Kola nut is the fruit of the kola tree, Cola acuminata or Cola nitida (Fam Malvaceae), natives to the tropical rain forest of Africa. It has been reported to have some health benefits, but definitely not devoid of some side effects. With the rate at which it is consumed, one begins to wonder how beneficial the plant is.
Kola nuts contain caffeine, theobromine, tannins, alkaloids, saponins and flavonoids, sugar and water.
Pharmacological actions and health benefits
Tales about the health benefits of kola nut go back thousands of years. There have been claims that kola nut sweetens stale water, helps to treat fatigue, as well as easing hunger pains. Most people consume kola nut for the same reasons they consume coffee – it contains caffeine.
With regard to benefits, the following should be noted:
The caffeine in products of kola nut can boost metabolism. The caffeine and theobromine in kola nut increase circulation by speeding up the heart rate. Kola nut is popularly known as a natural central nervous system stimulant.
The extract of kola nut may help digestion by promoting the production of gastric acid, thus increasing the effectiveness of digestive enzymes in the stomach.
A study in the Journal of Biosciences and Medicines, indicates that using kola nut powder may stop the proliferation of pathogenic bacteria.
Kola nut has been claimed to treat skin diseases, ulcers, depression, low sex drive, cough (when mixed with honey), asthma, constipation and various eye problems.
The side effects of kola nut and kola nut extracts are comparable to those of caffeine. Most people can safely tolerate about 400mg of caffeine per day. Caffeine affects people differently. The side effects include insomnia, anxiety, headaches, restlessness, dizziness, dehydration, dependency and withdrawal.
Caffeine can cause health issues and should never be combined with alcohol in any way. It tricks the mind into thinking one has consumed less alcohol than normal; this can lead to alcohol poisoning and drunk driving.
Preparation: The nut is often chewed raw. It can be boiled to extract the caffeine and other constituents. It may also be used in powder form after drying and grinding.
Uses: In Nigeria, kola nut serves as a cultural symbol. Despite its bitter taste, it is shared to guests at important gatherings, such as weddings, funerals and naming ceremonies. The Yorubas cultivate the plant, the Hausas distribute and market it, while the Igbos celebrate and respect this fruit. Thus, it can be described as a unifying plant.
Though it has been listed by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as generally safe for consumption, the extract has now been approved as an inactive ingredient in certain pharmaceuticals. Kola extract is commonly used by soda companies and popular energy drinks as flavoring in beverages
Economic value: Kolanut is an important article of trade in Nigeria, exported in substantial quantities to other African countries, Europe and America. It is estimated that the internal kola nut market in Nigeria is worth about thirty million naira (₦30,000,000.00). The white and bright coloured nuts are said to attract more premium than the red and dull coloured nuts.
Official enlistment of kola nut as one of the Nigeria’s export plants will encourage the cultivation of and trade in kola nut in the country.
Pharm. Abdulkareem Sefianu (Nigeria Natural Medicine Development Agency)