Guarna Plant with small bright red fruit and black seeds.
Guarna Plant with small bright red fruit and black seeds.

Guarana (Paullinia cupana)

Guarana (pronounced gwa-ra-NAH) is a creeping shrub with small bright red fruits with black seeds. The plant is native to Venezuela, but most commonly found in northern Brazil in the Amazon rain forest. Guarana seeds are rich in caffeine, containing about 4 - 8% caffeine, more than coffee beans, containing about 1 - 2.5%. Besides caffeine the guarana seeds are rich with tetra-methylxanthine (a compound almost identical to caffeine), tannins, xanthine alkaloids theophylline and theobromine. The most popular use of guarana is as a stimulant because it helps increase mental alertness, fight fatigue, increase stamina, and increase physical endurance. Guarana is used in very popular stimulating beverages such as energy drinks and sodas. Also it is popular to companies (such as Coca-Cola Company), because guarana is one of the richest sources of caffeine, containing three times the amount of caffeine than coffee, and unlike coffee the amount of caffeine does not have to be listed on drink labels. Finally, in addition to its popular stimulant properties, it is also used as an ingredient in herbal weight loss pills. Evidence has shown guarana suppresses appetite and increases fat burning.

Botanical Facts

Paullinia Cupana
Paullinia Cupana

Guarana was named after a German medical botanist named C.F. Paullini. The plant has divided compound leaves, with flowers having yellow panicles, pear shaped fruits, three sided and three celled capsules, with thin partitions, and in each there is a seed that is like a small horse-chestnut half enclosed in an aril, flesh colored and easily separated when dried. Guarana’s scientific name is Paullinia cupana and belongs to the Sapindacease family. The plants found in this family are all dicots and consists of trees, shrubs, and tendril-bearing vines. There are found to be 140 genera and 15,000 species within the Sapindacease family.

The Sapindacease family grows in tropical climates. The rainforest is an ideal place for these plants to be found, because of the tropical conditions. The plants are usually pollinated by birds or insects. The family’s flowers are small and unisexual; they have four or five petals and sepals, with four to ten stamens. In the glynoecium there are two or three carpels, one style and a lobed stigma.

The Chemistry of Guarana

Guarana Structure
Guarana Structure
Caffeine Structure
Caffeine Structure

Theodore von Martius a German botanist first examined guarana seeds and isolated a bitter, white crystalline substance with a notable physiological action. He would name the substance guaranine, which would later be named caffeine. Some believe guaranine to be a unique phytochemical in guarana, but chemists still refer to it as caffeine.

The chemicals found in guarana 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.

Finally, chemists have performed toxicity studies on guarana to test if it is toxic. Most studies have only been done on animals that showed guarana to be non-toxic, even at high dosage (2 g/kg of body weight). The same was true when guarana’s first toxicity study was done on a human, of a female that had an existing heart condition.

History & Domestication

The first known use of the guarana seeds predates the discovery of Brazil (1500) by the Amerindians particularly the Guaranis from which the plants name is derived. Guaranis is a South American Indian tribe that learned to dry and roast the seeds and mix them into a watery paste. This paste was used the same way as chocolate to help prepare various foods, drinks, and medicines. Most of these tribes use the guarana mainly as a stimulant and a drying agent to treat diarrhea.

Not until the 1700s the first examination of guarana seeds was performed by Theodore von Martius a German botanist. He isolated a bitter, white crystalline substance which he would name guaranine, which would later be called caffeine. Eventually over a few centuries after the guaranis tribe found its uses, the benefits of guarana would reach explorers and settlers. Specifically in France and Germany in the 1940s, researchers found the Indians’ uses to cure fevers, headaches, cramps, and an energy tonic. The United States found guarana to increase mental alertness, fight fatigue, increase stamina, and physical endurance.

Today guarana is a well known plant and used worldwide. It is a main ingredient in energy drinks and sodas, but also in the national beverage of Brazil called Guarana Soda. Also today eighty percent of the world’s production of guarana paste is produced in the middle of the Amazon rainforest in northern Brazil by the Guarani Indians.

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for arteriosclerosis, blood cleansing, cramps, diarrhea, dysentery, dyspepsia, fasting, fatigue, fever, headache, heart support, intestinal gas, malaria, obesity, and as a stimulant, aphrodisiac, and astringent
for constipation, convalescence, central nervous system stimulation, depression, diarrhea, digestive problems, dysentery, exhaustion, fasting, fatigue, fever, gastrointestinal problems, headache, heart support, heat stress, intellect, intestinal gas, jet lag, lumbago, malaria, memory enhancement, menstrual problems, migraine, nervous asthenia, nervousness, neuralgia, rheumatism, skin disorders, stress, water retention. weakness, and as an adaptogen, aphrodisiac, antiseptic, appetite suppressant, and stimulant
for fever, libido enhancement, nervous disorders, and as a stimulant and tonic
for depression, diarrhea, exhaustion, fatigue, heart support, headache, migraine, nervous disorders, neuralgia, vaginal discharge, water retention, and as a stimulant and tonic
Latin America
for diarrhea, fatigue, hangovers, headaches and as a stimulant
for diarrhea and as a stimulant
for cellulite, convalescence, diarrhea, dysentery, fatigue, fever, heart support, hypertension, migraine, nerve support, neuralgia, obesity, paralysis, rheumatism, and as an aphrodisiac, astringent, stimulant, tonic
South America
for arteriosclerosis, bowel problems, diarrhea, fever, heart support, nerve support, pain, and as an aphrodisiac, stimulant, tonic
for appetite suppression, athletic enhancement, concentration, diarrhea, endurance, exhaustion, fatigue, headaches, mental depression or irritation, migraine, nerve support, obesity, PMS, vaginal discharge, water retention, and as an aphrodisiac, stimulant, tonic
for convalescence, diarrhea, debility, dysentery, headache, lumbago, migraine, nerves, neuralgia, pain, rheumatism, water retention, and as an aphrodisiac, astringent, stimulant, tonic
Table found at

The Guarana Legend

Memorial of the Legend of Guarana
Memorial of the Legend of Guarana
A Maués tribe couple lived together for years wishing for a child. One day the couple would ask Tupá, the kinds of the gods, for a child granting them their happiness. Tupá knew the couple had good hearts and granted them their child delivering them a handsome boy. The boy became very generous and kind as he grew up. Until one day Juruparí, the god of darkness, felt envy for the boy, because of the peace and happiness he was bringing the people. Juruparí believed it was time to end the boy's life.

The boy one day went out to gather fruit in the rainforest; Juruparí knew this was the perfect time to end the boy’s life. Juruparí would transform himself into a snake, which bit the boy killing him instantly. The bad news would spread quickly about the boy’s death. Eventually there would be a thunder strike and lightning bolt near the Indians tribe. It was a message from Tupá telling the mother of the boy to plant his eyes saying the planting of his eyes would bring the tribe abundance of fruit and also healing. The mother told the tribe who all listened and planted the boy’s eyes. Finally, there grew the guarana, whose seeds were black with a white aril around it resembling a human eye.

Guarana use in Sports

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Is your product going to cost you the gold medal, or banned you from your collegiate sport?

Athletes need to be even more careful now with what they intake, because it could be in the form of a drink sitting on their dinner table. Recently, major sports-governed organizations (Olympic Committee of Anti-Doping and NCAA) have been setting restrictions by creating lists of banned, restricted, and permitted drugs and substances. Each organization varies, but each one now has a restriction on caffeine. The reason for the restriction on caffeine is due to the creation and popularity of dietary supplements and natural or herbal products. These particular products are problematic, because they may contain banned substances that are listed by the botanical name. Guarana (Paullinia cupana) is the most popular herbal product, because of its very high caffeine content. Guarana, because of its high caffeine content has been used in the substitution for ephedrine, a prohibited substance. Now that caffeine has been restricted, according to the Olympic Committee of Anti-Doping in order to test positive for caffeine their urine has to have a concentration greater than 12 micrograms per milliliter or 500 milligrams of caffeine.

Approximate caffeine content
50-350 milligrams per cup
Guarana Naturale
160 milligrams per teaspoon
40-90 milligrams per cup
Cola Drinks
30-90 milligrams per cup
Cocoa or Chocolate Drinks
40-80 milligrams per cup
Chocolate Bars
150 milligrams per family block
Over the Counter preparatons
10-100 milligrams
Table found at:

Examples of Caffeine banned in sports:

In Australian sports caffeine and use of guarana has been banned. According to the Australian Drugs in Sports handbook, it says “Caffeine is a stimulant which is banned in large amounts. Recent studies show the amount of caffeine as athlete would need to take in to return positive test and result can be different from person to person. Caffeine is banned when the concentration in athlete’s urine is more than 12 micrograms per milliliter. An athlete would need to ingest approximately 500 milligrams of caffeine over a short period of time to return a positive test result for caffeine. In most cases, the social use of caffeine should not be a problem.”

In the Olympics caffeine has now been taken off the banned list and is now part of a monitoring program. Guarana on the other hand is still on the banned substance list, because of how it is used to substitute the banned substance ephedrine.

In the NCAA a few years ago the NCAA presented a listof banned drug classes, including stimulants, anabolic agents, and street drugs. Eventually, the two common ingredients found in energy drinks, guarana and taurine, were banned in 2003. The NCAA monitored the effects of caffeine and eventually declared an athlete is not allowed to have a concentration higher than 15 micrograms per milliliter in their system, or 625 milligrams of caffeine.

Interested in other stimulating beverages? Check out these! Coffee, Tea, Hot Chocolate, Soft-Drinks



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