What is guarana?
Paullinia cupana, the guarana plant, is a kind of plant from the family of the soap tree plants. The name Guarana is derived from the Guaraní, an indigenous South American folk. The liana is native to the Amazon area, the Rio Anapu and the Rio Tocantins in South America. In its tropical locations, the climbing vine can reach a height of up to 12 m. On the leafstalk, there are up to 25 cm long alternate leaves.
As compared to the large leaves, the flowers are rather small and inconspicuous. When the fruit is ripe, the Paullinia cupana forms orange-red, 2 to 3 cm long and deeply cut capsule fruits, which are in larger groups on the liana. These partially open and contain between 1 and 3 black or greenish seeds. Since the opened fruit with the guarana seeds resembles an eye, there are many legends and stories about this plant. The guarana plant is said to have grown from the eyes of the son of a wise and kind Indian woman buried in the ground.
Ingredients and uses of guarana
The seeds of the Paullinia cupana are medically significant. They are either used dry or ground and contain various valuable ingredients, which is why they were even entered in the Brazilian pharmacopoeia. The so-called alkaloids play a decisive role in the effect. The nitrogen-containing compounds account for 3 to 4% of the seeds. Caffeine is most strongly represented, but the alkaloids theobromine and theophylline are also present in a significant amount.
While the stimulant caffeine primarily increases alertness and has a stimulating effect on physical performance, theobromine, and theophylline not only have a stimulating effect on the heart rate but it also has muscle-relaxing properties. Just like green tea, guarana seeds contain health-promoting polyphenols from the flavonoid group.
The catechin and epicatechin are particularly noteworthy here: The phytochemicals are primarily known for their antioxidant effects, which far exceed the antioxidative potential of vitamin C or vitamin E.
Guarana is particularly interesting because of the caffeine it contains. The caffeine in the seeds has a different effect than, for example, the caffeine in coffee beans, cocoa beans, or tea leaves. It seems to be gentler on the stomach. It does not attack the digestive tract and stimulates in a relaxed and long-lasting way. However, this has not yet been researched thoroughly, but the relationships are being researched in various studies and are slowly becoming clearer.
Even people who are sensitive to caffeine often tolerate the caffeine of the guarana seeds well. Since the caffeine in the seeds is only released slowly and the effects are quite long-lasting, guarana is often contained in special foods and nutritional supplements for athletes. Especially in the areas of weight training and bodybuilding, the athletes hope for a stimulating and performance-enhancing effect from the guarana.
Studies: Guarana effective
Because guarana is said to help reduce the body's fat percentage, it is particularly popular with bodybuilders and other strength athletes. The positive effect of caffeine on fat burning was demonstrated in a Korean study with ten participants. Although the study did not deal with guarana in particular, but with the effects of caffeine in general, the results can provide information about the possible effects of guarana seeds.
A group of subjects was given caffeine approximately 30 - 40 minutes before exercise. The blood values in this group showed an increased number of fatty acids and more sweat glands were activated than in the control group. This suggests that guarana stimulates fat burning due to the caffeine it contains and supports the breakdown of fat and the build-up of muscles by increasing performance.
Another advantage of guarana was also shown in a laboratory study. Here a positive effect against fungi and bacteria was proven. In the study, higher doses of the guarana powder were found to be effective against both Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria. Gram-positive bacteria have a multilayer membrane and a murein layer, while Gram-negative bacteria have a thinner, permeable cell membrane.
This distinction is especially important in the treatment of bacterial infections: Gram-positive bacteria are mostly cocci (staphylococci, streptococci and others), Gram-negative bacteria are, for example, chlamydia, legionella or heliobacter. The bacterial strains used came from the medically relevant area as well as from different laboratory cultures.
The studied mushroom cultures also reacted sensitively to guarana. So neither bacteria nor fungi could multiply under the influence of guarana. However, it has not yet been clearly researched which constituents of guarana powder worked in which context. This antibacterial and fungicidal effect must now be examined in more detail.
Studies in rats also suggest that guarana powder can help lower cholesterol. The powder showed an effect similar to that of the drug Simvastatin. The rats were given a medical condition that would make the administration of Simvastatin seem advisable. Instead, they were given guarana powder. The cognitive performance were increased again and the resulting liver damage partially regressed. The study has not yet been transferred to humans.
The positive effects of guarana on the human organism have been partly researched and confirmed by studies. So far, however, there are more laboratory studies and studies with animals than studies with humans. In general, based on the study situation, it can be assumed that guarana has a cell-protecting effect and does not harm the human organism when it is dosed in accordance with the recommendations.
Guarana as a dietary supplement
The effect of guarana is primarily about the caffeine that is found in the seeds. Theobromine and theophylline, which make the difference to other caffeinated products such as tea or coffee, are also important here. As a rule, the powder of the guarana seeds is used, which are ground for this.
It can be purchased in this form (as a powder), but also as a capsule or as a tablet. Since the pure powder is not sufficient for a tablet press, the latter often contain additional ingredients such as artificial colours, flavours or sweeteners. Other substances such as caffeine from other sources, sugar or taurine, vitamins or minerals are often contained in these tablets. For this reason, you should take a closer look at the ingredients, which can vary greatly depending on the manufacturer.
Guarana capsules are mostly the ground seeds of the guarana plant, e.g. guarana powder. The powder is dosed exactly and packed in portions in a gelatine shell that slowly dissolves in the stomach. The powder is only released in the digestive tract and does not come into contact with the oral mucosa. You do not even notice the bitter taste of the guarana powder. The capsules are not only available with pure guarana powder, but in many different mixtures with other nutritional supplements as well.
Guarana in energy drinks and bars
Guarana is particularly popular as a component of energy drinks. In combination with taurine, amino acids, sugar, and minerals, it is supposed to give the consumer a special boost of energy. Even if the guarana seed extract, in combination with vitamins and minerals, has an impressive effect on cognitive absorption, this should be taken with caution. With just a few drops that are added to beverages, the guarana liquid fluid is particularly effective. It should have a particularly stimulating effect and thus contribute to a special alertness.
Energy bars often also contain guarana. The bars, which also contain proteins, amino acids, vitamins, sugar, and minerals, are intended to act as energy boosters on the go. They provide quick energy and can help raise the general mood.
The invigorating effect of guarana caffeine is also valued in teas. So it happens that mate tea, less often green tea, is mixed with guarana extract. This offers a wide range of offers to benefit from the positive properties of guarana seeds.
Effectiveness of guarana
The form in which guarana works best has not yet been researched. Bars, powder, capsules or drinks with the dissolved powder - there is still no clear difference. All products use the powder made from the seeds of the guarana plant. The seeds are roasted before grinding. With 2 to 8 mg of caffeine per 100 g of powder, guarana powder is extremely high in caffeine. But the guarana seed is not only important because of the caffeine. Other ingredients make the difference to many other caffeine sources:
- Theophylline (0 - 0.25 %)
- Theobromine (0,02 - 0,04 %)
- Catechin (6 %)
- Epicatechin (3 %)
- Saponins, starches, and minerals (3-4%)
- Tannins (über 12 %)
Theobromine and Typhylline are also said to have a stimulating effect, but studies have so far not been able to clearly prove this. Whether the two substances are stimulating remains controversial - but in some cases it is assumed that the effect is different from that of caffeine, so that they complement each other. Saponins support the immune system and are appreciated for their dehydrating effects. Nevertheless, the focus is on the caffeine in Guarana, which clearly exceeds the content in coffee.
The individual guarana product manufacturers each have their own information on how exactly the powder, tablets, capsules, or drops should be dosed. Since the content of pure guarana powder varies and both extremely high-dose and very low-dose products are on the market, there is no uniform recommendation.
In general, if you take approximately 20 g of pure guarana, within a short period of time, you can assume it is an overdose. The symptoms here are the same as those that occur when you consume too much coffee: It can lead to uncomfortable tremors, headaches, muscle aches, and nervousness. However, the individual reactions can be very different. In addition to this, the caffeine content of guarana is subject to strong fluctuations and is therefore difficult to determine.
Natural product guarana
Since guarana is a popular dietary supplement, initial studies have already been carried out to determine a dangerously high dosage. However, these studies do not allow a direct conclusion as to the exact dosage of supplements with guarana. As a natural product, guarana is subject to natural fluctuations which can be explained by factors such as location, growth phases and weather. Plants that grow near the liana plant also have an affect on the ingredients of the seeds.
This is the reason why the declaration of 2 to 8 mg caffeine content per 100 g guarana powder must remain so vague. Only when the manufacturer continues to treat the powder and bring it to an even value (through mixing or chemical treatment), can the exact content of caffeine be guaranteed. Manufacturers therefore add tablets, capsules or bars of caffeine from other sources to guarantee a consistently high level.
Difficult study situation
Another problem with the guarana studies is that the test subjects did not consume pure guarana products. For example, one study explicitly dealt with the effect of energy drinks on the human organism. The data from the emergency rooms of various hospitals were primarily used for this. It was noticed that there were irregular referrals in which the symptoms after consuming guarana in the form of energy drinks resembled an overdose of caffeine.
The effect of caffeine on the body is only positive up to a certain dose. If this is exceeded, you will become restless, suffer from insomnia, headaches or nervousness up to tremors and rapid heartbeat. In four cases, it was reported that it lead to the death of those affected. The study came to the conclusion that the amount of caffeine contained in the commercially available energy drinks is harmless with normal consumption, since the caffeine content in these is far below the pathologically effective dose. However, if there is excessive consumption of energy drinks or dietary supplements, the respective caffeine content adds up so that a dangerous level is reached.
Guarana for young people
At least in the area of dietary supplements with caffeine, there seems to be a dominance in the age group of adolescents: Young people between the ages of 11 and 20 use dietary supplements more often than other age groups. They hope the different products will compensate for the rather inadequate nutrition, hope for better performance in the physical and mental area or want to support the body in general or the immune system specifically in the convalescence after illness or injury.
Even if the reasons do not seem negative at first, studies have shown that adolescents are not aware of the side effects of guarana and other dietary supplements when overdosing. The dangers are ignored, so that the motto 'more helps more' is often adhered to.
In addition to adolescents, athletes in the amateur and semi-professional sector form another target group of products that contain guarana to improve performance. However, no studies on guarana and a possible overdose are known in this area. The recommended dose is often based on the experience with caffeine from other sources.
Guarana side effects
There are no known side effects of a moderate consumption of guarana. The risks that arise from the consumption of guarana lie in particular in an overdose. However, the symptoms of an overdose are primarily indicated by the caffeine that is contained in the guarana seeds.
Symptoms of poisoning are known when caffeine consumption is too high. Since the exact effects of guarana and the individual ingredients of the plant substance have not yet been fully researched, risk groups are generally advised against consuming guarana. This includes in particular children, pregnant women, and breastfeeding women, because in these cases, the results obtained from animal experiments cannot be transferred to humans.
As with all caffeine-containing substances, the risk of guarana consumption lies in getting used to it. Caffeine is physically addictive, it is a drug. Caffeinism is the name of this disease, which is often referred to as coffee addiction. The symptoms are dose-dependent and cover a wide range:
- Insomnia and stimulation of the central nervous system
- Increased blood pressure, increased heart activity and increased heart rate
- Concentration disorders or increased concentration
- Uncontrolled movements
- Headaches when withdrawal begins
- Anxiety disorder
- Potassium deficiency and muscle paralysis with high consumption of caffeinated soft drinks
As a result of excessive caffeine consumption, these symptoms appear very individually and depending on the dose of caffeine. If consumption is extremely high, this can lead to poisoning, which can result in a circulatory collapse. In humans, the lethal dose of caffeine (regardless of the source) is about 10 g. This amount is contained in about 200 cups of double espresso, for example. The first symptoms of poisoning, however, can occur, depending on the habit, from an intake of 1 g of caffeine, which corresponds to about 10 liters of cola or 12 cans (250 ml) of energy drinks.
As a caffeine supplier, guarana is often added to energy drinks. Some manufacturers also add guarana to cola and other soft drinks as a new, harmless stimulant. The dangers of a potassium deficiency, which can lead to serious problems, are rarely mentioned.
Excursus: The function of potassium
Potassium plays a crucial role in the muscle and nerve activity. As a cation (a positively charged ion), potassium occurs primarily intracellularly, within the body's cells. The concentration is normally around 150 mmol/l. This means that approximately 98% of the potassium concentration in the body is in the intracellular space. Outside the cells, however, it is 3.5 to 5 mmol/l.
Nerve cells and muscle cells function on an electro-chemical basis: calcium, sodium and other minerals are present as positive or negative charges. If these charges change (with the help of the atoms) through special passages between the cell interior and the cell environment, one speaks of an action potential.
These very weak electrical currents cause the muscles to move and transmit impulses to the nerve pathways. In this way, all information within the body is passed on via the nerve pathways. The nerve tract 'transmits' as long as there is electrical voltage. Potassium has the task of relieving tension in the nerve cells and producing a normal electrical charge.
Because potassium also performs this function in the muscles, a potassium deficiency can cause paralysis. The heart is also a muscle that maintains blood circulation through contractions. A potassium deficiency can lead to life-threatening cardiac arrhythmias, ventricular fibrillation, or even cardiac arrest.
Caffeine addiction withdrawals
In 2004, it was examined how the caffeine withdrawal is noticeable in addicts. Even if no guarana indicated dependency was examined, the results can be transferred. The withdrawal symptoms appear about 12 to 24 hours after the last consumption and are most pronounced during the first two days. Depending on the degree of dependency, the symptoms disappear after 2 to 9 days.
According to the ICD 10 and in addition to a general dysphoric mood (also commonly known as sadness), two or more of the following conditions are necessary to speak of withdrawal symptoms:
- Fatigue to lethargy
- Restlessness or psychomotor slowdown
- The desire for the stimulating substances
- Increased appetite
- Various types of sleep disorders
- Unpleasant or very bizarre dreams
Guarana - Natural energy booster
Guarana contains more caffeine than coffee beans. This makes it a wonderful energy booster. As a natural stimulant, it reduces tiredness and gives you new energy. It also prevents energy loss during physical exertion and exercise.
Since guarana does not contain carbohydrates, it does not provide direct energy in the proper sense. In order to maintain the regular cell functions and to ensure a constant body heat, carbohydrates are burned in the cell power plants. These serve as the actual energy suppliers. Guarana indirectly activates energy and gives new drive.
Since the caffeine contained in guarana is only released slowly in the body, it has a huge advantage as compared to other stimulants: This slow, long-lasting process means that the caffeine has a longer effect, the rapid and abrupt drop in performance that is known from other caffeine-containing products remains absent. But not only the caffeine in guarana works: For some time now, scientists have been increasingly pointing out that the different ingredients of the seeds of the guarana plant interact perfectly and support each other's effects.
Although it can be assumed that the caffeine in the guarana seeds interacts with other guarana substances, research in this area has not yet been completed. Until further notice, the interactions known from caffeine from other sources should be assumed.
Guarana: Beware of illnesses
Recent studies seem to show a rather positive interaction with ginseng: The mental performance can be increased if ginseng is also taken with guarana. In studies, it was determined that all subjects who received ginseng and guarana together had increased attention and better memory as compared to the comparison groups.
The comparison groups each received a placebo, either only guarana or only ginseng. The blind studies were carried out twice. This means that neither the study participants nor the supervising doctors knew who received which preparation. Dietary supplements with ginseng and guarana are therefore more effective than those containing only guarana or only ginseng.
Various medications that increase the heart rate are increased in their effectiveness by caffeine. At the same time, caffeine counteracts calming agents. In addition to this, a caffeine breakdown in the body is accelerated by smoking.
Caffeine noticeably strengthens the pain reliever with the active ingredients acetylsalicylic acid and paracetamol, so that the dose can be reduced while consuming caffeine at the same time. If you are taking medication, you should always consult your doctor about caffeine consumption so that the dose of the medication can be adjusted if necessary.
In particular, people who are known to suffer from heart problems, an overactive thyroid, liver cirrhosis, or anxiety syndromes should medically clarify how much caffeine they are allowed to consume. Because energy drinks with guarana are sometimes very high, special caution is advised here.
Interactions can also be assumed in the area of alcohol: Often, people who consume alcohol and caffeine at the same time do not notice their own intoxication, but seem more efficient longer. This entails certain dangers, particularly with regard to road traffic. Due to their caffeine content, guarana products are only partially compatible with alcoholic beverages. For this reason, guarana containing energy drinks should not necessarily be mixed with alcohol.
Guarana is sold in very different forms, so that no general recommendation for consumption can be given. It always makes sense to follow the manufacturer's instructions. With regard to the total dose of caffeine that is taken throughout the day, the recommended limit values should always be observed. This is especially true when different caffeinated products are consumed at the same time, such as energy bars, guarana tablets and cola or coffee.
Guarana is usually taken as a capsule or as a tablet with some fluids. Guarana powder, on the other hand, should be mixed with some fluids and then drunk. Which fluids they are depends on the composition of the powders, tablets and capsules. If vitamins and minerals are added or if it is a fat burner, a booster for bodybuilders or similar, various interactions must be taken into account. The manufacturer's information also helps here.
Guarana: Natural product and vegan
Guarana powder is made from the ground seeds of the guarana plant, which belongs to the family of soap trees. Pure guarana powder from the plant native to South America is accordingly vegan and can be produced that way too. This makes Guarana in powder form also suitable as part of a vegan diet.
In addition to this, guarana is basically gluten-free. But the seeds of the guarana plant are roasted before grinding, making guarana less suitable for raw foodists who follow this diet very orthodox.
Guarana in pregnancy and when breastfeeding
Because caffeine raises the blood pressure, it can negatively affect the development of the fetus. In particular, if the concentration is too high, the risk of a miscarriage may also increase due to the stimulating effect. Therefore, a guarana consumption is not recommended during pregnancy. In this context, this applies to all caffeinated products and is not a recommendation that relates exclusively to guarana.
The following applies to breastfeeding women: Caffeine gets into the breast milk and is therefore absorbed by the baby when breastfeeding. Many children react to small amounts of caffeine and become easily restless. Caffeine has the same effect on children as on adults. However, since the body is smaller and the metabolism has somewhat different speeds, caffeine has a stronger effect on children and especially infants.
This is the reason why nursing mothers are advised to leave it at one cup, but no more than three cups of coffee a day. If the caffeine is not consumed in the form of a cup of coffee, but is taken in another form as an energy drink, energy bar or nutritional supplement, the same restrictions apply.
A high consumption of caffeine is not advisable for children and adolescents. This does not only affect coffee and cola or guarana containing products. Especially in the form of energy drinks, which people like to drink as a normal thirst quencher like lemonade, guarana can be dangerous and lead to caffeine poisoning if consumed excessively.
Guarana as a sexual enhancer
So far, no ingredient has been discovered in guarana that has a direct influence on the hormones in the human body. Therefore, no effect of guarana on the sex drive and the associated potency can be assumed. This applies in a positive as well as in a negative sense: Guarana neither increases libido and potency nor decreases it.
However, the extract of the guarana plant has a stimulating effect; Tannin and catechin, which are contained in the seeds, also have a slightly invigorating effect and can increase the muscle tone. It is often assumed that guarana has an aphrodisiac effect on the body. This can probably be attributed to the feeling of well-being that guarana triggers, not least because of the caffeine content.
The ingredients theobromine and theophylline promote blood circulation and can thus have a positive effect on the libido in both women and men. However, the scientific evidence from a study is still pending. So far, the substances have neither been isolated nor explicitly investigated in their bound form in guarana powder for this effect. The setup of such a study, which completely excludes other effects and is also performed double blind due to its great reliability, should be difficult.
Guarana for weight loss
Guarana has a reputation for stimulating fat burning and thus contributing to weight loss. For this reason, guarana is often contained in so-called fat burners. This dietary supplement is aimed directly at helping the body burn fat. Guarana is also used as a slimming agent in energy bars for athletes and in energy drinks.
In fact, studies with rats have shown that guarana has a positive effect on fat burning. The weight of the animals decreased. This result can be attributed to the caffeine contained in guarana - because coffee also has a similar effect. Although guarana is not a particular slimming aid, it can support and reduce weight as part of your normal caffeine consumption.
Guarana against cancer
Guarana has been used in cancer therapy for some time to support chemotherapy. The ingredients of the guarana seeds, especially the caffeine it contains, can help alleviate the side effects of the therapy. As a result, the treatment can be made a little more pleasant or less uncomfortable. The caffeine stimulates so that the patient's feeling of fatigue can be alleviated a bit.
A study with women in breast cancer therapy showed positive results in this context and patients with different tumor diseases also benefited from this. A study with people undergoing radiotherapy, however, came to a different conclusion. The invigorating effect of guarana in cancer therapy is not entirely uncontroversial. However, no effects that harmed the patients in any way were observed.
Neurological effects of guarana
The mental performance that is supposed to be possible under the influence of guarana is generally attributed to the caffeine it contains. However, scientists are not sure about the performance-enhancing effects of guarana powder, which is the reason for it. Two older studies dealing with the acute and long-term use of guarana did not come to a clear result: Guarana had no increasing effect on the mental performance.
However, another study in 2004 indicated that after taking guarana extracts, both the memory and mental responsiveness improved. However, the effects could not only be attributed to the contained caffeine, so that further studies are required to fully investigate this effect.
Studies in rats indicate that guarana has a positive effect on the mood and can improve both anxiety and depression. The effect is so pronounced that it can only be attributed to the caffeine in the guarana. These studies can also be transferred to humans. Studies that directly investigate the effects on humans are still pending.