What is guarana?

Guarana is a seed from the Amazon rainforest has been commercialized as both an energy and weight loss supplement, first in South America and now globally. Beyond providing long lasting energy and focus, guarana extract can improve your workout performance, fight age related diseases, and promote longevity.

Even with widespread use, the facts about guarana including its origin, benefits, and side effects are not universally known. So, what is guarana? Where did it come from? And how can it help you?

Where does guarana come from?

A couple from the Maué Indian tribe in the Amazon received a baby boy as a gift from the king of the gods. Jururapí, the god of darkness, was jealous of the handsome and kind man the boy grew up to be. Disguised as a serpent, Jururapí bit the boy, killing him instantly. In her grief, the boy’s mother planted her son’s eyes in the dirt. From the boy’s eyes grew the two types of guarana: wild and domesticated.

Some legends even claim that the guarana plant bore its own child, from whom the Maué descended. In any case, the guarana fruit looks like an eyeball when it opens.

A lowland climbing shrub, the guarana plant is native to the Amazon Basin in Brazil. Guarana is known scientifically as Paullinia Cupana, and it is in the same family of flowering plants (Sapindaceae) as horse chestnut, maple, and lychee fruit.

The Maué and Guaraní tribes used the seed for hundreds of years prior to colonization to treat migraines, fevers, dysentery, and more. The plant was introduced to western culture in the 17th century by a Jesuit missionary named Johannes Philipus Bettendorf, but was not commercialized until 1958.

Originally, guarana seeds were slow roasted over a fire before being turned into sticks of guarana dough. In order to drink the guarana, the dehydrated sticks were then grated with either a rock or the bones of a pirarucu (large Amazonian fish) over water. The drink, known as çapó, has been used by all ages for a myriad of benefits (12) (13).

Today, guarana is a popular addition to mainstream energy drinks, and it is the main component of guarana soda, a popular drink in Brazil. Unlike the energy drinks that dominate the market right now, GO BIG is an energy shot that uses only guarana extract as the active ingredient to provide long lasting energy without lab-made chemicals and added sugars.

What are the benefits of guarana?

So, what can guarana do for you? The unique composition of guarana makes it perfect for providing stimulation before your workday or workout, and it has the power to promote weight loss and protect your body. Here are 11 benefits of consuming guarana, all backed by research.

  1. Provides Smooth Energy

Users report that the energy boost and focus they get from guarana extract is not only more focused than the effects of coffee and other caffeine alternatives, but the effects last longer. This smooth rise and fall of energy prevents the caffeine crash headaches that often accompany mid-afternoon slumps.

One study dove further into the science behind the smooth energy of guarana. The study was made of 71 females between 17 and 35, broken into four groups: caffeinated coffee, guarana, yerba mate, and a control group. The testing was replicated with and without the subjects eating lunch and the participants’ energy levels were measured immediately, after 60 minutes, and again after 150 minutes. Using blood pressure, pulse readings, mood ratings, and reaction times, the study concluded that after 150 minutes, the coffee group experienced a ‘post-caffeine’ dip in alertness and focus, while the guarana group did not. (1)

  1. Boosts Workout Performance

Guarana can also positively impact workout regimens. Another study found that active males who consumed a vitamin and mineral drink containing guarana as a pre-workout felt less exerted after a moderately intense run. (2)

  1. Enhances Cognitive Functions

Guarana may also improve memory, increase alertness, and elevate mood (3). It is a natural nootropic, a chemical compound that can enhance memory and other brain activity. By observing flatworms and testing guarana’s effects at different doses throughout the day, scientists found that the stimulatory effects of guarana are due to more than caffeine alone. Glucose combined with guarana also heightens the stimulatory effects (4). While the unique combination of chemicals in guarana in addition to caffeine can give you a fluid energy boost, scientists are still trying to further understand the science behind this smooth energy.

  1. Promotes Weight Loss*

Is guarana good for weight loss? Guarana has been historically marketed as part of diet pills, and researchers are evaluating its usefulness in controlling body weight. One study divided mice into two groups: one group was fed a high-fat diet and received a guarana supplement, while the other group was fed an identical diet but didn’t receive the supplement. The mice that didn’t get guarana gained a significant amount of weight the first week of the experiment, but the mice that did receive the guarana did not change in weight for the entire duration of the experiment. Researchers concluded that guarana was able to prevent weight gain despite the mice having identical diets. (5)

In another study of overweight women, guarana showed the ability to regulate gastrointestinal hormones and reduce macronutrient intake. Guarana shows great potential to enhance the body’s ability to use nutrients as well as increasing the mass of mitochondria, thereby speeding metabolism and defending against weight gain and fat accumulation. (6)

  1. Acts as an Antidepressant*

According to some studies, guarana extract shows promising antidepressive effects in humans. In the long term, guarana’s effect has been compared to antidepressant medications Doxepin and Amitriptyline. (7)

  1. Supports Cardiovascular Functions*

Guarana consumption has been associated with lower rates of cardiovascular metabolic diseases. It also may have positive effects on metabolizing lipids. Guarana was found to act similarly to other caffeine and catechin rich foods like green tea, where guarana fights the accumulation of LDL, preventing cardiovascular disease. (8)

  1. Protects Against Neurodegenerative Disorders*

Some research even points to guarana being useful in the treatment and defense against certain neurodegenerative disorders. One study found that guarana can help prolong the onset of Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease in susceptible patients. The exact mechanism behind this behavior still eludes scientists but they believe that guarana has the potential to prevent the death of certain neurons, which would make it useful in combating age-related diseases. (9)

  1. Promotes Longevity*

Another study used flatworms to investigate possible uses for guarana regarding longer life. The study concluded that the guarana extract extended the lifespan of the flatworms by possibly speeding the metabolization of fats. Another study found that guarana’s fat fighting potential was due to its ability to regulate genes related to the accumulation of body fat. Additionally, this could be aided by guarana’s ability to increase the number of mitochondria in the body, which fights fat build up as mitochondria use nutrients to produce energy (10). 

  1. Contains Antimicrobial Properties*

The guarana plant has evolved certain features including high caffeine content and saponins over thousands of years that help defend against microbial infections caused by various microorganisms. These defense mechanisms could be useful in preventing diseases in humans as well. This study found that the guarana extract in mouthwash has been effective in preventing cavities, plaque build up, and other periodontal diseases. (10)

  1. Boosts Libido*

Brazilians have claimed for hundreds of years that guarana has a strong aphrodisiac effect. Some indiginous tribes have gone so far as to say that the seed helped them to establish dominance, not only militarily but also sexually.

One study used rabbits to evaluate this claim and found that there was a positive correlation between guarana consumption and rabbit mating. Another study using Mediterranian fruit flies found that guarana increased the success of fruit fly mating. (11)

  1. How does guarana work in the body?

Guarana’s chemical composition makes it an incredibly unique and effective functional plant. While guarana contains more caffeine than any other plant in the world by dry weight (up to four times as much caffeine as coffee), caffeine does not account for the plethora of other reported benefits. Scientists attribute guarana’s additional healing properties to two other compounds: theobromine and theophylline, as well as tannins and saponins. 


Caffeine is the first of three naturally occurring chemicals called methylxanthines. The effects of caffeine set in between 5 to 30 minutes after consumption. Caffeine acts as a central nervous system stimulant; it increases blood pressure (for a short time) and heart rate. Users report feeling more alert, active, and less fatigued.


Theobromine is the second xanthine found in guarana and is a bitter tasting alkaloid abundant in dark chocolate. It is a vasodilator (opens blood vessels), a diuretic, and heart stimulant. It acts similarly to caffeine, and may help manage fatigue and orthostatic hypotension. There is also research that suggests theobromine can boost your mood. This same study demonstrates that theobromine exhibits anti-tumoral and anti-inflammatory properties with regards to the cardiovascular system (23). Theobromine has also been used as a smooth muscle relaxant. (16).


The third of the three methylxanthines naturally found in guarana, theophylline stimulates the heart and central nervous system. Synthetic forms of theophylline have been used to treat airway diseases for more than 70 years. Both natural and synthetic forms of theophylline are bronchodilators, relaxing muscles around the airways. Theophylline has also been shown to have an anti-inflammatory effect in asthma and COPD. (15)


Responsible for the bitter taste of guarana, tannins occur naturally in the roots, barks, and fruits of many plants. Due to its astringent and binding properties, tannins have been used to treat tonsillitis, pharyngitis, hemorrhoids, and open wounds. There are two types of tannins: hydrolyzable tannins and condensed tannins. Condensed tannins are found in plants and can strongly affect the taste and mouthfeel of food. Tannins are plentiful in red wine and are responsible for the drying sensation you feel when drinking it. The tannins present in red wine also neutralize free radicals and have been shown to be effective in preventing heart disease (24).


Saponins are phytochemicals that can be found in most vegetables, beans, and herbs. Saponins may help reduce bad cholesterol by binding with bile salt and cholesterol in the intestines, thereby preventing the reabsorption of the blood cholesterol. Some studies suggest that saponins can prevent cancerous cells from reproducing by binding to the cholesterol-rich membrane of the cancerous cells to obstruct their ability to grow. Plants produce saponins to fight parasites, and studies suggest that saponins can boost human immunity to viruses and bacteria. (14)


Catechins are present in guarana extract and possess antioxidant properties. The antioxidant profile of guarana is similar to that of green tea. Antioxidants neutralize molecules called free radicals; free radicals can cause cell damage that has been scientifically linked to heart disease, cancer, and more (26).

Is guarana bad for your health?

With any caffeinated beverage or supplement, consuming too much guarana in one sitting can result in a caffeine overdose. Due to its high caffeine content, doctors recommend that pregnant and nursing women do not consume large quantities of caffeine. It is important to stay within the recommended daily dosage (400 mg according to the FDA) to avoid the unpleasant and possible side effects of a caffeine overdose.

Symptoms of misusing caffeine can include restlessness, anxiety, dehydration, faster heart rate, and stomach pains (25). It is also important to keep in mind that caffeine tolerance can vary depending on your height, weight, and how often you consume caffeine. When consumed in appropriate doses, guarana provides benefits beyond those of caffeine alone.

In summary

Guarana is an Amazonian plant that is a great natural alternative to stimulants like coffee, caffeine pills, and artificial energy drinks. 

Guarana can keep you from feeling tired, promote weight loss, and sharpen your brain function. When consumed in a shot like GO BIG, you also receive all of the benefits that guarana has to offer without added sugars and artificial ingredients. 

In addition to long lasting energy and focus, guarana has a long list of potential uses. The extract can improve your athletic performance, help you stay awake and make you more productive at work or in the classroom. It can also promote longevity in the long term by protecting you from age-related diseases.

Works cited

  1. https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2004-14520-009
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26225993
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16533867
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4399916
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5852741/
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5852741/
  7. Scholey and Haskell, 2008; Otobone et al., 2005, 2007; Kennedy et al., 2004; Roncon et al., 2011; Carlini, 2003
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23391102
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23391102
  10. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0102695X18303533
  11. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0102695X18303533
  12. https://caffeineandyou.com/brazils-children-of-guarana-tribe-legend-plant/
  13. https://www.culturalsurvival.org/publications/cultural-survival-quarterly/eyes-forest-0
  14. https://www.phytochemicals.info/phytochemicals/saponins.phpq
  15. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4033977/
  16. https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/5429
  17. https://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/integrative-medicine/herbs/guarana
  18. http://www.sugarydrinkfacts.org/resources/nutrition/Energy-Drink-Tables.pdf
  19. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/324673.php
  20. https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/the-sweet-danger-of-sugar
  21. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2966367/
  22. http://healthland.time.com/2013/02/04/whats-in-your-energy-drink/
  23. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4335269/ 
  24. https://www.winemag.com/2018/09/11/tannins-wine-guide/ 
  25. https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/spilling-beans-how-much-caffeine-too-much
  26. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/guarana-benefits#section1

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Green leaves from the Amazon Rainforest

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