With its beautiful brown colored shell and resembling a chestnut, kola nut (Cola acuminate) is actually a fruit of the Kola tree. A native to Africa and grown widely in South America and Central America, kola nut is a health benefitting fruit belonging to the cocoa family. It is a caffeine-rich fruit that is sometimes used as a flavoring agent in beverages. It is more popular in the western world as one of the flavoring agents and source of caffeine in cola and other similar drinks and beverages. The first cola soft drink, Coca cola was invented in 1800 by mixing the extracts of kola and coca with sugar, carbonated water and other ingredients. However, coca cola no longer uses kola nut extracts in their drinks since caffeine is banned in soft drinks in the US. Kola nut has a bitter taste but is immensely rich in compounds that have medicinal properties. In some places like West Indies and Brazil, these nuts are chewed before meals to ease hunger pangs and to promote digestion.
Chemical constituents of kola nut
The main constituents of kola nut include caffeine, theophylline, theobromine, sugar, water and phenolic compounds such as phlobaphens, tannic acid, D-catechin and epicatechin.
Health benefits of kola nut
Kola nut and its extracts offer several health benefits mainly because of the presence of caffeine and other active chemical constituents that have medicinal effects.
Antioxidant activity of kola nut
Kola nut contains polyphenols that have strong antioxidant properties. These compounds helps in scavenging the harmful free radicals thus helping to reduce the oxidative stress they bring about on the cells and DNA. By protecting the cells from damage, kola nut helps in preventing many diseases like cancer and also in slowing down the process of aging. Because of the high antioxidant effect of kola nut, it has been used in many cosmetic products that help in protecting the skin and hair from oxidative damage.
Kola nut helps in lowering weight
According to an animal study issued in the “Nigerian Journal of Physiological Sciences”, mice that were fed a kola nut diet happened to eat less and they weighed less as well at the end of the study. From the results of this study, it was concluded that a kola nut diet may be helpful in lowering body weight. The caffeine in kola nut acts as an appetite suppressant and a metabolism booster, both of which are also helpful in promoting weight loss.
Kola nut boosts your metabolism
The “African Journal of Biotechnology,” published a study in 2006 which stated that the liquid extracts obtained from the kola nut helped in boosting the metabolic rate and the heart rate. It was found that when taken in low concentrations, kola nut improved metabolism and the heart rate but when taken in high doses, the kola nut extract increased the risk of heart failure in the animals used for the study. The results were comparable with the effects caused by too much intake of caffeine.
Kola nut offers protection against infections and certain diseases
Studies reveal that kola nut extracts made from the root, leaves and stem of the kola nut plant are effective in preventing the growth and proliferation of certain bacteria. The root extracts caused considerable reduction in the growth and development of bacteria belonging to the mycobacterium species that are responsible for causing conditions such as tuberculosis and meningitis.
Kola nut against cancer
According to an article in the published in the 2009 issue of “Journal of Toxicology”, kola nut contains certain nonsteroidal compounds such as phytoandrogens or phytoestrogens that were found to be beneficial in stopping the development of prostate cancer. The study states that these compounds in kola nut may be capable of stimulating a chain reaction that ultimately leads to the death of the prostate cancer cells.
Kola nut promotes healthy digestion
Consumption of kola nut in moderate amounts is found to help in promoting digestion by increasing the production of gastric juice in the stomach. It is also beneficial for many gastrointestinal problems like dysentery and diarrhea.
Kola nut for treating migraines and headaches
Kola nut contains several stimulants that cause dilation of blood vessels, thereby increasing the flow of blood. Increased blood circulation to the head can help in relieving headaches and migraines.
Kola nut can reduce high blood pressure
The high amounts of theobromine in kola nut acts as a vasodilator that helps in widening the blood vessels, which in turn helps in lowering high blood pressure.
Kola nut is beneficial for people suffering from asthma
The caffeine in kola nut functions as an effective bronchodilator and helps in opening up the air passages. Because of this property, kola nut is often used in the treatment of asthma, whooping cough and other respiratory ailments. A study published in the “Journal of American Medicine” states that kola nut may help in decreasing the length of an asthma attack.
Kola nut as a nerve tonic
Kola nut is considered to be an effective nerve tonic that helps in relaxing and soothing the nerves without numbing them. This nerve tonic effect is useful in stimulating the activities of the nervous system and in giving you a general feeling of happiness and healthy well-being. Because of its ability to calm the nerves, Kola nut has long been used in the treatment of many nervous disorders including depression, weakness, anxiety, and lack of emotion. In fact, according to the Journal of American Medical Association, Kola nut is far better than many other stimulants as it does not cause dependency or addiction. The caffeine in kola nut helps in combating fatigue, promoting alertness and in promoting good mental function.
Kola nut has aphrodisiac properties
Kola nut is used to increase sex drive as it has been found to have libido enhancing or aphrodisiac properties.
Kola nut prevents water retention
Kola nut has diuretic properties and is useful in treating urinary tract infections. It helps in increasing the frequency of urinations, thereby preventing fluid retention. This effect is useful for flushing out toxins from your body, in promoting weight loss and also in reducing high blood pressure.
Kola nut is good for the liver
Kola nut contains chemical compounds that are found to help in breaking down glycogen in the liver. The antioxidant properties of this fruit make it a great tonic for the liver and also the gall bladder, which helps in detoxifying your whole body by eliminating the harmful substances and toxins in your body.
Side effects of overconsumption of kola nuts
Just like any other stimulant that contains caffeine, kola nuts can also cause certain physical side effects if consumed in excess quantities. Headaches, irregular heartbeat, jitteriness, and lack of sleep are some of the common side effects caused by taking too much of kola nuts. This fruit is also known to stimulate the production of gastric acid in the stomach and hence people suffering from ulcers should be cautious while taking kola nuts. Pregnant and nursing women, and people having anxiety disorders, heart conditions, bleeding disorders, glaucoma, diabetes, and osteoporosis should avoid kola nuts or should consult a physician before taking them.
Kola nut, which was once used as a flavoring ingredient in cola and other beverages, is nowadays recommended for its various health benefitting properties. It can be taken as such or consumed in the powder or liquid form. Kola nut is now used mainly as a dietary supplement in many energy formulas and weight loss solutions. This fruit is highly valued by the Africans and they use it in many religious, social, ritual and ceremonial functions such as marriage, childbirth, funeral etc.Image Credits: Flickr - Irene Becker, Flickr - Andrea Fix