Guarana–A Stimulating Beverage

Although primarily used in South America, guarana–called “Zoom”
by some due to its familiar stimulating effects–has infiltrated the American
health food market in the last few years. This herb derives its name from
the Guaranis, South American Indians, who used the preparation in various
foods, much in the same way we use chocolate. Seeds from guarana are shelled
and dry- roasted, coarsely powdered, mixed with water and/or cassava, and
kneaded into a paste. The paste is then shaped into cylindrical masses and
dried. These resultant “sticks”, which have little smell and an
astringent, bitter taste (like chocolate without its oiliness) are then
grated into water. Today, Brazil’s soft drink industries use the same preparation,
with the addition of carbonation. Guarana is also sometimes mixed with alcohol
to make a more intoxicating beverage.

Historically, the stems, leaves, and roots of guarana are used as a fish-killing
drug in Central and South America. In Africa it is used in the treatment
of dysentery and as a sexual stimulant. The Guaranis also used guarana as
a preventative and curative for “bowel complaints”. Because of
its astringent properties, guarana was once used therapeutically for recovery
from diarrhea and leukorrhea, but other herbs have since supplanted guarana
for these purposes.

Eclectic doctors in the early 1900s describe guarana’s indications as weak
pulse, pale complexion, and migraine and menstrual-related headaches, while
current use of guarana is primarily for nervous headaches, mental fatigue,
and heat exhaustion. Smaller doses are reported to be more efficacious than
larger ones, a medium dose being 10 drops of tincture or 1 “oo”
capsule (right?). Contraindications include neuralgia, chronic headaches,
heart palpitations, and high temperatures.

In a recent scientific study, a water extract of guarana was shown to inhibit
platelet aggregation in rabbits following either intravenous or oral administration.

Guarana has practically the same chemical composition as coffee, and has
the same physiological actions, thus its use for mental fatigue and heat
exhaustion. In fact, some authors argue that its main component, guaranine
is simply caffeine. It contains up to 7% of guaranine or caffeine (as compared
to about 2% in coffee), with theobromine, theophylline, xanthine, and other
xanthine derivatives, as well as an appreciable amount of tannins (approximately
12%, including d-catechin), and saponins, starch, fats, choline,
and pigments.

Guarana’s appetite-suppressing qualities are due to its caffeine content,
which is also responsible for the rush of energy felt by people taking guarana
tablets (thus, the name “Zoom”). Guarana is included as an ingredient
in some weight-reducing products but should be used cautiously by people
suffering from cardiovascular disease. There are no published toxic effects
from taking guarana, but those sensitive to caffeine could expect similar
side effects from it, such as gastrointestinal and central nervous system

Guarana is considered to be an ideal crop to supplement the incomes of small
peasant farmers in the Amazon basin. As a rapidly-growing perennial, guarana
can be planted in the midst of manioc crops. Hand-processing of guarana
causes a higher quality finished product. The Indians’ concern is to avoid
oxidation of the phenolic compounds in the seed, since this can cause guarana
to turn dark, become bitter in taste, and irritate the gastrointestinal
tract. The short-term medicinal effects of guarana are thought to result
from the high caffeine content, as well as from tannins. Future research
may prove saponins to also be important, especially in guarana’s long- term
activity as a general tonic and prophylactic.

To summarize, guarana (Paullinia cupana) is a large climbing woody-shrub
native to Brazil, and it has been used for headache, for excess mental work,
for fatigue from hot weather, and more recently for weight loss.

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Written by Christopher Hobbs LAc AHG

Explore Wellness in 2021