GUARANA and ENERGY DRINKS *
What is Guarana?
Guarana is a climbing plant in the Sapindaceae family, native to Venezuela and northern Brazil in the Amazon rain forest. Its binomial name is Paullinia cupana. The fruit are small and bright-red, each containing a black seed.
Guarana seeds are rich in caffeine and contain up to 4-8% caffeine, more than coffee beans which contain approximately 1-2.5% caffeine.
As is generally the case with plants producing caffeine, guarana evolved such a concentration because caffeine is a defensive toxin that repels pathogens from the berry and its seeds.
The seeds are also rich in tannins and the xanthine alkaloids theophylline and theobromine.
This plant was introduced into western civilization in the 17th century following its discovery by Father Felip Betendorf. By 1958, guarana was commercialized.
Active Ingredients of Guarana
The caffeine in guarana is a unique phytochemical, originally called guaranine, which is caffeine bound to a tannin or phenol, in reality impure caffeine. It is an xanthine alkaloid.
Caffeine is a stimulant drug. A stimulant drug increases body actions like heart rate, blood pressure and metabolism. It makes a person feel more alert and awake. The main use of caffeine is as a stimulant, generally consumed to stay awake. It can also be used as a medicine, for example in suppositories to treat migraine.
The main problem with caffeine is addiction.
Theophylline is a member of the xanthine family and it has structural and pharmacological similarity to caffeine, with similar actions and effects. It also relaxes bronchial smooth muscle and has been used to treat asthma.
Theobromine is similar to caffeine and theophylline. It is the primary alkaloid found in cocoa and chocolate, and has a bitter taste.
These three, caffeine, theophylline and theobromine, contribute significantly to guarana’s therapeutic activity.
· Other chemicals
There are many other chemicals found in guarana. These include: adenine, catechins, choline, glucose, nicotinic acid, proanthocyanidins, salicylic acid and tannins.
What is Guarana Used For?
Guarana is reputed to be a stimulant and is used to boost energy, endurance, alertness, cognitive function and fight fatigue.
Guarana is one of the richest sources of caffeine, with guarana seeds containing some three times the caffeine concentration of coffee beans. The theophylline and theobromine content, although less than the caffeine content, have similar effects to caffeine.
In addition to its stimulant properties, guarana is also a popular ingredient in weight loss pills. There is evidence that indicates that guarana may suppress appetite and increase fat-burning.
It is also used in the treatment of headaches and migraine.
Guarana drinks are very popular in Brazil and in North America. Guarana has recently become a popular ingredient in energy drinks and teas, and is now commonly found in energy drinks in Australia.
Forms of Guarana
Gurana is available in powder or pill form. It is an ingredient in energy drinks, soft drinks (sodas) and other beverages.
Research on Guarana
An animal study examined the effect of guarana supplements on fat metabolism in rats and found that the guarana’s fat-burning effect is due to its caffeine content. Decaffeinated guarana extracts had no effect on lipid metabolism.
In rats, guarana increased memory retention and physical endurance when compared to placebo.
A 2007 human study, published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, showed that guarana improved memory, mood and alertness at low dosage (37.5mg and 75mg). This confirmed previous results of cognitive improvement following 75mg of guarana.
Other laboratory studies have shown that guarana has antioxidant properties.
Safety of Guarana
Toxicity studies in animals (in 1998) have shown that guarana is non-toxic, even in high dosages.
In the United States, guarana holds a GRAS-status, i.e. generally recognised as safe.
Guarana should not be used by people who are sensitive to caffeine.
People with heart conditions, diabetes, high blood pressure, epilepsy, overactive thyroid, anxiety and insomnia should only use guarana under the supervision of a health professional.
Initial symptoms of guarana overdose include difficulty in urinating, vomiting and abdominal cramps.
Contraindications and Cautions for Guarana
It is recommended that guarana is not used during pregnancy or while breast feeding.
It should not be used by those who are sensitive to, or allergic to, caffeine or xanthines. Excessive consumption of caffeine is contraindicated in persons with high blood pressure, cardiac disorders and diabetes.
Drug Interaction with Guarana
Guarana has been found to decrease platelet aggregation, so it may increase the risk of bleeding when taken with aspirin, anticoagulants such as Warfarin, and platelet inhibitors such as Plavix.
Guarana should not be combined with MAO-inhibitors such as Parnate.
Guarana in a Herbal Tonic
Nutralife’s ‘Guarana Ginseng 4000 Caps’ is an example of a herbal tonic (a combination of guarana, Korean and Siberian ginseng) .…“to help sustain energy and stamina and manage the effects of stress associated with tension and anxiety. May be beneficial for nervous tension.”
Each capsule contains: 2g guarana seed, providing 70mg caffeine, Siberian ginseng 1000mg and Korean ginseng 1000mg. A bottle of 50 capsules cost around A$22.00.
Energy drinks are non-alcoholic beverages characterised by the addition of energy enhancing ingredients. These may include a number of water-soluble B vitamins, amino acids and other substances such as taurine, and caffeine. The caffeine is added as pure caffeine. as guarana or a combination. Most energy drinks do not exceed levels of caffeine of about 80mg/250ml. This caffeine level in energy drinks is comparable to the caffeine level in a moderately strong cup of coffee. The caffeine content of a strong cup of coffee can be as high as 180mg, depending on the bean and the method of brewing.
Guarana is often added to energy drinks either in combination with caffeine or on its own. Not all energy drinks contain guarana.
In Australia, the caffeine content of energy drinks, when present from guarana, does not have restrictions placed on it since guarana is regarded as a food in the Australian regulations.
Energy Drinks in Australia
Energy drinks are becoming increasingly popular in Australia, and are now being widely advertised. The following are some of those readily available:
Those containing guarana:
Those not containing guarana:
The following set out the contents and claims of two of the most popular energy drinks, one containing guarana, and one without guarana. A third drink is included to illustrate how guarana can be included without indicating the presence of caffeine or claiming to be an energy drink.
· V Guarana Energy Drink
Ingredients (250ml, cost in supermarket A$2.39):
“Stuff in the can”
Acidity regulators (citric acid, sodium citrate)
Guarana extract (0.12%) (300mg) “Wooh-Hoa”
Caffeine [not stated]
Vitamins (Niacin (B3, 7.2mg), pantothenic acid, (1.8mg), B6 (1.1mg), B2 (1.2mg), B12 (1.4mcg)
The label states:
“To help them get more stuff done, the ancient Amazonians would suck on gobfuls of guarana berries.
To help you do more of whatever it is you’re into, we’ve mixed guarana with vitamins & caffeine too.”
The caffeine content is listed as 78mg. The distributor in Australia (Frucor Beverages Ltd) confirms that this includes the caffeine in the guarana as well as the added caffeine.
· Red Bull. Energy Drink. “Carbonated Taurine Drink”
Ingredients (250 ml, cost in supermarket A$2.69):
Glucose (sugars, 27g)
Acid (sodium citrate)
Taurine (0.4%, 1000mg)
Caffeine (0.03%, 80mg)
Vitamins (niacin amide (20mg), pantothenicacid (5mg), B6 (5mg), B12 (5mcg)
Colours (Caramel, Riboflavin)
The label states:
“With Taurine. Vitalizes Body and Mind”.
“Specially developed for periods of increased mental and physical exertion.
Ÿ Increases performance
Ÿ Increases concentration and reaction speed
Ÿ Improves vigilance
Ÿ Stimulates metabolism.”
Red Bull is imported into Australia by Red Bull Australia,
The caffeine content of 80mg is from added caffeine.
· Triple G. (Ginger Beer, Ginseng, Guarana)
Ingredients (330 ml, cost approximately A$2.50):
Glucose (sugars 37.7g)
Apple juice (from concentrate)
Natural extracts (ginger, guarana, ginseng)
Citric acid (330), flavour
Vitamin C (300)
Preservatives (211, 220).
The label states:
“Simply the best tasting ginger beer on the market. Contains 10% south west apple juice which gives a soft, smooth entry. Added to restorative properties of ginger, extracts of ginseng and guarana give the body zest and stimulation without the harmful effects of excessive caffeine.”
Nowhere on the label is the presence of caffeine noted. To those who do not know that guarana contains caffeine, the label could infer that there is no caffeine in the beverage.
Triple G is a product of Australia, manufactured by Margaret River Beverages, Western Australia.
Taurine Ingredient in Energy Drinks
This ingredient is in V and Red Bull.
Taurine is an organic acid. It is often called an amino acid but lacking a carboxyl group it is not strictly an amino acid. It contains a sulphonate group and may be called an amino sulphonic acid. It is found in meat and other animal foods (except milk and milk products). It is believed to protect the heart from ischemic damage.
Taurine is used as a functional food in many energy drinks and energy products. Despite being in many energy foods and drinks, it has not been proven to be energy-giving.
Caffeine Content of Energy Drinks Compared to Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola
Coca-Cola Classic contains:
34mg caffeine in 355ml (12oz US) or 2.9mg/30ml (US Food and Drug Administration)
48.75mg caffeine in 375ml or 3.9mg/30ml (Food Standards, Australia and NZ).
Pepsi-Cola contains 37.5mg caffeine in 360ml or 3.1mg/30ml.
Red Bull contains 80mg caffeine in 250ml or 9.6mg/30ml.
V contains 78mg caffeine in 250ml or 9.4mg/30ml.
Sugars in Energy Drinks Compared to Coca-Cola
The sugars in the energy drinks are similar, at 27 - 28g per 250ml or about 11%. The sugars in Coca-Cola Classic are again about 11%.
The caffeine content of energy drinks is about 80mg (per 250ml). This is the same content as found in a moderately strong cup of coffee.
Caffeine is an addictant.
Much of the benefit of guarana comes from the caffeine content. The antioxidant and fat-burning properties are an added bonus.
*Copyright 2009: The Huntly Centre.
Disclaimer: All material on the Huntlycentre.com.au website is provided for informational or educational purposes only. Consult a health professional regarding the applicability of any opinions or recommendations expressed herein, with respect to your symptoms or medical condition.
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