Guayusa is an ingredient sourced from the leaves of the Ilex guayusa tree, a tree in the holly genus native to the upper Amazon basin in Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. The tree has been in cultivation for centuries and has been used by indigenous peoples for as much as 1,500 years to promote a calm state of heightened awareness as well as for other indications.
The main constituent that contributes to that heightened awareness is natural caffeine, said Brian Zapp, creative director of ingredient developer Applied Food Sciences. AFS markets a guayusa extract branded as AmaTea.
More than just caffeine
But if caffeine were the only part of the story the ingredient wouldn’t have much to lean on, unless it were marketed toward consumers interested in ‘natural’ sources of caffeine. Research has failed to find a functional difference between the action of caffeine found in coffee, tea, guayusa and other natural sources and synthetic versions. Plus, while caffeine has been long known for its stimulation of the central nervous system, it also comes with some potential problematical side effects, such as the oft-mentioned jitters.
Zapp said as AFS investigated guayusa, an ingredient it has been working with a number of years, it became obvious that concoctions of the leaf act as a stimulant, but in a different way from most caffeine sources.
“Typical caffeine can stimulate the epinephrine response, which is our flight or fight response. If you have too much it’s hard to sit still,” Zapp told NutraIngredients-USA.
“But guayusa is different. We kind of stumbled on the effect. We initially theorized the caffeine in guayusa has a slower release somehow. One of the things that gamers want is to be alert but be able to sit still for long campaigns, for like four to six hours at a time,” he said.
What makes guayusa different?
Zapp said another major constituent of guayusa is chlorogenic acid. But the molecule as expressed in guayusa has a slightly altered structure as compared to some other prominent sources of the substance, such as in green coffee bean extract. And those slight changes, in concert with some of the other constituents of the plant such as l-theanine, seem to make all the difference, he said. They are theorized to be the reason that guayusa can stimulate the nervous system and promote focus and concentration while at the same time giving a sense of calm.
Zapp said that aspect of the ingredient could make it a home run in the esports arena. The company is partnering with a game developer in an attempt to quantify its effects. All the marketing speak about an ingredient’s effects, even how it makes them feel, might be of little import for hard core gamers. What they want to know is, can it help them win?
Enter the neuroscientists
The game training platform was invented by a neuroscientists from New York University who have filed a patent on the idea. The researchers discovered particular structures in the human frontoparietal cortex that are responsible for visual field mapping. By understanding these structures and how to measure activity within them, the researchers claim to have been able to design a video game training platform that can target and improve the very structures that video gamers use to do what they do.
The researchers founded a company called Statespace Labs, which is a neuroscience research effort that also developed video game platform, said Philip Charm, vice president of growth for the young company.
Research effort that uses video game approach
The idea to use video games to investigate neurocognitive training is not new, Charm said. But in his view where most previous efforts stumbled was to place the emphasis on the research aspect and pay little attention to the game itself. Researchers treated the video game much in the same way as they would a maze used to test mice.
“Our secret sauce is making it an incredibly engaging game,” Charm said.
Investigating effects of particular ingredients
The platform can be used to quantify the effects of a particular ingredient such as AFS’s. In other words, it can help answer the question on gamers’ minds: can this product help me get better?
Zapp said it’s an exciting opportunity because esports are such a tightly focused activity. Other sports have many confounding factors. Has basketball star LeBron James been so successful just because of his physical gifts? Is he just quicker and stronger? Or might he also have greater determination than his peers? Could it also be that he has been lucky in his choice of teammates?
Trying then to determine if an ingredient like guayusa would contribute in some meaningful way to the success of an athlete like James would be extremely difficult at best. But Zapp said using the Statespace platform, it might be possible in esports, where effects can be measured in relation to the particular brain structures of interest.
“We wanted to quantify the performance indications for our ingredient. And gaming is a perfect way to do it,” Zapp said.