Wednesday, 20 August 2014


Garcinia kola, commonly referred to as bitter kola, is traditionally used by African medicine men for treatment of infectious diseases such as throat infections, head and chest colds and cough, but the idea that it is an effective cure from Ebola disease was one that some scientists are stating must be reaffirmed before Nigerians resort to it as a panacea to the deadly virus.
A 1999 laboratory study presented at the 16th International Botanical Congress in St Louis in the US by Dr. Maurice Iwu, who set up and heads the Bioresources Development and Conservation Programme, indicated that bitter kola has chemical substances that could give the body a chance to fight off the virus.
He declared that further tests were required to be done in animals and humans to prove the effectiveness of bitter kola halting the multiplication of this virus that causes Ebola haemorrhagic fever – an often-fatal condition given that his tests were still in their early stages.
“The discovery of these important properties in a simple compound – flavonoids – was very surprising. The structure of this compound lends itself to modification, so it provides a template for future work. Even if this particular drug does not succeed through the whole drug approval process, we can use it to construct a new drug for this deadly disease,” said Dr Iwu.
The active compound is what is known as a dimeric flavonoid, which is two flavonoid molecules fused together. Flavonoids are non-toxic and can be found in orange and lemon rinds as well as the colourings of other plants.
Can bitter kola really cure Ebola disease? Is it able to ward of this deadly virus? Kemi Odukoya, a Professor of Pharmacognosy, University of Lagos, Akoka, said although bitter kola has chemical substances in it that work against virus, relying on it to ward off Ebola is not advisable.
Professor Odukoya, stating that Ebola virus multiplies rapidly in the human body and quickly overwhelms it, said given the rate at which the virus kills its victims, what is most appropriate is to have minimal contact with infected individuals, avoid any form of crowding and maintain good hand washing practices.
She said Nigerians should not be gullible, believing that continuous chewing of bitter kola without other measures such as hand washing and avoidance of people infected with the virus would ensure they do not contact the virus.
“Though, bitter kola has antiviral properties, it is not to the extent that it will ward off such a viral disease that will overwhelm the body, causing that kind of destruction,” she said.
Professor Olatunde Farombi, a foremost researcher into Bitter kola medicinal uses at the Department of Biochemistry, University of Ibadan, although hesitant to comment on the finding of the study by Professor Iwu that Bitter kola can cure Ebola fever, said bitter kola’s antiviral properties was the basis of its consumption by people to treat upper respiratory tract infections like cough and catarrh.
Professor Farombi, who said that Prof. Iwu’s claims has not been through any test since he made a public claim about his so-called discovery in the 90s, declared that more research was required by different groups of individuals, including in humans, before bitter kola could be recommended as curative for Ebola fever.
“Researches have shown that bitter kola has both antiviral and antibacterial properties, so it is possible to consume it as a preventive measure against some viral diseases, but not for curative purposes.
“One cannot say that studies have shown that bitter kola is a cure or solution to Ebola disease, so one should not raise a false alarm that Bitter kola is the solution against the infection.
“People use bitter kola as part of many recipes, but up till now no study has shown that it is the cure for Ebola virus. However, bitter kola has worked for some viral and bacterial infections and these have been substantiated majorly through animal studies.”
Professor Farombi, while saying that bitter kola is also used in the treatment of liver diseases, diabetes and upper respiratory diseases, advised that bitter kola should be used alongside other drugs in the treatment of these ailments.
He said: “It can serve as an adjuvant, it cannot be used alone. Even if people will take bitter kola because of its antiviral properties to protect themselves against Ebola virus, it should be alongside other measures already established to work in preventing contracting the infection.”
The Ebola virus was first documented in 1976 after an outbreak in Zaire – now the Democratic Republic of the Congo – where 88 per cent of the 318 human cases died.
The virus multiplies rapidly in the human body and quickly overwhelms it, and in advanced cases the patient develops high fever and severe bleeding. There are four types of the virus – Ebola-Zaire, Ebola-Sudan and Ebola-Ivory Coast all affect humans, while Ebola-Reston has so far only affected monkeys and chimpanzees.
However, doctors have been unable to stop the virus once infection has taken hold – hence the disease has gained a terrifying reputation.
Bitter kola has been identified as a potent remedy that is effective in the treatment of many diseases. The fruit, seeds, nuts and bark of the tropical tree have been used for centuries in traditional medicines to treat many forms of ailments.
Chewing bitter kola relieves coughs, hoarseness, bronchial and throat troubles. Several studies discovered bitter kola to be a remedy for dysentery, osteo-arthritis, antidote against poisoning and considered an aphrodisiac. It also helps to suppress hunger.
Bitter kola has been used for centuries to treat chest colds in traditional medicine. A study in the 2009 issue of The Internet Journal of Pulmonary Medicine, performed on mice, reports that bitter kola improved respiratory function after 28 days of use of a bitter kola extract. It beneficial lung properties are attributed to its high antioxidant content.
Researchers reported that bitter kola had anti-malaria effect in the 2010 issue of Journal of Medicinal Plants Research. In this survey of plants used by traditional healers in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the researchers attributed this to its quinones content.
Researchers at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife, Osun State, who tested the effects of bitter kola against arthritis symptoms in the July 2008 issue of the Journal of Orthopaedic Surgery and Research, concluded that bitter kola significantly reduced inflammation and pain and increased joint movement in subjects that had osteoarthritis symptoms. It is appeared to have clinically significant analgesic/anti-inflammatory effects in knee osteoarthritis patients.
The side effects reported from the bitter kola use in this study were “weight loss”, “increase in sex drive” and “extended sleep” which many considered helpful to meet their individual and marital demands.
In addition, researchers at Lagos University Teaching Hospital in Nigeria showed that the ophthalmic solution that contained 0.5 per cent extract of bitter kola significantly reduced eye pressure when used twice a day in their study, published in the January 2010 issue of Middle East African Journal of Ophthalmology.

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