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Health Benefits of Bitter Kola

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Bitter Kola is a tree that grows in the rain forests of West Africa. The fruit, seeds, nuts and bark of the plant have been used for centuries in folk medicine to treat ailments from coughs to fever.

Basically, the nut is about 3-5 cm in length. It is ellipsoid in shape and covered with a deep brown peel which is removed before it is eaten. It leaves a bitter taste in the mouth when eaten and this is the reason for its name.

The scientific name for bitter kola is Garcinia kola. It is called Orogbo in Yoruba. The Hausas call it Miji-goro, while it is called Akiilu by the Igbos. It has some major health benefits:

1. It Improves Lung Functions:   

Bitter kola (Garcinia kola) has been used for centuries to treat chest colds in traditional medicine, but research has taken a look and found out why it is effective. A study in the 2009 issue of The Internet Journal of Pulmonary Medicine, performed on mice, reports that Garcinia kola improved respiratory function after 28 days of use of a Garcinia extract. Written by Simon Adekunle of the Ekiti State University in Nigeria, the study shows that Garcinia kola works by dilating the alveolar ducts and sacs in the lungs by improving the strength of the fibres in the lung tissue. Bitter kola’s beneficial lung properties are attributed to its high antioxidant content.

2. Anti-malarial Properties               

Considerable experimental studies discovered that the chemical constituents in bitter kola have anti-malaria properties. Also, over the years, traditional healers have recommended bitter kola for the treatment of malaria infections. Researchers who reported that bitter kola had anti-malaria effect in the 2010 issue of Journal of Medicinal Plants Research, from a survey of plants used by traditional healers in the Democratic Republic of Congo, attributed this to its Quinone’s content. Furthermore, Kolaviron, the powerful chemical compound found in bitter kola, was reportedly tested on a malaria parasite and found to inhibit malarial activity.

3. Improves Male Fertility

Garcinia kola, also called bitter kola is sometimes believed to cure impotence. Frequent taking of bitter kola boosts a man’s performance in bed with a woman.

4. Reduces Eye Pressure (Glaucoma)    

An increase in eye pressure can lead to glaucoma, according to a report from The New York Times Health Guide. Researchers at Lagos University Teaching Hospital in Nigeria tested the effectiveness of eye drops that contained 0.5 percent extract of Garcinia kola. The results of their study, published in the January 2010 issue of Middle East African Journal of Opthamology, showed that the opthamolic solution that contained the Garcinia significantly reduced eye pressure when used twice a day.

5. Health Benefit for HIV    

Bitter kola is a potent antibiotic which could be efficacious in the treatment of HIV and AIDS. A researcher with the Nigeria Natural Medicine Development Agency (NNMDA), Mrs. Chinyere Nwokeke told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) that bitter kola could be used in treating opportunistic infections associated with HIV. “Bitter kola is highly recommended in the treatment of HIV and AIDS because of its antibacterial, detoxification, and cleansing properties”, she said. Mrs Chinyere Nwokeke also said that the chemical, Saponin, in bitter kola is responsible for its cleansing effect. Saponin is mainly used as tonic for the liver, it enhances the functions of the liver and gall bladder.

6. Remedy For Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis, characterised by pain, inflammation and limited movement in the joints, according to the National Institutes of Health. Causes of osteoarthritis can include joint injury, obesity and aging. Since many arthritis sufferers prefer natural herbal medicines to other pain relievers and medications, researchers at Obafemi Awolowo University in Nigeria tested the effects of Garcinia kola against arthritis symptoms. The results of the study, written by Olayinka O. Adegbehingbe and published in the July 2008 issue of the Journal of Orthopaedic Surgery and Research, conclude that Garcinia kola significantly reduced inflammation and pain and increased joint movement in subjects that had osteoarthritis symptoms.

7. Cure For Cold

Bitter kola is often used to treat the symptoms of colds. It is suggested, in particular, for coughs and sneezing.

8. Commercial Benefits

Commercialisation of bitter kola brings a lot of monetary advantages. Due to its multiple benefits, bitter kola is urgently sourced for both locally and internationally, hence yielding a lot of foreign revenue. With just a little quantity in kilograms, as requested by the buyer, with good and proper packaging, one can make a lot of profit in foreign currency. One just needs to be able to get a good buyer and knowledge about the business and start reaping the benefits.

In Nigeria today, bitter kola should become an important commodity to be sourced for by every citizen for its nutritional, health and commercial benefits.

Henry Albert is a nutritionist.

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