Night sweats and insomnia can leave you feeling less than perky. Reaching for a coffee as soon you stagger out of bed is one way to kickstart your morning, but what if there was something even more potent? Say hello to guarana, one of nature’s most powerful stimulants.
What is guarana?
Guarana is a climbing plant native to the Amazon basin. It’s prized for its fruit, the seeds of which are ground into a powder and used for therapeutic purposes. Amazonian tribes have used it for centuries to boost energy, enhance athletic performance and even as an aphrodisiac. Today, its stimulant properties make it a popular ingredient in energy drinks and also a supplement for people experiencing tiredness, fatigue and lack of concentration. Unsurprising, given that the seeds contain a whopping 4-6 times more caffeine than coffee beans.
How can it help you during menopause?
Staring at your clock at 3am, thumping your pillow and desperately trying to fall asleep isn’t fun. Neither is the subsequent fatigue you may experience the next day. Insomnia is a common menopause symptom, partly caused by the decline in progesterone which has sleep-inducing properties. While guarana won’t help you nod off – quite the reverse – it may help you deal with tiredness. In addition to a hefty dose of caffeine, it contains compounds called theophylline and theobromine which work in synergy to help you feel bright eyed and bushy tailed. Having said that, it’s best to steer clear in the afternoon and evenings. All those stimulants swimming around your system could keep you awake, resulting in a vicious cycle.
Do you sometimes feel you have the attention span of a goldfish? You’re not alone! Hormonal changes mean that brain fog or difficulty concentrating are very common during menopause. The good news is that guarana has been shown to improve mental acuity. In one study, participants were asked to perform tasks involving learning and memory. The group who took guarana achieved higher scores than the one taking the placebo1. Another study compared the effects of ginseng and guarana on mental ability. Participants taking guarana completed the tasks more quickly and showed higher levels of concentration than the groups taking ginseng or the placebo.
Antioxidants are protective substances which fight free radicals – compounds that can damage your cells and cause disease. As well as getting them from your diet, your body makes its own supply. Unfortunately, plummeting oestrogen levels during menopause cause antioxidant levels to decline, so you’re more susceptible to health issues like non-alcoholic liver cirrhosis and heart disease. The good news is that guarana is naturally rich in antioxidants, so it can top up your body’s supply and help to protect you against certain health conditions. It’s always best to include a range of antioxidants in your diet because they all have slightly different health-giving properties. Be sure to eat a ‘rainbow’ of brightly coloured fruit and veg, which are rich sources. Supplements containing antioxidants are also an option if you struggle to get your five a day.
Gaining weight is common during menopause and it can really affect your self-esteem. ‘I looked in the mirror and I felt so depressed about how much weight that I have gained in the past year or so. I feel so alone sometimes because of menopause and all the changes your body goes through’, says one of our online menopause community members.
While eating sensibly and increasing your activity levels are key to shedding pounds, there’s evidence to suggest that guarana may help. This may be partly down to its high caffeine content, which has been shown to help speed up ‘resting metabolism’ (the number of calories your burn when you’re not moving much). Test tube studies have indicated that guarana may also help to suppress genes that aid fat cell production and promote genes that slow it down, but evidence that it has the same effect on humans is unclear2.
Your risk of heart disease increases dramatically during menopause. In fact, it’s one of the leading causes of death and kills twice as many women in the UK as breast cancer. This is largely down to falling levels of oestrogen. As it declines, artery walls become stiffer which can restrict blood flow to the heart, causing complications. Some evidence suggests that guarana may have heart-protective properties. In one study, it reduced ‘bad’ cholesterol (LDL) by 27%, which means arteries are less likely to become clogged and the heart can function normally3. However, more studies are needed to confirm the link.
How do I take it?
Gurana is available in teas and energy drinks, but usually at relatively low levels. To get the full effect, it may be worth taking a supplement. There’s no official dosage guidelines, but around 75mg daily is usually recommended.
Guarana may well give your energy levels and overall health a boost, but it isn’t for everyone. Some women find that it makes them feel a bit twitchy and restless and it may even cause heart palpitations, particularly if you’re sensitive to caffeine. Even if you’re completely shattered, don’t be tempted to overdo it – doses over 250mg have been linked to more severe side effects. It’s best to start slowly and see how you react to it. If you take it regularly and decide to stop, reduce your intake gradually to avoid caffeine withdrawal symptoms like headaches. As with all supplements, always check with your GP before taking guarana. This is especially important if you’re pregnant, breastfeeding or suffer from heart palpitations or arrhythmia.