Archives • 2016 • vol.3 • 193-202
ILEX GUAYUSA LOES (AQUIFOLIACEAE): AMAZON AND
ANDEAN NATIVE PLANT
Sequeda-Castañeda, L.G. 1,2*; Modesti Costa, G.1; Celis, C.1; Gamboa, F.3,4; Gutiérrez, S.4; Luengas, P.2
1 Departamento de Química, Facultad de Ciencias, Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, Bogotá-Colombia.
2 Departamento de Farmacia, Facultad de Ciencias, Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Bogotá-Colombia.
3 Departamento de Microbiología, Facultad de Ciencias, Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, Bogotá-Colombia.
4 Centro de Investigaciones Odontológicas, Facultad de Odontología, Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, Bogotá-Colombia.
Ilex guayusa Loes (Aquifoliaceae) is native to the Andean Amazon (Colombia, Ecuador, and Perù) commonly
known as guayusa. From ancestral times up to today Guayusa has been employed by indigenous and urban
communities as a herbal infusion, for the treatment of diabetes, infertility, or venereal diseases. As an
antiinflammatory, diuretic or energizing-agent. In addition, it can be used as a regulator of the menstrual
cycle and during the lactation period. Other benefits include for weight loss, and as a mouth wash, among
others. This study encompasses Ilex guayusa taxonomy, etnobotany, geographical distribution and habitat
(elevation), ecology, phytochemistry, biological activity, and toxicity. Few investigations have been devoted
to its phytochemical and pharmacological properties, thus other studies could suggest new medicinal effects
for future alternative medicinal development.
Key words: Ilex guayusa, taxonomy, biogeography, ecology, ethnobotany, phytochemistry, biological activity, medicinal plant, toxicity.
December 30, 2016
The Andean Amazon is located in the countries of
Colombia, Ecuador, Perù, and Bolivia, encompasing
approximately three fourths of Peru and Bolivia
territory, one half of Ecuador, and one third of
Colombia. The Andean Amazon is characterizaed by
its richness in biodiversity for food, medicine,
cosmetic, and raw matrial for industry production
(1). Ilex guayusa is among the many plant species in
this region, also known as guayusa, guañusa,
huayusa, aguayusa, and wuayusa (2). For centuries
aborigens in this region have employed Ilex guayusa
as a diuretic, hypoglycemic agent, stimulant and in
ritual ceremonies, among others (3). Ilex guayusa
production has increased in the Andean Amazon
zone in the past years aiming to export, as well as
intoduce it to other countries due to its medicinal
and stimulant properties (4-6). Other medicinal
attributes include aiding in scar formation and as a
diaphoretic. It can be used to treat asthma or as an
expectorant. Its antiinflammatory properties are
kwown, thus it can be used against rheumatism. It
can also be employed as a mouth wash, against
gastritis, as an emetic, digestive, and diuretic. It is
known to reduce head and body aches, for
muscular pain, and to treat flu symptoms. Among
its various uses are as an emmenagogue, during the
lactation period, to treat venereal diseases, for
dissyness, and weight loss. Furthermore, it can be
consumed as a herbal tea. It is a blood fortifying
agent, blood pressure regulator with hypoglegymic
and antioxidant properties. Other beneficial effects
include fatigue suppressant, provides physical and
mental agility, stimulant, hallucinogen, tonner,
energizing, restorative, and aphrodisiac. Last, it aids
in the sense of awareness throughout the whole
body due to its content of a mix of theophylline,
theobromine, and caffeine (7-18).
The methods utilized to search, gather and analyze
information include the following Data Banks:
Plantlist, Scopus, PubMed, IsiWeb, Sprink link,
Francis & Taylor, SIB Bioinformatics Resource
Portal, and Sinab. Books and articles referring Ilex
guayusa ethnobotanical aspects or any subject
related to taxonomy or phytochemistry were
included. In addition, books and articles describing
biological activity, medicinal properties and toxicity
among others were also employed. The collection
of information was carried out between January
2012 and June of 2016.
Ilex guayusa Loes, Nova Acta Acad. Caes. Leop.-Carol.
German. Nat. Cur. 78:310.1901. The plant belongs to
the kingdom Plantae, Phylum: Magnoliophyta, Class:
Magnoliopsida, Order: Celastrales, Family:
Aquifoliaceae, Genus: Ilex, Species: Ilex guayusa
Loes. The tree can grow between four to 15 m
height, with a ramified trunk up to 1 m diameter. It
has dentate oblong/elliptic olive green coriaceous
leaves, glabrous or subglabrous at the blade as well
as the back of the leaf. The leaves are arranged in a
simple and alternate manner. It has an acuminate
apex with an acute base. The leaves can grow
between 15 - 21 cm long and 5 - 8 cm wide, with a
short 1 cm petiole.
Flowers have a persistent calyx and the petals
forming the corolla are obtuse. The number of
stamens are the same as for the petals, with oblong
anthers. The ovary sessile, subglose usually 4-6
celled (locules). The fruit is a globose green berry
almost 1 cm wide (3, 19-21). The plant is classified
under voucher No. HPUJ 011734 at the Pontificia
Universidad Javeriana herbarium. In addition, the
National Colombian Herbarium and Bogota Botanical
Garden Herbarium have classified this species under
vouchers COL 523700 and JBB 10344, respectively.
Ilex guayusa is a plant native to the Neotropics, with
natural distribution in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and
Bolivia (22, 23). According to specimens deposited in
the Colombian National Herbarium and the
Herbarium at the Universidad de El Valle, this plant is
found in the Departments of Nariño and Putumayo,
from Mocoa to Sibundoy (20, 24), in the area
between the Departments of Putumayo and Caquetá
in Colombia (25). In Ecuador this plant is found in the
provinces of Sucumbíos, Napo, Pastaza, Morona
Santiago, and Zamora Chinchipe. In addition, it has
been registered in the provinces of Pichincha and
In Colombia Ilex guayusa was reported in the
Department of Amazon in front of the south tip of
the Guadual Island, where it is commonly known as
“detzacogque” for the Miraña community.
Furthermore, in the Department of Caquetá the
Tucana indigenous community has named it
“Yurugú”. Moreover, it has been found in front of the
Mariname Island in poorly drained woods. Likewise,
it is found in the environmental path of Mogambo
(Figure 1), in the Municipality of Viotá, Departament
of Cundinamarca. Last, it is also established in the
National Research Center for tropical aromatic plant
species agroindustialization (Centro Nacional de
PhOL Sequeda-Castañeda, et al 194 (193-202)
Investigaciones para la Agroindustrialización de
Especies Vegetales Aromáticas Medicinales
Tropicales: Cenivam) in Bucaramanga, Santander
Colombia (27, 28).
According to deposited samples in the COL
herbarium, Ilex guayusa grows in Colombia at 2,000
masl. This species is distributed in altitudes
between 200 and 2,000 masl (25). It has been
collected from Ecuador at 500 masl and Perù at 220
masl (22). Furthermore, in Ecuador this species
distribution ranges from sea level up to 1,500 masl
(26). Gupta reported this plant can grow between
200 and 350 masl (29).
Ilex guayusa is found in the Colombian lower
Neotropical jungle and in Sub-Andean forests (30).
This perennial tree is native to the Amazon region,
where it grows in the wild. However, it is also
present plantations in subtropical Andean regions
(26). This species grows in humid tropical forests in
the Colombian, Ecuadorian, and Peruvian Amazon
forming part of secondary forests (31). This plant
was reported in phytosociological association with
Tabebuia insignis–Mauritietum flexuosae, defined
as a vegetation unit encompassing small to medium
forests, with a short basal area, high shrub density
in the thicket, and a high palm tree percentage (32).
Ilex guayusa is a tree reported in the literature with
monoecious flowers and prone to polygamy; with
shrub like physiognomy during the juvenile stage. In
addition, it is semi-domesticated in plantations. Its
asexual reproduction strategy consists of basal
shoots, sprouts, and suckers. Phenological cycles do
not report fertile matter activity. Anthropic
distribution is limited to the Peruvian-Ecuadorian
and Colombian Amazon corridor, thus its main
biophysical requirements are the soil and water
resource in its three forms: rain-, soil-, and vapor
water. Soils where Ilex guayusa grows have a sandy-
loam characteristic with acid pH between 4.34 and
5.01. It has low cationic capacity, high aluminum
and heavy metal content, following the pattern of
acid soils with a tendency to become poor
depending on the vegetation sustained not
including trees (32). Taking into account its light
requirements it can be considered a forest species.
It is designated as a durable heliophyte, since its
natural regeneration can be maintained at low light
levels. In fact, semi-dark sites are the most
recommended for its proliferation. Originally
guayusa seedlings need little light to meet their
functions. Moreover, in an environment free of light
exposure it tends to ramify and grow shoots, since
the terminal bud has been affected by light and
grows branches. Forming stems cast a shadow on
basal shoots that are generated on dead or little
vigorous stems, generating a “soil bed” made of
leaves and trunks, which eventually decompose and
serve as nutrients for the seedlings. No reproductive
phenophases have been reported.
Ilex guayusa is not found within the conservation
category in the vascular plant catalog, such as the red
book, proposed by the International Union for
Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, i.e. it
is not vulnerable, it is not endangered, or in critical
danger, thus it is not a species at risk (26, 33-35). For
many years some botanists speculated Ilex guayusa
reproduced in an asexual manner, since it had lost its
flowering and fruit production capacity through years
of selection and vegetative propagation by man. This
theory was based in the lack of specimens with
reproductive organs, thus its certain taxonomic
classification (21). At present it reproduces asexually,
despite the presence of seeds. Stems without leaves
are planted for propagation (4).
In 1683 the Jesuit Juan Lorenzo Lucero reported the
Shuar natives (known as Jibaros by the Spanish
conquistadores) used Ilex guayusa in their medicinal-
magical acts in the following manner: “They placed
together these demonic herbs (Datura, Banisteriopsis
caapi, Psychotria viridis, Justicia pectoralis,
Brugmansia, Nicotiana rustica, and other
hallucinogenic plants) in addition to guayusa and
tobacco, also invented by the devil. They cooked
them in a way the little juice produced became the
quintessence, with the belief those who drank were
rewarded with the fruit of a curse by the devil for the
misfortune of many ...”. Lucero described the Shuar
as well disposed people, with good physical
appearance, accustomed to take several times a day
a decoction referred to as “guayusa”; to stay awake
for several nights without losing consciousness, when
an invasion by their enemies was feared. In the
indigenous view the guayasa ritual has a purification
significance and was used as a “bode drink”. It was
consumed in high concentrations to dream, foresee
the future and guess whether the hunting or fishing
would be successful (3, 7, 19, 21, 22, 25, 36-39).
In 1756 Fray Juan de Santa Gertrudis Serra stated:
“The most beautiful leafy tree of all I have ever seen,
thick trunk, with peaceful and delightful green
leaves. The leaves have a very tasty flavor, similar to
tea, but finer and appetizing. When the beverage
PhOL Sequeda-Castañeda, et al 195 (193-202)
prepared with cooked leaves is drank it produces
sweating and eliminates phlegm, represses blood
ardor and eliminates heaviness, aids in digestion
with a satiety feeling, gives robustness and removes
all moodiness. When it is drank with honey
obtained from apate bees, women become
pregnant” (20, 24). Registries from 1756 indicate
high Putumayo Indians (Amaguajes and
Parayaguajes), in addition to White people have
employed Ilex guayusa leaves as a stimulant
infusion. It would be consumed in the mornings to
alleviate hunger, it was argued they did not feel
hungry from early in the morning until noon (20). In
1943 the Botanical Institute of the Central
University in Ecuador issued a bulletin informing Ilex
guayusa leaves were used by people from the
oriental region as an infusion for breakfast with the
belief this plant would “lift them up”. Moreover, it
had a fertilizing power and could be related to
getting married (20, 24, 25). In 1857 Richard Spruce
observed guayusa use among Shuar (Jibaro) natives
as an emetic to daily cleanse the stomach, as a
purgative, as a narcotic and hypnotic. Likewise, to
exonerate the body before the daily tasks, with
eschatological purification beliefs, as a ceremonial
daily mouth wash (14, 18, 22, 25, 38, 40-42).
Pleasant taste leaf infusion in the form of tea it was
used to treat all chills, venereal diseases, and for
women to become pregnant when they were sterile
many years back.
In the mid-XIX century guayusa was used for
poisoned people. In addition, burned leaves then
mixed with barley and honey was employed to treat
amenorrhea; cooked leaves to treat diarrhea and
stomach pain. Around the third quarter of the XIX
century botanists found the presence of caffeine in
leaves (38). Prehispanic Bolivian culture possibly
employed leaves as an enema (18, 43, 44).
Kallawaya’s from the Province of Bautista Saavedra
in Bolivia are known to be expert herbalists. With
over a millennium in traditional medicine practice
they are characterized for curing physical and
spiritual illnesses. One particular distinctive of this
culture is to perform brain surgery. Furthermore,
they employ over 1,000 plants, among them Ilex
guayusa a holly-like plant as an anesthetic. This use
has been described as early as 700 A.C. (45, 46).
Kallawaya are recognized by Andean people (Peru,
Bolivia, and Argentina) as “The Lords of the
Medicine Bag” (4, 47). Natives of some localities of
the Department of Nariño (Colombia) use Ilex
guayusa as a medicinal plant, in particular to
regulate menstrual cycles. The bark and wood are
used as a medicinal stimulant.
Leaf infusion against chills, as a narcotic, and
stimulant beverage. With dried leaves and branches
a beverage is prepared similar to mate from
Paraguay (Ilex paraguayensis) (29, 48).
Whole fresh plant cooked and drank with lemon and
orange serves as a diuretic, against anemia and
sorcery. Ilex guayusa cooked leaf intake with fresh
Pilea microphylla L. (preñadilla) and fresh Lycaste
gigantea Lindl. (simayuca) fruit is used for masculine
fertility. Mixed with the juice of two Citrus aurantium
L (bitter orange) serves as a vitamin supplement,
together with burned bitter orange skin is used as
incense in ceremonies. These last two preparations
are also employed against scurvy, stomach ache, high
blood pressure, as a deodorant, and for “mal de aire”
(syndrome of culture filiation -bad air).
Ilex guayusa decoctions with whole Pilea microphylla
L. (preñadilla), with Eucalyptus globulus Labill
(aromatic eucalyptus) and Lycaste gigantea Lindl.
(simayuca), and sugar can be taken on a daily basis as
a diuretic, against venereal diseases, for the lungs,
and for fertility purposes (49). Oral administration of
dried Ilex guayusa leaves are used to treat blood
intoxication and diabetes (13, 50). Due to its high
caffeine content (2%) it is considered and energizing
plant (10, 14). Moreover, Ilex guayusa is employed
against drug addiction, hangover, and to eliminate
the bad taste of ayahuasca consumption (51).
In Ecuador this species is frequently used as a
refreshing and tonic beverage, with similar effects to
Asian tea or to Argentina-Paraguayan mate. It can be
purchased in most grocery stores as dried leaves. It is
claimed to have fertility properties. In addition it is
used as a stimulant, tonic, stomachic, digestive and
emetic (3, 52, 53). Aids digestion and it is stated that
cleanses the stomach and the intestines, since it has
emetic characteristics. Likewise, it has expectorant
properties, since its intake produces a warm burst
throughout the body, allowing for phlegm expulsion
from the lungs resulting from colds (10, 29, 40). In
2003 a descriptive, analytical-comparative research
was carried-out in the cities of Quito (Ecuador), Puyo
(Ecuador), and Bogota (Colombia) finding the
following uses against: sterility, diabetes, asthma, as
a diuretic, during pregnancy and lactation period, as
a mouth wash, against tiredness, muscular pain,
weight loss, as a narcotic/shaman, aphrodisiac,
purgative/emetic, and refresher. Data gathered by
traditional knowledge demonstrate a main use
(12.8%) as an emetic and stimulant. Application
techniques include baths, lavage, ointment, poultice,
intake or inhalation among others, every eight to 24
h (9). Ilex guayusa is the most used and cultured
plant by the Kichwa Indians in the Canton Loreto
PhOL Sequeda-Castañeda, et al 196 (193-202)
region in Ecuador. It is the most important plant in
daily life, since its consumptions every morning
brings about multiple effects such as luck for fishing
and hunting, in addition to providing protections
against snake bites (54, 55). In Peru its leaves are
employed as a dietary supplement, for prostate and
kidney protection, favoring kidney stone expulsion
(56). From the ethno-veterinary medicine point of
view Ilex guayusa is used by Shuar and Quichua
Indians in Ecuador as a psychoactive plant to
improve performance and capacities in hunting
dogs, increasing their sense of smell. This use could
be implemented by police or guard dogs to detect
explosives, illegal drugs, human remains, and other
activities of value (57).
Some studies with this plant reveal its caffeine,
triterpene, and chlorogenic content (14, 18, 58-60).
Family compound identification has been
performed through preliminary phytochemical
analysis identifying tannins and flavonoids in leaf
aqueous and ethanol extracts, respectively (61).
Polyphenol quantification evidenced 0.49 and 0.18
mg tannic acid per gram of sample for the aqueous
and ethanol extracts, respectively. Total phenol
content present in leaf methanol extract was 116.8
g of gallic acid per g of sample (62). Methanol total
extract bio-assay guided fractionation by
antioxidant and antihyperglycemic activity
identified Uvaol, by GC-MS (63). Racidi and
collaborators reported in leaf ether extract the
presence of alkaloids, steroids, terpenes and
lactonic or coumarin compounds. Moreover, in the
aqueous extracts saponins, phenols, tannins,
reducing sugars and alkaloids; and in the ethanol
extract phenols, alkaloids, reducing sugars, steroids,
terpenes, flavonoids and quinones. These authors
described Ilex guayusa phytochemical knowledge is
still very limited and other studies could suggest
new medicinal uses for this plant (19).
Other compounds present are methylxanthine, theo
bromine, theophylline, guanidine, steroids,
essential oils, isobutyric acid, nicotinic acid, ascorbic
acid, riboflavin, choline, pyridoxine, triterpenes,
chlorogenic acid and sugars among others (10, 13,
22, 64). Likewise, polyphenol content 40.1 mg/g),
L-theanine (1.3 mg/g), theobromine (0.4 mg/g), and
caffeine (32.8 mg/g) have been reported (65, 66).
In 2013 researchers from the Escuela Superior
Politécnica del Litoral, in Ecuador performed from
Ilex guayusa leaves a physicochemical,
bromatological, sensorial and microbiological study.
Phytochemical analysis revealed alkaloids,
flavonoids, reducing sugars phenols, triterpenes,
quinones, fats and oils. Bromatological study
indicated a protein content between 0.6 and 1.3%,
total fat content between 1.6 and 4.0%, total ash
content between 5.5 and 6.9%, hydrochloric acid
insoluble ash between 0.7 and 0.8%, water soluble
substances between 0.9 and 2.9%, carbohydrates
(including monosaccharides to structural
polysaccharides) between 78.4 and 83.6%.
pH value of tea prepared as an infusion oscillated
between 6.3 and 6.5, refraction index between
1.3391 and 1.3651. The infusion had a green-orange
color, with slightly fragrant aroma and indefinite
flavor. Caffeine content was 3.7%, indicating this
value depends on harvest time and ecological,
geographical and edaphic factors (10). Another study
found mean caffeine values of 2.9% for different
hydro-alcoholic extracts, where ethanol
concentration ranged between 50 and 80%, 13.8%
total solids content, pH of 4.6 and relative density of
1.01 g/mL (66).
Quantitative polyols and carbohydrate analysis of
mono- and disaccharide-type was performed using
LC-MS/MS finding values between 0.006, 0.039,
0.25, 9.8, 13.2, and 14.03 mg/g for sucrose, maltose,
sorbitol, glucose, and fructose; respectively (67). GC-
MS analysis revealed pentacyclic triterpenoid acids
such as oleanolic acid (3b-hydroxy-olean-12-en-28-
oic acid) and betulinic acid (3b-3-hydroxy-lup-20(29)-
en-28-oic acid), followed by LC-MS/MS quantification
with values of 1.18 and 18.22 mg/g; respectively
(68). Furthermore, content of 19 amino acids were
quantified by LC-MS/MS with values ranging
between 10 and 280 mg/g for glycine, asparagine,
serine, aspartic acid, glutamine, threonine, alanine,
glutamic acid, proline, lysine, valine, histidine,
methionine, arginine, tyrosine, isoleucine, leucine,
phenylalanine, and tryptophan (69).
Standardized liquid concentrate of guayusa
proximate analysis demonstrated 66.4% moisture
content, 4.9% ash, 7.0% protein, 3.5% total sugars,
0.4% total fats and 3.8% dietary fiber. Secondary
metabolite GC analysis determined the following
components: caffeine (36 mg/mL), theobromine (0.3
mg/mL), chlorogenic acids (52 mg/mL), total
polyphenols (10 mg/mL), catechin (2 mg/mL),
isoflavones (0.8 mg/mL), epicatechin (0.18 mg/mL),
epicatechin gallate (0.19 mg/mL), epigallocatechin
gallate (0.09 mg/mL), epigallocathechin (1.1 mg/mL),
kaempferol (trace), and naringin (trace) (64).
Studies in mice with Diabetes mellitus type I, induced
by streptomycin treatment (STZ) demonstrated oral
PhOL Sequeda-Castañeda, et al 197 (193-202)
administration of Ilex guayusa infusion slowed
down hyperglycemia development, reduced
glycosylated hemoglobin, polydipsia, and weight
loss (70, 71).
Sarango in 2008 reported leaf methanol extract had
an inhibitory effect against a-glucosidase with an
IC50 of 411 µg/mL (72). Other in vitro studies
evaluating Ilex guayusa leaf extracts in hexane,
ethyl acetate and ethanol demonstrated
hypoglycemic activity with inhibition of a- and b-
glucosidases, enzymes associated with diabetes
mellitus type I development. For 500 µg/mL
hexane, ethyl acetate, and ethanol extracts a-
glucosidase was inhibited at 98.4, 79.1, and 58.2%,
respectively. Likewise, for b-glucosidase inhibition
was 35.0, 52.5, and 84.2% for each extract at 1,000
µg/mL. Results suggest this plant could be
considered a possible neutraceutical in the diet of
diabetic patients (73).
Colombian medicinal plant Vademecum describes
Ilex guayusa ethanol leaf extract presents central
nervous system and sympathetic nervous system
stimulation, possibly due to caffeine high content.
Infusion consumption stimulates the cardiac
system, augments alertness, and increases the
capacity to perform physical tasks (74). Hot tea
drank at a concentration of 10 g/L three times per
day is used as a treatment for diabetes (75). In
Trujillo, Northern Peru it is traditionally used by the
medicine man as an anti-inflammatory and
antimicrobial plant. Antibacterial activity results
demonstrate leaf aqueous and ethanol extracts
have a biological activity against Staphylococcus
aureus presenting 14 mm inhibition halos (50, 76).
Methanol, ethanol and hydroalcoholic extracts at
25 mg/mL presented antifungal activity with 16 mm
halos for ethanol extract and 24 mm for the
methanol extract against Candida albicans. In
addition, a 32 mm halo was observed for the
hydroalcoholic extract against Microsporum canis
(11). Inter-institutional work carried-out by
Calderon and collaborators with 311 species,
including Ilex guayusa evaluated antiparasitic effect
against Malaria, Chagas disease and Leishmaniasis,
finding leaf ethanol extract presented an IC50 of 47,
> 50, and > 50 mg/mL against Trypanozoma cruzi,
Plasmodium falciparum, and Leishmania mexicana,
Estrogen effect of Ilex guayusa leaf hydroalcoholic
extract was evaluated on ovaries, uterus, and serum
estradiol by oral administration given to albino rats
(Rattus novergicus). Used doses of 9, 18, and 36
mg/kg per day presented such effect on immature
rats. These results suggest Ilex guayusa potential
use for infertility in women (78, 79). DPPH and TEAC
assays revealed its probable antioxidant use with an
IC50 of 11.8 and 14.9 [µg/mL], respectively for leaf
methanol extracts (62). Furthermore oxygen radical
absorbance capacity (ORAC) in aqueous and
lipophylic media reported values of 658.9 and 0.3
µmol TE (Trolox equivalent) per gram of sample for
ORAChydro and ORAClipo, respectively (65).
Researchers of the Department of Pharmacy at
Universidad Nacional de Colombia evaluated in vitro
and in vivo antioxidant capacity in leaf aqueous and
ethanol extracts. Xanthine/xanthine oxidase
superoxide anion radical uptake measured as
inhibition of nitroblue tetrazolium (NBT) reduction
was 64 and 57% for aqueous and ethanol extracts,
respectively. Furthermore, peroxyl radical uptake
was measured in Aroxyl radical absorption capacity
ABAP/lysozyme system finding inhibition values of 15
and 18% for aqueous and ethanol extracts,
Hydroxyl radical uptake generated in the
H2O2/Fe+3/EDTA/ascorbate system demonstrated for
the aqueous extract a 42% uptake and 18% uptake
for the ethanol extract. Liver microsomal lipid
peroxidation using the non-enzymatic
Fe+2/EDTA/ascorbate/H2O2 method determined
inhibition percentage values of 93% for the aqueous
extract and 96% for the ethanol extract (61).
Ilex guayusa based cosmetic gel elaboration by
Ecuadorian researchers established a skin protective
agent in addition to having a lipolytic effect. Ilex
guayusa in vivo anti-cellulite effect was evaluated in
women between the ages of 30 and 50 years old.
Their findings evidenced a reduction in body
measurements and in the appearance of orange-
textured skin known as cellulite, proportional to the
time of treatment. This effect is likely due to caffeine
plant content (66).
Ilex guayusa could affect the nervous system if
consumed with food in great quantities (29, 52). In
the Department of Pharmacy at the Universidad
Nacional de Colombia an in vivo hepatoxicity model
was evaluated using Wistar rats. Affected animals
were induced by CCl4 administration, and as a
positive control Sylimarin was used (61).
Histopathological study did not reveal any
considerable toxicity signs (80). Colombian medicinal
plant Vademecum indicated Ilex guayusa infusion or
decoction beverage consumption did not present
signs of acute toxicity (74). Multidimensional tests
using de 1,000, 500, 250, and 125 mg/kg ethanol
extract did no cause lethality in animals. In addition,
PhOL Sequeda-Castañeda, et al 198 (193-202)
repeated infusion doses were safe (74, 80). Due to
its high caffeine content it is not recommended for
pregnant women. Excess consumption can produce
vomit and alterations in the CNS (74).
In a collaborative work between the USA and Perù,
researchers evaluated alcohol and water extract
toxicity of 341 plants, including Ilex guayusa using
the brine shrimp lethality test. Results
demonstrated a LC50 > 10,000 µg/mL for the
aqueous extract and 300 µg/mL for the ethanol
extract (81). Achuar indians from the Ecuadorian
Amazon pointed out Ilex guayusa mix with other
plants can be toxic. For example, its decoction with
Psidium guajava produces a poisonous beverage
(12). Kapp and collaborators evaluated standardized
liquid concentrate of guayusa using in vitro
genotoxicity tests, with Bacterial reverse mutation
test (Ames test). Furthermore, a study of
chromosome aberrations in human lymphocytes
was performed. Ames test established a negative
result. Likewise, no structural or numeric
aberrations were observed for the chromosome
study. Acute toxicity by oral administration with a
5,000 mg/kg dose in female rats established a
salivation response, hypoactivity, abnormal
breathing, stooped posture, decreased and soft
feces. All animals recuperated at the third day of
administration and continued healthy until day 14
of the study. Necropsy did not evidence any severe
abnormalities. Results suggested oral median lethal
dose in female rats was > 5,000 mg/kg. 90 day
subchronic toxicity test by oral administration at
1,200, 2,500, and 5,000 mg/kg in female and male
rats revealed no toxicity associated with
standardized liquid concentrate of guayusa.
In females a high neutrophil and basophil count was
found, depending on administered Ilex guayusa
dose. Additionally, a distinct adaptive hypertrophy
in salivary glands was observed, with a greater
impact on females, depending on dose. Moreover,
blood chemistry was altered with the following
values increasing in blood serum: aspartate
aminotransferase, serum alanine aminotransferase,
and cholesterol. A body weight reduction and food
efficiency, decreased triglycerides values, and
diminished fat pad weight were observed.
However, no noxious effects were observed.
Therefore, this study indicated no harmful effect in
liquid concentrate of guayusa on this model system
The authors thank COLCIENCIAS (Administrative
Department of Science, Technology and Innovation)
for by support the Doctoral Thesis of LGSC. In
addition authors manifest their gratitude to
Engineers Luis Enrique Acero Duarte and Leonor
Rodriguez for their support and supplying Ilex
guayusa photographs (Mogambo Sendero
Ambiental). This work was funded by the Academic
Vice-Rectory and Vice-Rectory for Research of the
Pontificia Universidad Javeriana for Project 5392.
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Figure 1. Flowers, leaves and steams of Ilex guayusa (27).