This week was finals week at most US colleges, so I am saluting our burned out students with a post about Energy drinks. These have been very popular for the past few years, offering a burst of sugar, caffeine, and magical herbal substances including Guarana. The main chemical ingredient in Guarana is caffeine. It also contains some antioxidants and theobromine (of chocolate fame) and theophylline which are heart stimulants.

In South America, the Guarana plant has been used for centuries as a stimulant and memory enhancer. No wonder students drink the stuff.

According to tropical lore, the berries from the Guarana plant are processed and dried and then pounded into a dry powder. The powder is added to water and a dough results which is rolled out into small cylinders. It is known as Brazilian coke. It is used by grating into a beverage and sweetened to taste. It is more popular in Brazil than cola drinks. It is so widely known that the word for soda is often “Guarana” regardless of the flavor of the beverage. The most popular brand is the Antarctica soft drink. More caffeine is consumed in South America from guarana than from coffee and colas combined.

There is some evidence to suggest Guarna has some health effects. In the ‘Pharmacological Activity of Guarana (Paullinia cupana) in laboratory Animals’ by Espinola, E.B. Dias RF et al J. Ethnopharmcol 55 (3); 223-9, it increased memory and endurance when compared to a placebo in rats.

In humans, memory, alertness and mood were increased by moderate doses. It is also generally recognised as safe by the US government. Since the main effects seem to be from the caffeine, I cannot say whether it would do much more than a cup or two of coffee, but whatever floats your boat. The main thing that will help you do better on exams is more studying. If a soft drink with mystical powers is your drug of choice, it may allow you to study more. I would think unstimulated study sessions and a good night’s sleep would be the best, but I am just a Mom, not a brain scientist. Good luck, kids.


Pine Nuts

Are Pignolias really from a Pine Tree? I was curious what the seeds were from that were labeled “Pignolias” and marked on the bag that they came from China. I learned that they do indeed come from some kind of pine trees. Many species of pine can be used to harvest the seeds. The pine cones make a little seed pod containing one or two pine nuts held in place by each woody bract of its pine cone. The bigger pine cones make bigger seeds so although any pine species CAN make pine nuts, the ones you usually buy are from 2 or 3 species of large coned pine.

If you buy pine nuts that come from Europe, you will probably get seeds from the Stone Pine (Pinus pinea). However, most pine nuts I have seen for sale are not this species from Europe, but rather from China. In China, the most common types of pines used are the Korean Pine (Pinus koraiensis) and Chilgoza Pine (Pinus gerardiana). The Korean pine nuts are more egg shaped, while the Stone pine seeds are more slender. There are several minor species that are used as well, but they are unusual gourmet types.

Pine nuts are most commonly used in pesto and as garnishes. They are nutritionally high in calories and full of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. An ounces of nuts (167 kernels) contains 191 calories, 4 g of protein, 19 g of fat, 1 g of fiber and 3.71 carbohydrate. They are called “nuts” in cooking circles but they are actually the seeds of the pine cone.

I learned about a risk in eating pine nuts from China. Some people have reported a metallic taste in their mouth 2-3 days after consuming them. It seems to be a passing thing that slowly goes away. The cause of this is unknown. It may be that the seeds have been treated with an unknown substance to keep the fats stable.

Whatever you call them, Pignolias or Pine nuts, they are delicious.

New Advances in Cilantro

Here is a good article about why some people do not like cilantro.

Manure’s Disease

I am posting this information because I keep hearing about this condition.  It is actually spelled Menieres disease.  The best description is a few brief sentences from Wikipedia.

Ménière’s disease (pronounced /meɪnˈjɛərz/[1]) is a disorder of the inner ear that can affect hearing and balance. It is characterized by episodes of dizziness and tinnitus and progressive hearing loss, usually in one ear. It is caused by lymphatic channel dilation,[2] affecting the drainage of endolymph. It is named after the French physician Prosper Ménière, who first reported that vertigo was caused by inner ear disorders in an article published in 1861.”

Just as when you hear a new word, you start noticing it all over the place, I keep hearing about cases of this.  I think this is because the symptoms are somewhat vague and occur frequently alone.  When vertigo, hearing loss, tinnitus and a feeling of fullness in the ears all occur together, it is probably a diagnosis one should discuss with one’s physician.  I think I keep hearing about this because of the company I keep.  As I age, my contemporaries are starting to get these problems that plague the elderly.  I also believe one of the causes of fluid retention in the middle ears is high blood pressure and eating too much salt.  We eat sodium in many products.  Try it for yourself.  Look at food labels and see if you are consuming too much sodium in your diet.  Try to get less than 2000 mg.  If you have blood pressure problems or symptoms of Menieres disease, some doctors recommend as little as 400 mg.  It would be darn near impossible to keep to that restrictive a diet, but we all could do better by some awareness and caution with sodium.