From West Africa, comes the kola tree, or in its more formal name – Cola acuminata and Cola nitida. This tree bares a nut, the kola nut. This nut is about the size of a chestnut, but contains something special, caffeine to be honest, and loads of it.
These cola or kola nut trees are part of a large every green sort of trees that are now grown in tropical areas of Africa and South and Central America. They reach around 40 to 60 feet high, and produce these star-shaped fruit. Within each fruit, there will be around two to six kola nuts.
In their fresh form, kola nuts are bitter. But if these nuts are dried, the taste develops a much more milder taste and they smell more like nutmeg.
In West African countries, the kola nut is used as a central nervous system stimulant. But this nut is chewed to release the caffeine into the system. In fact, one kola nut has more caffeine than two large cups of American coffee.
Unlike in the countries where the kola nut is grown, like in Europe and the United States of America, you will find this nut in a dried form. But more interesting and more famously, this nut is used to flavor soft drinks such as Coca-Cola, Pepsi-Cola and other than are imitations of these soft-drinks.
The kola nut has been classified as safe to be used as a natural food flavoring by the United States’ Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Besides being approved for the food industry, this nut is also being approved to be used by the FDA in the pharmaceutical industry as an act ingredient. For instance, this nut has been used in weight loss drugs, but also over the counter stimulants.
In addition to that, kola nut extract is also sold as an herbal supplement, but the FDA does not regulate these.
The risks of using kola nut
Americas love kola, and soft drinks containing kola.
This nut is not associated with tree nut allergies as it is actually the seeds taken from inside the fruit.
But there is a warning – kola nut and kola nut extract is filled with caffeine, very high levels of caffeine. And it is caffeine that can have some effects on the body.
The side effects of caffeine on the body includes stimulating the central nervous system, thereby making you feel awake and energetic. Caffeine is also a diuretic. This means that caffeine can help the body expel extra water and salt out of the system by increasing urination. More so, caffeine can increase the release of stomach acid. This means that you could have increased cases of stomach problems and heartburn. Caffeine could also interfere with your body’s capacity to absorb calcium. Lastly, caffeine could increase your blood pressure.
The amount of 400 milligrams of caffeine daily is most likely the limit for most people. However, caffeine can affect different people differently.
The problem is that energy drinks are not required to show the caffeine content, as such, if kola nut extract has been added the true caffeine content might be problematic. That since the sides effects of excessive amounts of caffeine include, restlessness, jitteriness, insomnia, headaches, rapid heartbeat, dizziness, anxiety and dehydration. An other side effect of caffeine is that it can be addictive, making withdrawal difficult and might lead to a dependency of the substance.
The risks associated with caffeine can increase dramatically if it is consumed with alcohol. You could become less impaired, which could lead to drunk driving or alcohol poisoning.
The health benefits of kola nut
Besides the side effects of caffeine, kola nuts have many health benefits, which most date back thousands of years. Then again, there are folklore claims that kola nuts can sweeten stale water, fight fatigue, and relieve hunger pains.
Besides the folklore stories about kola nuts, their real health benefits are centered on their high caffeine content, which can reduce hunger and increase energy levels.
In addition to that, there are claims that kola nuts can help with infections, ulcers, skin diseases, toothaches, headaches, morning sickness, intestinal diseases, depression, low sex drive, asthma and coughs, constipation, different eye problems and dysentery.
The bottom line
Kola nuts, or even kola nut extract, is seen as safe and has been approved by the FDA, as well as other regulating organizations globally. More so, it has been used in processed foods since the 1880s in the States.
Kola does have a high caffeine level. It should be wise to check your intake of this substance, as too much caffeine could lead to adverse side effects.