The Real Deal on Guarana

by in Food News, April 6, 2010


Guarana is a new caffeine alternative that’s all the rage in energy drinks these days. A few weeks ago, a pregnant client told me she was drinking guarana-flavored soda instead of coffee because she thought it was a healthier pick. Thing is, guarana actually contains much more caffeine than coffee. The takeaway: Guarana isn’t always safe. Read up on the facts and find out if it’s right for you.

What Is Guarana?
Also known by the names guarana gum, guarana seed, zoom and Brazilian cocoa, guarana (pronounced GWAR-ah-na) is a tropical plant that bears small red fruit. To say that guarana contains a “little bit of caffeine” is an understatement. In fact, guarana has three to five times more caffeine in it than other plants (and twice what you get from coffee). Because it’s often used an appetite suppressant, you might find guarana plugged as a “diet aid.” Some folks also rely on it as a performance-enhancing supplement and to enhance sexual performance. In Brazil, you’ll find specialty sodas that are flavored — and super caffeinated — with guarana.

Be Warned!
First things first, many young people (and some young-at-heart older folks) are turning more and more to heavily caffeinated beverages to pep themselves up for late-night drinking and partying — often these caffeinated drinks serve as alcohol mixers. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has warned that this can be very dangerous — if you’re buzzed on caffeine but intoxicated, you may falsely believe you’re sober enough to drive, a problem that leads to accidents and even death.

As for guarana specifically, the plant, its extract and berries haven’t been tested by the FDA to determine their safety, effectiveness or purity. There is no regulated standard in place for manufacturers, so you’ll find varying amounts of guarana used in supplements and beverages. In many cases, the details may not be listed on the label. In some instances, researchers have found supplements contaminated with toxic metals or other drugs that weren’t listed on the label.

If you fall into any of the following categories, you should speak to a doctor or registered dietitian before you try guarana:

  • Heart problem or high blood pressure
  • Kidney disease
  • An overactive thyroid
  • Anxiety or nervous disorder
  • Pregnant or plan on becoming pregnant in the near future
  • Nursing a child
  • Children

Symptoms of getting too much guarana aren’t that well studied, but some complications might include painful urination, tremors, vomiting and abdominal spasms. (Sounds fun, right?) Irregular heartbeats and chest pain have also been reported after consuming some guarana. Other less-serious side effects include heartburn, upset stomach, irritability, difficulty sleeping, headaches and loss of appetite.

As if that’s not enough, the plant also interacts with various medications such as ephedrine, which can be life-threatening. If you are taking any other herbal supplement or medication, it’s important to talk to your doctor first.

The Bottom Line
We usually like to give the good and bad on these fad foods and advise that if you must have it, only try it in moderation. This one, however, I strongly suggest you skip. Over-caffeinating yourself with energy drinks or supplements is not the way to go — there are just too many warnings and questions. Why risk your health?

TELL US: Have you tried guarana?

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Comments (9)

  1. Sarah says:

    There is Guarana added into my daily vitamin (its a weight management blend) and I really do feel it after taking it. Firstly, if I take this without food, or even to soon after breakfast, I feel strongly like puking. I never do, but it creates a really gross feeling in my throat. That doesn't last long, but still- take it after you eat breakfast!
    Secondly, it does make my heart beat a little faster for the first two hours and makes me urinate alot… this is just how it works for me, I don't know about anyone else. I think it helps cut down on my water weight for sure, but not really sure how it helps with metabolism, etc. Its definitely a strong substance, be careful.

  2. Caffeine is not particularly dangerous. Even the risks listed sound quite benign. If you took a crazy amount of it, you probably wouldn't feel good…
    I just know that my Brazilian husband has about 20 of these in the fridge–they drink them all the time, and I just don't think the evidence is there to 'skip' this. Just like redbull–don't drink 10 a day. Caffeine has a lot of benefits, actually.

  3. Food recipes says:

    It’s good you are coming up with the issue of Guarana. The popularity of instant energy boosters has been increasing day in and day out but the question remains: Are they safe? The normal human body has been made to work up to a certain energy level and anything to alter this level brings problems. If you refuse to rest, then you are overburdening the body and soon the body will react negatively.

    The symptoms you listed:

    Heart problem or high blood pressure
    Kidney disease
    An overactive thyroid
    Anxiety or nervous disorder

    are all indication of distress.

    About its use as appetite suppressant, it’s quite disturbing. I recall a diet pill that was supposed to make a person lose weight but eventually found out that it was an appetite suppressant. An appetite suppressant can help you reduce weight by limiting your food intake but then you stand the danger of malnutrition too because you are not eating well.

    There are arguments that there is a herb that is originally used by the herdsmen of the Kalahari Desert in Africa to fight hunger as they move across the vast lands where food may be scarce. The theorist managed to convince people to believe that this drug extract can help reduce weight. A technique is used to extract the chemicals from this herb for the manufacture of the "diet pill". The process of extraction and additives make this original herb lose its natural form. Again, it may be asked, why suppress the appetite with Guarana which has a high level of caffeine? Appetite is a natural condition. I believe that real weight loss can be achieved by eating even more. It all depends on what you eat. Some foods make us fat; others make us maintain our weight. It is about obtaining professional advice on what to eat and not suppression.

    I believe the FDA will act on Guarana. I know they always do.

  4. Liz says:

    Guarana isn't "new" by any means. I grew up as a kid drinking Guarana pop in South America. It's a popular fruit flavor for pop and candy. It tickles me to see it touted as a "supplement", since it's really just junk food. Tasty, though.

  5. Zach says:

    Its caffeine, and caffeine is a moderately healthy stimulant. So I would just stick to what you guys normally say. All things in moderation

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