The kola nut is used to flavor sodas and as a supplement to increase energy or improve health. But what are the health benefits of the kola nut?
The nut comes from the evergreen kola tree, which is found in the rainforests of Africa. Inside the tree’s star-shaped fruits are white shells, which contain the seeds or kola nuts.
In Nigeria, it is an important cultural symbol for many ethnic groups. It is given to guests at weddings, funerals, and naming ceremonies, and it is used in medicine. Ceremonial breaking of the kola nut is important for making people feel welcome in a village or gathering.
The kola nut has some reported benefits for health. Here we explore those benefits and other information about this tropical nut.
Fast facts on the kola nut:
- The nut is relatively large, being about the size of a chestnut.
- The kola nut has a bitter taste but becomes sweeter, as it is chewed.
- The kola nut may be beneficial for certain health conditions.
- Whether taken in supplement form or chewed, kola nuts can have certain side effects.
The health benefits of kola nut align with those of coffee.
Several possible benefits of the kola nut and its products include the following:
- Boost to metabolism: Kola nut products contain caffeine, which may give a person’s metabolism a boost.
- Aid to digestion: Kola nut powder and extract may help digestion. They are thought to promote the production of gastric acid, which increases digestive enzyme effectiveness in the stomach.
- Increase in circulation: The caffeine and theobromine in the kola nut may speed up the heart rate, which increases circulation.
- Boost to energy levels: The kola nut naturally stimulates the central nervous system, which may increase alertness and boost energy levels.
- Antibacterial benefits: One study reported in the Journal of Biosciences and Medicines indicates that the use of kola nut extract might stop the growth of harmful bacteria.
There are several health conditions that might be improved by consumption of the kola nut.
Although extensive studies have not been conducted, early research indicates that certain compounds found in the kola nut may decrease the risk of prostate cancer.
The research is still being debated, but it is thought that the phytoestrogens in kola nuts may kill cancer cells and stop tumors from growing.
People with a slow metabolism could benefit from using products that contain kola nut.
Conditions that may affect a person’s metabolism include low testosterone, Graves’ disease, and Cushing syndrome.
The kola nut may be helpful for people who have migraine headaches. Migraines often affect the blood vessels in the head and caffeine has been used for headache pain.
The theobromine and caffeine contained in the kola nut may dilate or widen blood vessels in the brain, which might decrease migraine pain.
Although it may not be recommended as a treatment for respiratory conditions, kola nuts might be useful for people with certain breathing problems, such as asthma.
The caffeine in kola nuts may act as a bronchodilator, which means it opens the airways to make breathing easier.
In certain African countries, the kola nut is chewed during ceremonies and rituals. It is also used to sweeten breath. Another application of the kola nut in the western world is as a flavoring agent for sodas.
The kola nut is also used as an additive in energy drinks and performance enhancers. In some cases, it is used in the form of an extract or powder.
The nut is boiled to extract the kola or it can be ground into a powder. In certain parts of the world, the nut is used as a type of alternative medicine.
The kola nut contains about 2 to 3 percent caffeine and 1 to 2 percent theobromine, both of which act as stimulants when consumed.
Caffeine is the stimulant often found in coffee and cola soft drinks.
Theobromine is also found in green tea and chocolate.
The kola nut also contains micronutrients, including potassium, magnesium, and calcium.
Kola nuts and products containing kola nut may not suit everyone.
Anyone who is allergic to nuts should also avoid kola nuts. An allergic reaction to kola nuts may include symptoms, such as:
- upset stomach
- breathing difficulties
People with certain medical conditions might also be advised not to use products that contain kola nuts. For instance, kola nuts may not be good for people with high blood pressure or certain cardiac conditions due to their stimulant effect.
Anyone who has difficulty going to sleep or staying asleep may want to avoid the kola nut, as well. The high level of caffeine found in the nut and supplements with it in, may stimulate the central nervous system and make sleeping difficult, especially for people who are sensitive to caffeine.
The risk of side effects may vary and increase, depending on how much of the nut is eaten. Possible side effects of the kola nut include:
- Increased blood pressure: Because the active ingredients in the kola nut are stimulant to the body, the nut can raise blood pressure. People who already have high blood pressure or are taking blood pressure medication should check with their doctor before using any product containing kola nuts.
- Problems sleeping: Using products containing kola nuts can lead to insomnia or problems falling or staying asleep. Those with sleep disorders may be advised to avoid stimulants that contain caffeine, including kola nuts.
- Shakiness: Since kola nuts can affect the central nervous system, they can lead to shakiness, tremors, and anxiousness. People with anxiety may be especially prone to shakiness from kola nuts.
- Nausea: Overeating kola nuts may lead to an upset stomach. Some people may also experience stomach pains because of the increased production of stomach acids, which kola nuts might cause.
Kola nuts may be a helpful natural remedy for some common conditions. However, as they contain substances that act as stimulants on the body, kola nuts may not be appropriate for everyone.
If products containing kola nuts are intended to treat medical conditions, a person should talk to their doctor before consuming them. Kola nuts may interact with certain medications and, therefore, may not be recommended.
People should keep in mind that it is always best to speak to a doctor before taking any supplements, including those containing kola nut.