What is Guarana?
Guarana is a berry that grows in Venezuela and the northern parts of Brazil. The guaraná plant contains caffeine, and so acts as a stimulant. Like many other caffeine-containing plants, it is used for drinks. Especially in Brazil, where most of them are produced, they are very popular.
The name 'guarana' comes from the Guarani tribe that lives in Brazil. Guarana plays a very important role in their culture, as this herb is believed to be magical, a cure for bowel complaints and a way to regain strength. They also tell the myth of a 'Devine Child', that was killed by a serpent and whose eyes gave birth to this plant. Botanists actually believe that the current plants, even those found in dense forests, are the remains of indigenous cultivation in the past. Guarana was also grown by the Maués, Andira and other tribes from the 'lower Amazon'.
The botanical name of Guarana, Paullinia cupana H.B.K. variety sorbilis (Mart.) Ducke is derived from C. F. Paullini, a German medical botanist who lived in the 18th century.
The plant Paullinia cupana has divided compound leaves, flowers yellow panicles, fruit pear-shaped, three-sided, three-celled capsules, with thin partitions, in each a seed like a small horse-chestnut half enclosed in an aril, flesh coloured and easily separated when dried. The seeds of Paullinia Sorbilis are often used or mixed with those of Paullinia cupana.
Guarana, in its most usable form, is made as follows. After the seeds are shelled and washed they are roasted for six hours, then put into sacks and shaken till their outside shell comes off, they are then pounded into a fine powder and made into a dough with water, and rolled into cylindrical pieces 8 inches long; these are then dried in the sun or over a slow fire, till they became very hard and are then a rough and reddish-brown colour. They break with an irregular fracture, have little smell, taste astringent, and bitter like chocolate without its oiliness, and in colour like chocolate powder; it swells up and partially dissolves in water.
The main chemicals found in guaraná are: adenine, allantoin, alpha-copaene, anethole, caffeine, carvacrol, caryophyllene, catechins, catechutannic acid, choline, dimethylbenzene, dimethylpropylphenol, estragole, glucose, guanine, hypoxanthine, limonene, mucilage, nicotinic acid, proanthocyanidins, protein, resin, salicylic acid, starch, sucrose, tannic acid, tannins, theobromine, theophylline, timbonine, and xanthine.
Effects of guarana
There are many rumours and stories about the effects of guarana on the human body. Some of them are true, but most of them are not. Don't expect medical miracles from taking guarana in any form. Guarana isn't a medicine, although - in some cases - the effects might be beneficial for a limited number of medical conditions.
The xanthine alkaloids (caffeine, theophylline, theobromine) are believed to contribute significantly to guaranas therapeutic activity. In clinical studies, theophylline stimulates the heart and central nervous system, enhances alertness and alleviates fatigue. It also has strong diuretic activity and reduces constriction of the bronchioles, making it useful in asthma. Theobromine has similar effects. Certainly many traditional uses of guaraná may be explained by its caffeine content. Among its many documented effects, caffeine has been shown to facilitate fat loss and reduce fatigue. The difference with caffeine in coffee, tea, chocolate and cola is that caffeine in this form is better and more evenly assimilated by the body.
From the tannin, it contains it is useful for mild forms of leucorrhoea, diarrhoea, etc., but its chief use in Europe and America is for a headache, especially if of a rheumatic nature. It is a gentle stimulant and serviceable where the brain is irritated or depressed by mental exertion, or where there is fatigue or exhaustion from hot weather. It has the same chemical composition as caffeine, theine and cocaine, and the same physiological action. Its benefit is for a nervous headache or the distress that accompanies menstruation, or exhaustion following dissipation.
Guarana is usually available in four forms:
- Guarana em rama, roasted guarana. Simply the roasted seed, as sold by the Amazon farmers to cooperative unions, middlemen and industry.
- Guarana on a stick. After roasting, the seed is ground into a powder, mixed with water into a dough, which is subsequently moulded onto a stick. These sticks are then dried over a moderate fire until they become hard.
- Guarana powder. After grinding, the powder is sold. This is usually the form it is available in retail outlets, like health shops.
- A fourth form, syrup, used for making soft drinks, is also gaining ground. This form is usually limited to larger industries.
The powder can be mixed with water or fruit juice and some sugar. You can also mix guarana powder with hot water or milk and add some honey or sugar for a nice hot drink.
The syrup is used for the manufacture of carbonated soft drinks, which are very popular in Brazil. It is usually one of the things Brazilians miss when they are abroad.
Sticks were initially used by the Guarani tribe, who grated the stick using the sharp, rasp-like, tongue of the Pirarucu fish. The grated powder was then mixed into a drink with water and sugar.
Guarana smart drinks and bubble gum are also available, advertised as giving you extra energy. Not too much has to be expected of this, effects are comparable with a large cup of coffee.
Guarana is also widely available in pills or caps. Use them in the recommended dosage.
Theoretically, it is possible to overdose on caffeine or guarana. The fatal dose has been estimated at 10 grams of pure caffeine / guaranine (taken at once!). Guarana seeds contain maximal 10% caffeine, so when you would swallow at least 100 grams guarana seeds at once, things start to look ugly. To put all of this in perspective: the average cup of coffee contains 65-130 milligrams of caffeine; some very strong guarana-based syrups can contain up to 350 milligrams.
People with cardiac problems or a high blood pressure should avoid guarana (and smoking or drinking coffee, for that matter) When in doubt - consult your doctor.
As with all stimulants, dependency may occur.
Think about guarana as caffeine, it has more or less the same 'side-effects'. Therefore it is not recommended for chronic headache or in cases where it is not desirable to increase the temperature, or excite the heart or increase arterial tension.
Guarana is often combined with caffeine, or caffeine-containing plants or fruits to strengthen the effects. These are kola nut, yerba mate, black tea, cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and black pepper.
Guarana and ephedra are usually mixed in equal parts when it comes to weight-loss. Because the substances enhance each
Store in a cool, dry place.
Links / Further reading
This article is based on the following pages:
Wikipedia on guarana including upper image