The kola nut is the fruit of the kola tree, a genus of trees that are native to the tropical rainforests of Africa. The caffeine-containing fruit of the tree is used as a flavoring ingredient in beverages, and is the origin of the term “cola”.
The trees, which reach heights of 40 to 60 feet, produce a star-shaped fruit. Each fruit contains between two and five kola nuts. About the size of a chestnut, this little fruit is packed with caffeine.
In the past, kola extract was used in certain weight loss drugs and over-the-counter stimulants.
Kola nut extract is also marketed as an herbal supplement. These supplements are typically not monitored by the FDA, but they may include a warning about caffeine content. The American Herbal Products Association includes kola nut on a list of caffeine-containing substances that should not be used by pregnant or breastfeeding women or those under the age of 18.
Kola nut and kola nut extract are generally considered safe by the FDA and other governing bodies around the world. Kola has been used as a food additive in the United States since the late 1800s and has caused little problems. But, be mindful of the caffeine content of kola supplements and kola-containing energy drinks. Too much caffeine can be dangerous and lead to unpleasant side effects.
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Claims have been made that it treats:
- Skin diseases
- Morning sickness
- Intestinal diseases
- Low sex drive
- Coughs and asthma
- Various eye problems
Americans have a long history of consuming kola-containing sodas without any adverse health effects. The kola nut is actually a seed taken from inside a fruit, so it’s not associated with tree nut allergies.
The side effects of kola nut and kola nut extract parallel the effects of a comparable dose of caffeine.
Caffeine has many effects on the body, including:
- stimulating your central nervous system, making you feel awake and energetic
- acting as a diuretic, helping your body expel extra salt and water through increased urination
- increasing the release of stomach acid, which can lead to heartburn and stomach upset
- interfering with your body’s ability to absorb calcium
- increasing your blood pressure