What is guarana?
Guarana (Paullinia cupana) is a rainforest vine indigenous to the Amazonas and Bahia regions of Brazil. Guarana seeds contain more caffeine than any other plant in the world. Its caffeine levels range from 2 to 7.5%, or comparatively, four times as much caffeine as coffee. Its caffeine-rich fruit has long been used in Brazil as a fortifier, tonic, stimulant, aphrodisiac, and for its medicinal properties – as an antidote to fever, to prevent the hardening of arteries, to treat migraines and to treat diarrhoea and dysentery.
What is it used for?
Today, guarana is taken to boost energy, reduce fatigue, lose weight, aid learning and memory, and for athletic performance, even though there isn’t strong evidence to support the uses. It’s a popular ingredient in sports and energy drinks, and the seed powder is a popular dietary herb supplement.
About 70% of the guarana production is used for soft and energy drinks, and 30% is used in powder-form either for direct consumption (in capsules or diluted in water) or used by the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries. [Guarana seed extract is a key ingredient in our enerBoost multivitamin.]
What does the research say?
There are an increasing number of studies on the benefits of guarana on human health, showing potential for diverse health applications. However, as a recent narrative review published in Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety (November 2021) pointed out, “the available evidence lacks human studies and mechanistic investigations.”
The effects on human health are the following:
1. It has antioxidant properties: Guarana has antioxidant properties because of the compounds caffeine, theobromine, tannins, saponins and catechins present.
2. It has antibacterial properties: Guarana contains many compounds that may inhibit or kill harmful bacteria, including E. coli which lives in the intestines of humans and animals.
3. It may have anti-inflammatory properties: Guarana has demonstrated potential anti-inflammatory properties.
4. It may improve your cardiovascular health: Use of guarana powder has shown anti-obesity and cardioprotective effects. The antioxidants in guarana may aid blood flow and prevent blood clots. It also decreases the oxidation of “bad” LDL cholesterol, which contributes to plaque build-up in the arteries.
5. It could help you lose weight. Some human studies evaluated the effects of supplements containing guarana in combination with other compounds (such as green tea extract, black tea, ginger extract and vitamin C) on weight loss and other anti-obesity effects. In one study, guarana seed extract increased fatty acid oxidation during exercise and satiety, while decreasing the rate of perceived exertion. Other studies reported a decrease in body fat, and an increase in 24h energy expenditure, an increase in metabolic rate, weight and body fat loss and waist and hip circumference reduction. Its effects were attributed to guarana’s high caffeine content.
6. It may be included as part of a cancer treatment strategy: Guarana’s caffeine content suggests that the combination of caffeine and anticancer drugs could be a strategy for cancer treatment.
7. It may affect cognitive ability: In one study, guarana powder doses of up to 75 mg/day improved attention, memory, and speed of performance; doses greater than 300 mg/day showed no significant effect.
8. It may relieve chronic diarrhea and treat constipation. It is rich in tannins, or plant-based antioxidants. Tannins bind and contract tissue. The caffeine in guarana also acts as a natural laxative.
9. It may provide pain relief: Due to its coffee content, guarana could play a role in pain management. Caffeine binds and blocks the adenosine receptors involved in stimulating feelings of pain, which Is why it’s found in a number of over-the-counter pain medication.
10. It may improve the skin’s appearance: Test-tube studies showed that the antioxidants in guarana may reduce age-related skin damage. Guarana’s antioxidant and antimicrobial properties make it a popular ingredient in anti-aging creams, lotions, soaps and hair products.
11. It may protect against age-related eye disorders. Test-tube studies have found that guarana may combat oxidative stress, a risk factor linked to age-related eye disorders, i.e. macular degeneration, cataracts and glaucoma.
Does it have side-effects?
The risk profile for guarana consumption is linked to caffeine intake. In low-to-moderate doses, guarana has low toxicity and is well-tolerated. In high doses, its side effects may be similar to excessive caffeine intake: heart palpitations, insomnia, headaches, anxiety, nervousness, upset stomach and shakiness. Caffeine can be addictive when taken in high doses.
Guarana may also affect your blood pressure or blood pressure medication, so consult with your health care professional before supplementing. It may also interact with stimulant medications and drugs.
Read more on When to consult a health care professional when supplementing.
When choosing your supplement, always check if there is a full list of ingredients on the product, a package insert, a valid company address with contact details and compliance to Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP), which is a prerequisite for health product manufacturing. Read more on How to choose a supplement.
Antioxidants are substances that can prevent or slow down the damage to cells caused by free radicals. Free radicals are waste substances produced by cells as it processes food and reacts to the environment.