Guarana: An Overview

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Guarana, also known as Paullinia cupana, comes from the Amazon, resembles a human eye, and provides a natural source of caffeine. Its many benefits, including increased energy and antioxidant properties, make it a desirable ingredient in health food products like natural energy drinks.

Guarana has a naturally bitter taste, so it is not a fruit that is often consumed alone. One of the best ways to experience the benefits of guarana is by mixing it with other natural ingredients in the form of a delicious beverage. You’ve likely come across a product or drink, such as a natural energy drink, that is rich in guarana extract and wondered: What is guarana? What are the benefits of guarana? Should I consume natural energy drinks that contain guarana?

If you’ve ever been curious about this Amazonian berry, now is your chance to understand why this natural source of caffeine and antioxidants is taking the herbal supplement and energy drink market by storm. A plant that has been cultivated by Indigenous Peoples for centuries has made its way to the Western wellness market. Here’s why.

What is Guarana?

Guarana is a plant that is native to the Amazon. It is a climbing plant, which means it will grow upwards like a vine if there are any trees or nearby tall objects. Like lychees and maple trees, guarana plants belong to the soapberry family of plants. This plant family is also known as Sapindaceae, and guarana specifically belongs to the order Sapindales.

Red berries grow on the guarana plant. The fruits that grow on guarana plants are approximately the size of coffee beans. The fruits contain a black seed surrounded by white flesh. This gives the appearance of eyeballs, which is why guarana is sometimes called “fruit like the eyes of the people.”

Though the plant grows berry-looking fruits, the seeds are the most valuable since they contain most of the benefits of guarana. The seeds of the guarana plant is where guarana extract comes from. If you ever try a guarana seed, you’ll quickly notice the taste is very bitter. This explains why guarana seeds are rarely consumed by themselves. Instead, the flavor can be masked by mixing guarana in a drink or incorporating it into baked goods.

Where Does Guarana Come From?

Though people from all over the world enjoy guarana in various wellness products, guarana comes from the Amazon basin in South America. Specifically, the plant hails mainly from Brazil and Venezuela.

Hot and humid climate conditions are required for guarana to grow, which is why it is native to tropical regions and rainforests. Growing guarana in a climate that is not tropical is very difficult. This requires artificial climate conditions with the help of a greenhouse and powerful humidifiers. Because of this, it is easier to import guarana plants from places where they naturally grow.

History of Guarana

Guarana’s history is long. The name “guarana” comes from the Guarani tribe in the Amazon, who selectively bred potent guarana plants for centuries. Like people do today, the Guarani tribe relied on guarana extract for its energy-boosting and healing properties. Other tribes in the Amazon rainforest, such as the Sateré-Maué tribe, also relied heavily on guarana for many herbal remedies. 

Guarana is an important part of the Indigenous groups’ mythology. The Sateré-Maué tribe has a myth that describes the origins of the guarana plant. Their legend recounts that guarana sprung from the eye of a boy who was murdered, which is why they believe the fruit has a striking resemblance to a human eye.

According to Cultural Survival, an organization that advocates for the rights of Indigenous Peoples, the seeds of the guarana plant are the cornerstone of the Sateré-Maué and Guarani tribe’s culture. The tribe mainly used the caffeine-rich seeds in the form of drinks, though it was also used in breads, as part of rituals, and as medicine. Before consuming the seeds, tribe members would roast, ground, and mix them in various recipes for beverages and baking.

The popularity of guarana grew from the Amazonian tribes to the rest of Brazil and eventually the rest of the world. In the late 17th century, a missionary from Luxembourg found that the Sateré-Maué tribe valued their guarana plant as much as the Europeans valued gold. In the early 1900s, guarana soft drinks were created. It went on to become a national soda of Brazil. Its popularity in Western civilizations has spiked in the last couple of decades as the benefits of guarana allure health-conscious groups.

Guarana Benefits

The strong attachment the Amazonian tribes had to guarana speaks volumes about its medicinal properties. For centuries, Indigenous Peoples domesticated, cultivated, and perfected guarana plants that were potent. Though Western civilizations have been drawn to the benefits of guarana for decades, the healing power of guarana dates back hundreds of years.

Energy

Guarana is known for its energy-boosting benefits. In fact, the seeds in the guarana plant contain approximately four times the amount of caffeine compared to coffee beans. Amazonian tribes often made tonics and drinks containing guarana extract as a way to increase their energy before going on hunting tips. 

Because of its high caffeine content, researchers consider guarana to be a stimulant that can fight fatigue and increase energy levels. This explains why natural energy drinks turn to guarana for gentle stimulation.

Cognition

Guarana does not just increase physical energy, however. It also helps with mental energy. A randomized controlled trial found that supplementation with guarana extract can help improve cognitive performance and reduce mental fatigue. Another controlled clinical trial found that guarana improved cognition and mood. This is why guarana is recommended for people who have difficulty with attention, focus, and mental clarity.

Antioxidants

One of the most notable benefits of guarana extract is that it is naturally rich in antioxidants. The antioxidants in the guarana extract are tannins, which are polyphenols that hinder oxidative stress. Research published in Food Chemistry has confirmed the strong antioxidant activity in guarana seeds. 

There are many reasons why a diet rich in antioxidants is recommended. Antioxidants are excellent for keeping skin healthy, reducing the risk of disease, and protecting against cellular damage.

Since antioxidants protect against free radical damage and oxidative stress, guarana can help protect and prevent DNA damage. Some cancer treatments include consuming guarana since preliminary studies have suggested anti-cancer properties of guarana.

Guarana Extract

Unlike other fruit-bearing plants, the red fruits of the guarana plant are not the source of guarana extract. Since guarana is so bitter, people learned long ago that the flavor can be masked in drinks. To make guarana extract, the seeds must be plucked from the guarana plant. Then the seeds are roasted until they are dried out. Finally, the roasted guarana seeds are ground into a fine powder. This powdered guarana extract can then be used in very small amounts to reap the benefits of guarana.

Since a little bit of guarana extract goes a long way, it is often used in supplements, herbal products, health products, wellness beverages, and more. While you can take guarana extract orally via tablet or capsule, guarana has traditionally been consumed as a health-promoting tonic or even as a soft drink. Today, guarana beverages mainly consist of natural energy drinks. The guarana extract in energy drinks acts as a source of natural caffeine as well as antioxidants.

Guarana FAQs

How much caffeine is in guarana?

Guarana has one of the highest concentrations of caffeine in any plant. It contains between 3.6  percent and 5.8 percent caffeine by weight. In comparison, coffee contains up to 2 percent caffeine by weight.

Guarana contains 47mg of caffeine per 1 gram. Health experts recommend no more than 600mg of caffeine per day.

Does guarana keep you awake?

Guarana is a potent source of caffeine. It is also a stimulant that helps increase physical energy as well as mental alertness. Guarana can prevent tiredness and fatigue, so it is recommended to consume guarana earlier in the day and avoid consuming it before bedtime.

Though caffeine offers a nice jolt of energy in the morning, it can disrupt sleep and should not be taken too late in the evening. Consuming too much caffeine can result in sleep issues, according to Medical News Today.

When should I have guarana?

Like other sources of caffeine, guarana should be consumed earlier in the day. If you need a boost of energy in the morning, during a workout, or before mentally demanding tasks, it may be a good idea to have guarana. It is recommended to take guarana no more than six hours before bedtime due to the caffeine content.

How much guarana should I take?

Guarana does not have a recommended dose, but researchers have found that doses of 50-70 mg can provide the benefits of guarana extract. Since there is no standard dose, WebMD recommends asking your doctor for advice.

Is guarana safe to take every day?

Guarana has received Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) Status from the FDA. It is safe to consume in natural energy drinks and other wellness products. 

According to RxList, guarana is safe in many situations. When found in food products, guarana is likely safe for most adults. Side effects may occur in amounts greater than 250-300 mg daily for long periods of time.

In smaller doses, guarana is likely to be safe — and beneficial — when taken every day.