The kola nut is the fruit of the kola tree, a genus (Cola) of trees that are native to the tropical rainforests of Africa. It is considered among some Nigerian tribes to be the first tree on Earth. This evergreen tree resembles the chestnut and grows up to 60 feet (18.3 meters).
Cola nuts are classified in the family of Malvaceae, a subfamily of sterculioideae. There are over 125 species of kola nut trees, and the most frequently edible are Garcina kola, Bitter cola, cola acuminate, kola nuts nitida and monkey cola.
You may be surprised to learn that the kola nut (also known as kolanut) is the origin of the word “cola,” as the caffeine-containing fruit of the tree is used as a flavoring ingredient in drinks.
What is Kola Nut?
It is a caffeine-containing nut of evergreen trees of the genus Cola, particularly of the species Cola nitida and Cola acuminata. Cola acuminata, an evergreen tree about 18.3 meters (60 feet) in height, has long, ovoid leaves pointed at both the ends with a leathery texture. The cola trees have yellow flowers with purple spots and star-shaped fruit. Inside the fruit, about a dozen square or round seeds develop in a white seed-shell.
The nut’s aroma is sweet and rose-like. The first taste is bitter, but it sweetens upon chewing. The Cola nut can be boiled to extract the cola.
Uses And Benefits
Kola nuts are perhaps best known to Western culture as a flavoring ingredient and one of the sources of caffeine in cola beverages and other similarly flavored beverages, although the use of kola (or kola flavoring) in commercial cola drinks has become uncommon.
The active plant ingredients of the kola nut are able to reduce bloating, constipation, cramping as well as to improve nutrient uptake and digestion. Furthermore, it is effective at suppressing hunger and treating childhood asthma and depression.
A direct cause-effect connection between weight loss and these nuts has been proven in clinical studies. Its weight loss effects are thought to be due to a compound that suppresses appetite.
Theobromine (1.0-2.5%), tannins, fat, thiamine, fructose, kolanin, calcium, potassium, iron, beta-carotene, riboflavin, and protein.
It contains caffeine (2- 3.5 percent).
Kola Nut Side Effects
Caffeine is commonly used as a stimulant, but like any other drug, it carries risks and side effects. It provides no nutritional value.
- Caffeine raises the amount of acid in your stomach and may cause heartburn or upset stomach.
- Caffeine in large amounts may interfere with absorption and metabolism of Ca (calcium). This can contribute to osteoporosis (bone thinning).
- Consuming caffeine during pregnancy may lead to low fetal weight.
- Increased risk of heart attacks among young adults. In 2015, a study conducted by Dr. Lucio Mos found that young people who were diagnosed with mild hypertension had 4 times the risk of having a heart attack if they consumed the amount of caffeine similar to 4 cups of coffee. More moderate consumption showed 3 times the risk.
- Caffeine is a diuretic, so excessive caffeine consumption can contribute to dehydration, particularly when coupled with a low fluid intake.
- Another study from The University of Nevada School of Medicine showed that caffeine can reduce a woman’s chances of becoming pregnant by about 27%.
Unlike caffeine, the substance theobromine has 3 methyl groups instead of 2, and the presence of an additional methyl group slows the clearance of theobromine from the body. Hence, theobromine is a longer acting substance than caffeine.
Similarly to caffeine, using theobromine on a regular basis can cause anxiety, restlessness, increased heart rate and jitteriness including tremors in the limbs. Moreover, it affects the kidneys because, like caffeine, it is a diuretic. Theobromine helps to shed extracellular water and in this way affects the kidneys and renal system. In addition, this substance is also capable of crossing the placental and blood-brain barrier, thus potentially inducing fetal malformation by affecting the expression of genes vital to development.
It is one of the top 10 common food allergens, among cow’s milk and chocolate. Common symptoms of an allergic reaction include:
- stomach pain;
- swelling of the mouth, lips, or tongue.
General Side Effects
Like any other caffeine-based stimulant, kola nuts can cause some physical side effects if consumed to excess. Headaches, jitteriness, irregular heartbeat and lack of sleep are all frequent examples, just as they are with coffee. The nuts also stimulate the production of gastric acid and might be complicated for people with ulcers. The nuts are known to have a mild diuretic effect, probably due to their theobromine content. By overstimulating blood circulation, kola nuts are also thought to speed the operation of oral analgesics such as aspirin.
It should not be used by those with stomach or duodenal ulcers because it increases gastric juice production and may add to gastrointestinal disorders and discomfort.
Clinical experiments illustrate that beverages containing cola increase the rate and extent of absorption of Tegretol (carbamazepine), a drug used to treat epilepsy and some forms of bipolar disorder.
It should be kept away from cats, dogs, and other domestic animals. The theobromine in kola nut can be fatal to these animals because they metabolize it much more slowly than humans.
Pregnant or nursing women, persons with insomnia, diabetics, persons with digestive disorders, heart conditions, hypertension, or high cholesterol should avoid consuming foods and soft drinks containing kola until approved by a qualified healthcare specialist.