The Health Benefits of Guayusa Tea

Young woman enjoying tea in cafe

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Guayusa tea is a caffeinated herbal beverage commonly consumed in South America, particularly in Ecuador. The herbal infusion is made from the leaf of a holly tree (Ilex guayusa) that is native to the Amazon rainforest.

In Ecuador, locals have long sipped guayusa in order to increase their alertness, especially while working. In fact, certain native tribes refer to guayusa as “the night watchman,” since the drink is sometimes used to help people stay awake through the night.

Over the past few years, guayusa products have begun popping up in natural-foods stores and in cafés around the U.S. Often marketed as an alternative to coffee and energy drinks, caffeine-rich guayusa is said to provide a healthier energy lift.

Some believe that guayusa also provides other benefits. It is touted as a top source of antioxidants, vitamins, and amino acids. In addition, it contains such chemicals as theobromine (a substance also found in cocoa and thought to offer mood-enhancing effects).

Health Benefits

Some proponents suggest that sipping guayusa on a regular basis can reduce your risk for diabetes and heart disease. It’s also suggested that drinking guayusa can help promote weight loss.

At this point, however, we know very little about how drinking guayusa might influence our health. Studies investigating the health properties of guayasa are extremely limited and almost no studies have been performed on humans. So far, most of the claims for the drink’s health effects come from anecdotal evidence.

Alertness

When compare to other types of caffeinated beverages, guayusa is believed to provide mental alertness without negative side effects including jitters or a post-caffeine "crash."

One small study published in Clinical and Translational Science was performed on 12 adult males. They compared the response of 12 adult men to caffeine from a green coffee extract, a guayusa leaf extract, and a synthetic caffeine. Researchers determined that the guayusa leaf extract may be less stimulating to the release of epinephrine (adrenaline) compared with the green coffee extract and synthetic caffeine.

Diabetes

The very limited research on guayusa and its potential health benefits includes a preliminary study published in the journal Diabetes Research in 1989. In this study, scientists tested the effects of 12 types of plant extracts on diabetic mice. Results revealed that treatment with guayusa extract helped regulate blood sugar levels and reduce body weight.

Antioxidant

Several studies have confirmed the antioxidant properties of the guayusa plant. Antioxidants are compounds that help prevent cell damage from oxidation in the body.

Researchers speculate that these compounds may provide some level of protection against cancer, diabetes, obesity, heart disease, bacterial infection, and other illnesses, but more rigorous studies are needed to confirm these theories.

Possible Side Effects

Researchers who have investigated the chemical properties of guayusa have reported that it appears to present no greater risk to human health than existing teas such as green tea or yerba mate. However, they add that further investigation is needed.

Despite claims that guayusa triggers none of the side effects commonly associated with caffeine intake, overdoing it on any type of high-caffeine product can have a negative impact on your wellbeing.

For example, consuming too much caffeine can aggravate conditions like anxiety and insomnia, as well as cause dehydration, headaches, and abnormal heart rhythms.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) warn that pregnant and nursing women should limit their use of caffeine. The NIH also cautions that certain drugs and supplements may interact with caffeine-rich substances, such as guayusa.

Selection, Preparation, and Storage

Many tea companies sell guayusa, although technically it is not a "tea" because it does not come from the tea plant (Camellia sinensis) that produces green and black tea. However, the herbal infusion is popular enough to be sold in many tea shops and online.

You are likely to find guayusa in loose-leaf form, rather than in tea bags. The dried leaves should be stored in an airtight container until used.

To brew, experts suggest that you bring fresh, cold water to a boil. Then pour eight ounces of water over about two grams of leaves and steep for up to seven minutes depending on how dark you like your brew. Guayusa can also be used to make iced tea.

Common Questions

How is guayusa different than yerba mate?

Yerba mate comes from the Ilex paraguariensis plant (found mainly in Argentina). Guayusa is sourced from a plant called Ilex guayusa (most commonly found in Ecuador). Both are holly trees native to the rainforests of South America.

Tea is made from the leaves of both plants and consumed as a coffee alternative. A key difference between guayusa and yerba mate is the flavor. Unlike yerba mate, which can bear a somewhat bitter taste, guayusa is regarded as smooth, earthy, and slightly sweet.

How does the caffeine in guayusa compare to caffeine in coffee?

Frequently referred to as a “clean” source of caffeine, guayusa is said to offer “balanced energy. Proponents claim that compounds found in guayusa promote a slow, steady release of caffeine and—in turn—help prevent caffeine-related side effects.

The caffeine content in guayusa and in coffee can vary greatly according to the way it is manufactured and brewed. However, the caffeine in one cup of brewed guayusa is said to be comparable to the caffeine in a cup of coffee.

Does the farming and production of guayusa affect the health of the rain forest?

Since guayusa is typically grown on small family farms and cultivated according to environmentally friendly methods, it’s thought that increased demand for guayusa may support the sustainability of the rain forest as well as help farming communities to thrive.

What are some other coffee alternatives that provide an energy boost?

A great variety of natural products can give you an energy lift similar to that of guayusa. Consider sipping classic teas such as black tea, green tea, white tea, and oolong tea. Unlike guayusa, such teas have been found to offer a number of health benefits, including improvements in heart health.

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