If you’re not yet familiar with the kola nut, you’re in the right place. Popularised by its use in 1886 as one of the key ingredients in the world’s most famous soft drink, Coca Cola, the kola nut has a long therapeutic history which we will discuss below....CONTINUE READING
This article will help you understand what kola nut is and how you can benefit from it as a food or as a dietary supplement.
Read on to find out how kola nut consumed as a snack can improve your health and your performance in the gym.
What is the Cola Nut?
The kola tree is native to the rainforests of Africa, and on these evergreen trees that grow to approximately 20 metres in height you can find their star-shaped flowers and nuts among their shiny oval leaves. These are the nuts we will talk about in this article.
In fact, there are more than 125 different species of kola nut trees with a slight difference between their edible nut types.
As can be seen by searching for them on the internet or in science books, different varieties of the kola nut can be found.
The species we are interested in consuming are the Bitter Cola (Garcinia kola), crisp cola (Cola acuminata) and monkey tail (cola suboppositifolia).
This food has a historical origin as a nut consumed in many West African cultures due to its apparent ability to satiate appetite and increase vitality.
They are used for tribal spiritual practices in these cultures and are even used in traditional divination rituals (similar to tea leaf reading).
It is also used as a popular snack by many elders in West Africa, particularly in Nigeria.
In addition, kola nut extract is used as a natural flavouring agent in the food industry, Coca Cola being the most obvious example. However, in this soft drink it is also used as a source of caffeine.
What are the benefits of Cola Nut?
The caffeine content of the kola nut is by far its best known therapeutic or medicinal component, which will be discussed below.
However, the kola nut also contains other related or perhaps not so related compounds.
For example, the nut also contains small amounts of methylxanthine and theobromine (other organic stimulants), as well as other secondary metabolites, plant-based pigments and phenols that may provide health benefits (e.g. flavonoids, anthocyanins and tannins).
Interestingly, kola nuts also contain significant levels of key minerals, such as potassium (3484.67 mg/kg), calcium (124.40 mg/kg) and magnesium (392.00 mg/kg), which are comparable to those found in another superfood, walnuts.
Kola nut is highly regarded by people as a health food, and its popular use is due to its high caffeine concentration.
Studies indicate that just one nut contains more caffeine than two large cups of American coffee, which is more than enough to stimulate the central nervous system of most people.
The amount of caffeine in a nut can actually vary depending on the nut consumed and its pre-treatment.
For example, it can be consumed raw, cured for 6 months, sun-dried for 40 days or even ground and stored for a year. This would explain why variations in caffeine content can range from 1.5% to 3.8%.
The concentration of caffeine in the kola nut may therefore explain its use as both a mental and physical aid to combat fatigue.
Specifically, consumption of kola nut extract (in its liquid form) has been found to stimulate central nervous system action by increasing heart rate and metabolic rate in a manner similar to previous studies on caffeine.
The additional benefit of central nervous system stimulation lies in the potential to improve both body weight and fat loss.
A large study conducted in 2002 examined the influence of kola nut on 167 people over a 6-month period of consumption.
It found that consumption of 90-190 mg/day of an herbal caffeine supplement (kola nut and Ma Huang) saw greater losses in body weight, body fat and bad (LDL) cholesterol (compared to placebo).
The reductions achieved in body weight and fat were 2.7% and 1.6% respectively.
This shows that the caffeine boost provided by kola nut not only activates the nervous system, but can also correspond with positive health changes such as weight loss and fat loss.
2. Anti-microbial agent
Other studies have examined the therapeutic benefits of kola nut in other pharmacological areas. Such studies have examined the biochemical content of kola nuts to show that they contain various alkaloids, tannins, saponins, phenols and flavonoids demonstrating that they can be used as an aid to combat various antibiotic-resistant disease processes.
A recent study has further demonstrated the antibacterial activity of kola nut and shows its inhibitory effect on the growth of several bacterial cultures (Proteus and vulgans Anginosus Streptococcus).
These bacteria in particular can cause various wound, blood and abscess infections.
Surprisingly, similar reductions in the growth of some species of mycobacteria, which are responsible for serious diseases such as meningitis and tuberculosis, have been found.
This demonstrates the strong antibacterial activity of these nuts on common infectious agents.
Stories about the many health benefits of the kola nut go back thousands of years. People have claimed that kola nut sweetens stale water, treats fatigue and relieves hunger pangs. Most of these claims should be viewed as folklore until proven otherwise.
While kola nut may have health benefits, they have not yet been scientifically researched and proven. Most of the benefits of kola nut are related to its high caffeine content, which increases energy and reduces hunger.
Claims have also been made that it treats:
low sex drive
cough and asthma
various eye problems.
As with all supplements, there is the potential for side effects if taken irresponsibly. As such, it is worth considering any potential safety concerns if you consume kola nuts on a regular basis.
One of the most commonly reported problems with consuming kola nuts as a snack is the possible negative effect on teeth, as the nuts may cause bad breath or staining. However, these claims seem to be more anecdotal than clearly proven.
Overall, the toxicological properties of kola nuts appear to be in parallel with an equivalent dose of caffeine and it is reasonable to conclude that their use as a food or supplement is safe and free of serious consequences.
Obviously, due to the concentration of caffeine in kola nuts, it is advisable to be cautious about interactions with other drugs, such as ephedrine, benzodiazepines, propranolol and quinolone antibiotics.
Another relevant side effect for which caution should be exercised is that there is some evidence that some varieties of kola nut may cause a degree of irritation to the gastrointestinal tract causing stomach pain and that their consumption during pregnancy is contraindicated.
It is amazing that traditions and commonly consumed foods from tribal and historical diets often end up demonstrating positive scientific benefits in modern studies, as is the case with kola nuts where ancient knowledge seems to stand the test of time, and benefits are evident in several areas of health.
In this case, the effect of kola nuts as a stimulant can be presented along with the added health benefits of its various compounds that help improve the cardiovascular system, the immune system and the respiratory system.