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Opinions of Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Columnist: Teacher Baffour

The Pros & Cons of Kola Nuts

Kola nuts
The kola nut that we’re all too familiar with in Ghana or bitter cola, (Cola Vera, Cola acuminata, Cola nitida) is a seed part from a tree from the Sterculiaceae family. The trees are native to Central and Western Africa, but are now found in the Caribbean and Brazil, where they were introduced by African slaves.

As you can guess by now, contrary to popular distorted historical facts, our people did manage some how to carry some aspects of their science base (plant seeds) with them to the European controlled lands of enslavement.
All three species are used as a stimulant and are prepared in the same manner. The kola tree grows to approximately 40 ft (12 m) in height, and has white to yellow flowers with spots that range from red to purple. The kola tree's leaves are 6–8 in long (15–20 cm) and the tree bears fruit that is shaped like a star. Inside the fruit, about a dozen round or square seeds can be found in a white seed shell.
General use
Kola nut contains high amounts of caffeine, which helps combat fatigue and is most commonly used as a central nervous system stimulant that focuses on the cerebrospinal centres.
It also contains theobromine, a stimulant found in chocolate as well as in green tea.

Kola nut also contains tannins, phenolics, phlobaphens, kola red, betaine, protein, starch, fat, thiamine, riboflavin, and niacin.

The Journal of the American Medical Association advocates the use of kola over other stimulants, because it is not addictive and does not lead to depression.
Because it is also a diuretic, its use has been suggested for those with renal diseases, cardiac or renal edema and rheumatic and rheumatoid conditions.
Most people around the world are familiar with kola; many have tasted it and do not even know it.
Respiratory conditions
Kola is widely used as a treatment for whooping cough and asthma, as the caffeine acts as a bronchodilator, expanding the bronchial air passages.
A Journal of American Medicine cites a study of kola nut's effects on asthma that showed "the attack being cut short and the child's condition rapidly improved."
Gastrointestinal disorders
In Africa, the fresh nuts are chewed as a ceremonial greeting, as a stimulant, and to help aid digestion, as kola nut stimulates gastric acid production.
Kola nuts are also known to improve the taste of food and act as an appetite suppressant. Ideal if you are trying to diet.

Other conditions
The kola nut is also used to treat migraine headaches, because the caffeine and theobromine act as cerebral vasodilators (increase blood flow in the head) and, when used in a poultice, can be applied to external cuts and scrapes.
More recently, an ephedra/caffeine preparation made from kola nut extract and a Chinese medication known as
Ma Huang was tested for safety and efficacy as part of a weight reduction program. The study indicated that the preparation improved the subjects' rate of weight loss and reduction in body fat without undesirable side effects.
The flavour of kola nut in cola beverages appears to be more effective than other flavours in disguising the taste of activated charcoal when the charcoal must be given as an antidote for accidental poisoning.
The part of the seed known as the kola nut is the cotyledon, which is also called the seed leaf. The cotyledons are white and bitter when they are fresh, but they turn reddish with almost no taste when they are dried. Fresh nuts are difficult to find outside of the tropical areas where they are grown.

The nuts are sold at African/Shops & markets in international cities, like Washington D.C., Ridley Road Market in Dalson-London & Brixton Market in London.

Dosage of kola nut should be 2–6 g per day, as 2.5–7.5 g of liquid extract or 10–30 g per day of tincture. Powdered cotyledons should be taken at 1-3 g per day, as a decoction, liquid extract, or tincture.
For the decoction, boil 1-2 teaspoons in a cup of water and take three times a day.
The liquid extract should be taken in a 1:1 solution of 60% alcohol at .6-1.2 ml three times a day.
Tinctures in a 1:5 solution of 60% alcohol, with 1-4 ml of the cotyledons three times a day.


Because of its use as a stimulant, kola nut should be used with caution. Patients should consult with their doctors, especially if they are taking other medications.
Due to its caffeine content, kola nut should not be used by women who are pregnant or nursing a child.

Also because of its caffeine content, it is not advisable for those suffering from insomnia or anxiety problems. In some cases, extreme restlessness and sleeplessness can occur.

It should not be used by patients with a history of high blood pressure, heart trouble, palpitations, seizures, insomnia, heart disease, high cholesterol, or stroke.

Research in Niger showed that the habitual chewing of kola nut can actually cause cardiac arrhythmias, based on clinical trials using cats.

Kola nut should not be used by those with stomach or duodenal ulcers because it increases gastric juice production and may add to gastrointestinal discomfort and disorders. Kola nut is also one of the top ten common food allergens, among cow's milk and chocolate.

Kola nut is naturally very high in tannin, a white-to-yellow astringent powder that gets its name from its use as a textile and leather tanning agent.

However, a University of Miami study shows that "tannins are increasingly recognized as dietary carcinogens and as antinutrients interfering with the system’s full use of protein and called for more studies correlating early death and regular kola nut use in African countries.
Kola nut should not be used for long periods of time.

Kola nut and cola beverages should be kept away from dogs, cats, and other domestic animals. The theobromine in kola nut (and in chocolate as well) can be fatal to these pets because they metabolize it much more slowly than humans.

Side effects
Kola nut may cause insomnia, anxiety, nervousness, gastrointestinal problems, and tremors. If there is any indication of an overdose, diarrhoea, nausea, and/or cramps may follow.
Oral blisters have also been known to form.

Heavy use of kola nut or drinking large quantities of cola beverages has been associated with bone loss in adults and inhibition of bone formation in adolescents.

Some practitioners are recommending that teenagers should restrict intake of soft drinks containing cola in order to lower their risk of osteoporosis in later life.

Kola nut should not be used with muscle relaxants, heart medications, high blood pressure medication, nitrates and calcium-channel blockers.

Clinical experiments indicate that beverages containing cola increase the rate and extent of absorption of carbamazepine (Tegretol), a drug used to treat epilepsy and some forms of bipolar disorder.
Kola nut has been reported to interact with tricyclic antidepressant medications and with MAO inhibitors.

In general, patients taking any medication for anxiety or depression should consult their physician before taking preparations containing kola nut. It would be interesting to get any clinical information of deaths attributed to the consumers of Kola nuts in Ghana/Africa.

In addition, further information of Kola nut can be sourced from the Book & Periodicals below, also from several Alternative Medicine Databases in Canada, USA & Europe.

Ref: Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine

Castleman, Michael. The Healing Herbs. New York: Bantam Books, 1995.
Boozer, C. N., P. A. Daly, P. Homel, et al. "Herbal Ephedra/Caffeine for Weight Loss: A 6-Month Randomized Safety and Efficacy Trial." International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders 26 (May 2002): 593-604.
Dagnone, D., D. Matsui, and M. J. Rieder. "Assessment of the Palatability of Vehicles for Activated Charcoal in Pediatric Volunteers." Pediatric Emergency Care 18 (February 2002): 19-21.
Malhotra, S., R. K. Dixit, and S. K. Garg. "Effect of an Acidic Beverage (Coca-Cola) on the Pharmacokinetics of Carbamazepine in Healthy Volunteers." Methods and Findings in Experimental and Clinical Pharmacology 24 (January-February 2002): 31-33.
Morton, J.F. "Widespread Tannin Intake via Stimulants and Masticatories, Especially Guarana, Kola Nut, Betel Vine, and Accessories." Basic Life Sciences (1992): 739-65.
Reiling, Jennifer. "Therapeutics of Kola." Journal of the American Medical Association, (24 November 1999).
Root, A. W. "Bone Strength and the Adolescent." Adolescent Medicine 13 (February 2002): 53-72.
Speer, F. "Food Allergy: The 10 Common Offenders." American Family Physician (February 1976):106-12.

Compilation by Teacher Baffour

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