mart var. sorbilis, guaraná, reduces cell proliferation and increases apoptosis of B16/F10 melanoma lung metastases in mice. Brazilian Journal of Medical and Biological Research. Vol. 41: 305-310