Guarana

Introduction

Guarana seeds provide a natural form of caffeine, which is sometimes called guaranine and consumed for many centuries by the Amazonian tribes especially the Saturê-Mauê as a tea infusion (Henman, 1982). The seeds have mythical status amongst these tribes people because of their resemblance to eyeballs. It’s a popular supplement in modern day circles and a number of studies having been associated with it on the basis of:-

♠ improving mental energy and alertness,

♠ weight management and weight loss,

♠ improving athletic performance (sports supplementation) coupled to ergogenics and general fitness,

♠ general stimulant especially for sexual enhancement and reducing both tiredness and mental fatigue,

♠ minimising the impact of physical tiredness

♠ treatment of fevers and malaria.

All of these are just associations if that and there is no hard and fast evidence yet for clinical claims to be made. However, they are popular supplements and ongoing research is slowly addressing many of the claims to be made.

About 70% of guarana production is used as an ingredient, a bitter flavour in fact, in the beverage industry especially chocolate, fruit juices and energy drinks. It’s popularity has developed with mainly young people (O’Dea et al., 2003). The remainder (30%) is used for direct consumption in tablets, capsules and powders for dietary and herbal supplements or as a raw material for the cosmetics and pharmaceutical industry (Schimpl et al., 2013).  

Guarana seeds. Copyright: supergranto / 123RF Stock Photo
Guarana seeds. Copyright: supergranto / 123RF Stock Photo

Source

Guarana comes from a woody, perennial maple climber – (Paullinia cupana Mart. var. sorbilis Kunth) (Sapindaceae) which is native to the Maués region of Brazil and is known as Brazilian guarana. Venezuelan guarana comes from the same species but a variety known as typica. The variety, sorbilis is commercially exploited and most studies are based on this form. It produces yellow-orange fruits containing three seeds.  The fruit from which the seed is derived is similar to the coffee bean. 

The tribes people collect the seeds for dry roasting over a natural fire where it is mixed with cassava for grinding to a paste.  These are then molded into cylindrical sticks, which are sun-dried.  Commercially, the seeds are ground before conversion to a paste.  

Chemical Componentry

Caffeine forms  2 to 7 %w/w of the seed extract’s dry weight (Weckerle et al., 2003) compared to 1-2% w/w from a typical coffee bean (Bempong et al., 1993). Other componentry in the seeds include the xanthine alkaloids of  theophylline (0 – 2,500 ppm)  and theobromine (200-400 ppm) (Burke et al., 2011) and these undoubtedly contribute to the supplement’s benefits. The principal phenolics are (+)-catechin and (-)-epicatechin (Carlson and Thompson, 1998).

Clinical Studies On Cognition And Memory

Guarana berries in their natural state.

An excellent review on the studies using guarana is available (Schimpl et al., 2013). Most studies focus on minimising memory loss and cognitive decline.

It was first assessed in mice models (Espinola et al., 1997) using maze memory tests.  Mice, given a dose of 0.3 mg/ml guarana were more capable physically, preserving a better memory than those who didn’t receive the supplement. There was no hint on any toxicity issues as both sets of mice had the same average life-span.  Interestingly, the research group speculated that the psychoactive properties of guarana were related to the other alkaloids. It has been estimated theoretically to overdose on both caffeine and guarana with a fatal dose estimated at 10 g for both pure forms.

Research by the Human Cognitive Neuroscience Unit at Northumbria University in Newcastle Upon Tyne has been particularly active investigating the performance of guarana in human studies. The studies are worth consulting for the quality of the clinical work (Kennedy et al., 2008). One particular study demonstrated that doses of supplements with guarana improved cognitive performance and ability coupled with reduced mental fatigue.

The optimum ergogenic benefits from both caffeine and guarana are seen at small to moderate caffeine doses of 2 to 3 mg/kg. There are synergistic effects shown in women who consume guarana coupled to both caffeine and green tea consumption, although this effect remains to be statistically proven. The use of added caffeine along with a natural source could generate these benefits if other componentry in guarana also has health properties.  An epidemiological study of indigenous consumers of guarana was compared to those who didn’t consume it. This study suggested there was a statistically significant lower obesity level or rate in those taking guarana.

Whilst it is a rat study, guarana has recently been shown to reduce hyperlipidaemia with a reduction in both memory impairment and cognitive dysfunction. Apparently, total cholesterol and LDL-C levels were reduced and there was no alteration in acetylcholinesterase levels (Ruchel et al., 2017).

Reducing Fatigue In Cancer Patients

Recent evidence for guarana in reducing fatigue comes from a crossover study with 32 patients undergoing systemic chemotherapy for breast cancer (de Oliveira Campos et al., 2011) although the study was not well designed or controlled and subject to bias (Finnegan-John et al., 2013). The results claimed a 16% reduction in anxiety but these findings should be treated with caution. 

A recent study on a colorectal cell line indicates it can improve the activity or sensitivity of certain cancer drugs such as oxiplatin and in turn reduce the proliferation of certain cancer cells. Clearly and area for considered research (Carla Cadoná et al., 2016).

Reducing Weight And Feelings Of Satiety

The evidence here is mixed in terms of the outcomes on causing weight loss. The earliest study was in overweight men using a guarana with ephedra (Boozer et al., 2001) which was a natural variant of the pharmacological mix using caffeine and ephedrine exploited in earlier studies. Guarana with ephedrine (called Ma Huang in Chinese medicine) from the Ephedra plant appeared to be a potent and feasible weight loss combination however safety considerations and other limitations have curtailed its use (Ray et al., 2005).  A number of clinical studies had shown short-term benefits were possible in those already overweight when the mix was ingested with some degree of fat loss also recorded. However, ephedra is now a banned weight loss supplement in the USA. 

One study shows no effect on weight loss in a feeding study when guarana was used. Early studies suggest guarana as part of a mix may promote feelings of satiety and fullness which would help with weight loss however the study in question relied on a mixture of supplements (damiana, guarana and yerba mate) for this effect and the design was biased. There was an average of 5 kg (11 lb) weight loss in a group fed the mixture compared to an average 1lb. loss in the placebo group after 45 days (Sale et al., 2006). 

Guarana Use With Other Stimulants: Safety Considerations

It is not recommended that mixes of guarana or indeed other caffeine-containing substances with beta-adrenergic agonists or pseudoephedrine and ephedrine which target the sympathetic
nervous system be taken. It is because of the likelihood seriously raising blood pressure (hypertension) because of various additive effects of the supplement mixes  and raising the risk of heart attack unless under strict supervision. Guarana must be used cautiously and avoided in patients with hypertension and other cardiac conditions. Likewise, do not take with amphetamines or cocaine ! Ephedra is now banned in the USA and it is wise to be careful and mindful of mixes with Bitter Orange (synephrine). Also bear in mind that there are safety limits on the amount of caffeine that may be consumed daily !

Regulations

Guarana is recognised by its GRAS status from the FDA.

Product Range

Guarana is available in tablet, capsule and bulk powder formats which gives the customer flexibility in use. The tablets are usually bulked out with magnesium carbonate as the excipient. The extract should be gluten and allergen free as a matter of course and suitable for vegetarians and vegans.

Guarana extracts, syrups and infused soft drinks are very popular, especially in Brazil but increasingly so throughout South America. The Portuguese word guaraná is a widely used term for any beverage containing guarana. Popular brands from Brazil include Guaraná Antarctica, Guaraná Jesus, and Kuat. Monster, Red Bull and some more national brands have produced energy drinks using guarana rather than caffeine. There is a shot of 1,200mg guarana in aromatized white wine (14% ABV) called Trading Elixir from Rio Trading which serves as a tonic to boost alertness and reduce both mental and physical alertness.

Given it is a naturally sourced product it is not surprising to see organic versions. Bio Atlantic (France) offer 200 tablets x 400mg organic guarana. Usually taken as 2-3 tablets a day with a large glass of water during meals and as part of a balanced diet which means a maximum total ingestion of 1,200 mg daily. Each tablet contains between 2 and 5% caffeine.

Sevenhills Wholefoods (UK) offer 250g laminated pouch packs of organic raw powder for mixing into water, soft drinks and smoothies. This is certified by the UK Soil Association as organic and also has Vegan Society registration. Indigo Herbs (Glastonbury, UK) offer three size ranges of powder, 100g, 250g and 500g in laminated pouch bags. Myprotein who supply a number of products offer their powder in laminated sachets with a 2% caffeine content (100g).

Vegancity  provide 90 capsules of 750mg  advertised as an energy supplement.   Supplemented (UK) go a step further promoting one of the largest tablet contents of 2000mg x 180 tablets in a resealable pouch pack for  both energy supplementation AND fat burning. Rio Amazon offer 60 capsules x 500mg of GoGo Guarana.

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References

Bempong, D.K. , Houghton, P.J., Steadman, K. (1993). The xanthine content of guarana and its preparations. Pharm. Biol . 31 pp. 175–81. doi:10.3109/13880209309082937. ISSN 0925-1618

Boozer, C. N., Nasser, J. A., Heymsfield, S. B., Wang, V., Chen, G., & Solomon, J. L. (2001). An herbal supplement containing Ma Huang-Guarana for weight loss: a randomized, double-blind trial. Int. J. Obesity, 25(3), pp. 316-324

Burke, L.M., Stear, S.J., lobb, A., Ellison, M. Castell, L.M. (2011) A–Z of nutritional supplements: dietary supplements, sports nutrition foods and ergogenic aids for health and performance—Part 19. Br J Sports Med. 45 pp. 456–458. doi:10.1136/456 bjsm.2011.084988

Carla Cadoná, F., Kolinski Machado, A., Farina Azzolin, V., Barbisan, F., Bortoluzzi Dornelles, E., Glanzner, W., … & Beatrice Mânica da Cruz, I. (2016). Guaraná a Caffeine-Rich Food Increases Oxaliplatin Sensitivity of Colorectal HT-29 Cells by Apoptosis Pathway Modulation. Anti-Cancer Agents in Medicinal Chemistry (Formerly Current Medicinal Chemistry-Anti-Cancer Agents), 16(8), pp. 1055-1065

Carlson, M., Thompson, R.D. (1998). Liquid chromatographic determination of methylxanthines and catechins in herbal preparations containing guaraná”. JAOAC Int. 81 (4) pp. 691–701. PMID 9680692.

de Oliveira Campos, M. P., Riechelmann, R., Martins, L. C., Hassan, B. J., Casa, F. B. A., & Giglio, A. D. (2011). Guarana (Paullinia cupana) improves fatigue in breast cancer patients undergoing systemic chemotherapy. J. Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 17(6), pp. 505-512

Espinola, E.B., Dias, R.F., Mattei, R., Carlini, E.A. (1997) Pharmacological activity of Guarana (Paullinia cubana Mart.) in laboratory animals. J. Ethnopharmacol. 55  pp. 223–229
 
Finnegan-John, J., Molassiotis, A., Richardson, A., & Ream, E. (2013). A systematic review of complementary and alternative medicine interventions for the management of cancer-related fatigue. Integrative Cancer Therapies, 12(4), 276-290
 
Henman, A. R. (1982) Guaraná (Paullinia cupana var. Sorbilis): ecological and social perspective on an economic plant of the central Amazon Basin. J. Ethnopharmacol. pp. 311–338
 
Jellin, J.M., Gregory, P.J., Batz, F., Hitchens, K., et al. (2002) Pharmacist’s Letter/Prescriber’s Letter Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. 4th ed. Stockton, CA: Therapeutic Research Faculty; 2002.

Kennedy, D.O., Haskellm C,F., Robertson, B., et al. (2008) Improved cognitive performance and mental fatigue following a multi-vitamin and mineral supplement with added guarana? (Paullinia cupana). Appetite 50 pp. 506–513

O’Dea, J.A. (2003). Consumption of nutritional supplements among adolescents: usage and perceived benefits. Health Educ. Res. 18 pp. 98–107

Ray, S., Phadke, S., Patel, C., et al. (2005). Short-term and long-term in vivo exposure to an ephedra and caffeine containing metabolic nutrition system does not induce cardiotoxicity in B6C3F1 mice. Arch. Toxicol. 79 pp. 330–340

Ruchel, J. B., Braun, J. B., Adefegha, S. A., Manzoni, A. G., Abdalla, F. H., de Oliveira, J. S., … & Castilhos, L. G. (2017). Guarana (Paullinia cupana) ameliorates memory impairment and modulates acetylcholinesterase activity in Poloxamer-407-induced hyperlipidemia in rat brain. Physiology & Behavior, 168, pp. 11-19

Sale, C., Harris, R.C., Delves, S., Corbett, J. (2006). Metabolic and physiological effects of ingesting extracts of bitter orange, green tea and guarana at rest and during treadmill walking in overweight males. Int. J. Obes. (Lond). 30 (5) pp. 764–73. doi:10.1038/sj.ijo.0803209. PMID 16418760

Schimpl, F. C., da Silva, J. F., de Carvalho Gonçalves, J. F., & Mazzafera, P. (2013). Guarana: revisiting a highly caffeinated plant from the Amazon. J. Ethnopharmacology, 150(1), pp.14-31

Weckerle, C. S., Stutz, M. A., Baumann, T. W. (2003) Purine alkaloids in Paullinia. Phytochemistry 64  pp. 735–742