Kola Nut Extract: Benefits, Side Effects & Dosage

What is Kola Nut Extract?

The word “cola” may conjure images of the brown, fizzy drink. But did you know that the original recipe for cola once relied on an ingredient found in the West African rainforests? This key ingredient is the kola nut.

The kola tree is a species of evergreen trees derived from the Cola genus. It thrives in humid climates, predominantly in Nigeria. The kola tree also grows in Niger, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Benin, Sri Lanka, Brazil and parts of East Africa. There are over 100 species, such as the Cola acuminata and Cola nitida. They produce yellow star-shaped fruit with a white pod inside that contains several circular, purplish nuts. Some of the nuts may even appear white or red. They smell fruity and floral. But the nut itself tastes bitter at first and then it becomes sweeter as the person chews it. The trees grow as tall as 20 meters (65 feet). Their leaves can grow as long as 30 cm (x, x).

Today, kola nuts are a flavoring ingredient in sodas and energy drinks. However, it has always been and continues to be so much more than that. The kola nut is a natural source of caffeine. Because of its stimulating properties, it plays a role in digestion, metabolism and blood circulation. Modern research shows it has a number of other powerful properties that can support basic physiological processes in the body. To this day, it also continues to reign as a cultural and medicinal staple throughout the West African region.

Benefits of Kola Nut Extract

Boosts Energy

Traditionally, chewing on kola nuts produce the same effects of drinking coffee or other caffeinated drinks. Caffeine is one of the main components in the kola nut and every nut contains around 2 percent caffeine (x). In Europe and the United States, kola nut powder is more readily available than the nuts themselves. A serving of 0.69 mg of kola nut extract equates to a single serving of caffeine.

The nut also contains theobromine, another stimulant (x). Theobromine and caffeine both have similar structures. However, theobromine is not as stimulating (x, x). However, it does have other qualities, especially paired with caffeine.

Improves Circulation

Caffeine and theobromine don’t only stimulate the central nervous system. They both have a strong, positive effect on the cardiovascular system. Theobromine widens blood vessels through a process called vasodilation (x). Caffeine, on the other hand, constricts blood vessels. This slows down the rate of blood flow as the blood vessels constrict. Caffeine can even reduce cerebral circulation significantly among patients who drink coffee regularly (x).

So, what does this all suggest and what does it have to do with kola nuts?

Kola nuts pack the power of both theobromine and caffeine. Theobromine may be able to counteract caffeine’s vaso-constricting effects. It may even counteract some of the undesirable side effects that caffeine can cause (x). Because of these counteractions, kola nuts may be a healthy alternative to other forms of caffeine, especially to patients with cardiovascular conditions like heart disease and high blood pressure. They may even be able to relieve headaches and migraines because of their dilating effects.

Moderate doses of kola nut extract may also increase heart rate (x). This may be a result of the stimulating effects of theobromine and caffeine working together simultaneously. As the heart rate increases, circulation naturally increases. More oxygen travels to the brain, the skin and other internal organs. It also improves concentration and speeds up wound healing. Kola nuts also contain kolanin, another heart stimulant that increases cerebral circulation (x).

Boosts Metabolism

Sometimes drinking a cup of coffee can cause a loss of appetite soon after. That’s because caffeine suppresses appetite, but only for short periods of time (x). Appetite suppression from caffeine may be because of its effects on metabolism. According to a study, 100 mg of caffeine can increase resting metabolic rate by 3 to 4 percent over 150 minutes (x). This means that caffeine may be able to help burn more fat in a resting state. The larger the caffeine dosage, the greater the effect. Caffeine also stimulates the nervous system and triggers fat cells to release fatty acids (x).

Because kola nuts contain caffeine, they may also have similar effects on metabolism. Studies state that between 2 and 4 mg/ml of kola nut extract can cause a slight increase in metabolic rate. And like caffeine, the higher the concentration, the higher the metabolic rate (x). These effects, combined with hunger suppression, may be able to help promote weight loss.

Fights Oxidative Damage

Kola nuts make for strong stimulants and cardiovascular protectors. But they may also have powerful and effective antioxidative qualities (x, x).

To understand antioxidants, it helps to understand oxidation. Oxidation causes atoms to lose electrons. This process is what causes metals to rust or apples to brown when they are exposed to the air for too long. That’s not to paint oxidation in a bad light. The body depends on oxidation to kill off old cells so it can produce new ones. Oxidation also supports the immune system.

But when oxidation produces too many free radicals in the body, it can cause health problems. Oxidative stress can cause inflammatory diseases, heart disease and neurological conditions (x). Oxidative damage can even lead to some types of cancer (x).

Antioxidants are molecules that can interfere with oxidation. They suppress free radical production that oxidation causes. Then, they go on to break down existing free radicals and help repair the damage that they cause (x).

Because kola nuts have antioxidative qualities, they can support the body in several ways. They can strengthen the immune system and help the body better fight off infections. Kola nut can also relieve pain and swelling associated with inflammation.

Enhances Digestion

For generations, people in western Africa have used kola nuts as a digestive aid before meals because it stimulates bile and stomach acid production (x, x). Stomach acid helps break down food in the stomach by releasing digestive enzymes (x). Then, the body’s metabolism works to use up this stored energy, burning calories and fat as a result (x).

Once the stomach processes food, it moves through the intestines. Bile helps the small intestine break down and absorb nutrients and also helps the body eliminate waste more effectively (x). If the body does not eliminate toxins, it stores them as fat. So, the faster the body eliminates waste, the less likely they will turn into fat.

The human body naturally contain about 85 percent healthy bacteria and 15 percent harmful bacteria (x). When something disrupts this balance, it can cause gastrointestinal problems. Kola nut extract is antibacterial and also antimicrobial and can kill bad bacteria in the stomach (x, x). Because of this, kola nut can alleviate diarrhea, constipation, gas and bloating.

Other Benefits of Kola Nut Extract

Some studies suggest that kola nuts may be able to combat prostate cancer (x). Research is still ongoing, but medical researchers believe that the phytoestrogen and phytoandrogen compounds in the kola nut may slow down and kill cancer cells in the prostate (x).

Numerous studies show that caffeine is also a natural bronchodilator (x). It can help expand constricted bronchial tubes in a similar way to theophylline, a common medication to treat asthma (x).

Benefits of Kola Nut Extract

Why Try Kola Nut Extract?

Kola nuts are a cultural symbol throughout western Africa, especially in Nigeria. They symbolize hospitality and respect and they are a common favor at weddings, funerals and other social gatherings (x). The Igbo people of Nigeria even dedicate entire ceremonies to kola nuts (x).

There are several potential health benefits to kola nuts, including promoting digestion, fighting oxidative damage and inflammation and boosting metabolism. It has a long history as a dietary ingredient to promote health. Because they are a food source, typically people chew on them. But because of their bitter taste, it may be preferable to consume them as a supplement. Today, manufacturers can turn kola nuts into powder, making it easy to mix them with sweeter foods or tasty beverages.

Side Effects of Kola Nut Extract

Kola nut is not safe for people who are sensitive to caffeine and stimulants. Side effects associated with stimulants include anxiety, restlessness and insomnia. They also include upset stomach, vomiting, diarrhea and headaches (x).

Patients with heart conditions or blood disorders should talk to a doctor before taking kola nut extract. Caffeine can cause irregular heartbeats and blood clotting in some individuals. Patients with the following conditions should also speak to a doctor before taking the supplement (x):

Patients who are pregnant or who have had a recent surgery should also consult a doctor before taking kola nut extract. It may be safe in moderate food amounts, but it can be a risk in high dosage, potentially increasing the risk of miscarriage, premature birth and low birth weight. Do not use this extract with other stimulant drugs that increase heart rate. The caffeine in kola nut may produce the same effect, but increased heart rate may cause damage (x).

It’s extremely dangerous to interact kola nut with amphetamines, cocaine or ephedrine. These combinations can lead to spikes in heart rate and blood pressure and may even be fatal. Alcohol, certain prescription medications and antibiotics can also cause adverse side effects with kola nut (x). Consider any regular or prescribed medications before using kola nut.

Dosage for Kola Nut Extract

Kola nut dosing widely varies and depends heavily on the user’s age and overall health. It is important to always consult with a physician or healthcare professional before taking any supplements, whether they are natural or not. The recommended dosage for kola nut extract powder is 550 mg once or twice per day. It may help to mix the powder with food or smoothies.

Bottom Line

Kola nut extract is derived from a fruit that grows on the kola tree in the western and eastern regions of Africa. Traditionally, the kola nut provides a handful of health benefits. They may help with weight loss and enhance physiological processes like digestion, metabolism and blood circulation. They have a high caffeine content, so they increase energy. However, it may have interactions with other stimulant medications and cause a severe increase in heart rate. It may also cause adverse side effects or worsen existing health conditions. Consult a doctor before taking the supplement to determine its safety. But in small, healthy and monitored doses, kola nut extract is likely safe and it can be a healthy way to get all of its benefits on a consistent basis. If there was one ingredient to call a powerhouse, it would have to be the kola nut.

Author: James D