Researchers validate coconut water as nature's 'energy' drink
COCONUT has been known for its essential oil and milk, but the water inside the seed could be the healthful sports/energy drink researchers have been looking for. CHUKWUMA MUANYA writes. 

In recent times, the sports and energy drinks industry has been shrouded in a lot of hype and controversy. While the demand is soaring, medical experts warn that some of these drinks could be harmful because they contain abnormal quantities of sugar and caffeine, and could hasten the onset of type 2 diabetes, heart attacks and stroke. 
However, researchers have discovered a natural alternative that does not just boost energy levels in joggers and athletes, but lowers blood sugar levels/diabetes risk. 
Researchers, with support from the United Nation Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) have validated a natural and safe alternative to conventional sports and energy drinks: Coconut water. 
Nigerian researchers have also confirmed the blood glucose lowering effects of coconut water, and have recommended it for the management of diabetes. They, however, say that coconut water does not actually have any protective effect on the liver against toxicity of paracetamol over-dosage. 
Cocus nucifera (coconut) is traditionally recognized for its medicinal properties among several other uses. The use of coconut water to counteract poisons is a common practice in Africa as well as India. It has severally been used as an immediate remedy for drug over dosage. 
Coconut water, the liquid endosperm of green coconuts abounds in essential nutrients such as proteins, amino acids, sugars, vitamins, minerals and growth factors, that support healthy cell growth and hydration, and finds versatile applications in cosmetics and nutricosmetics. 
Until now, coconut water has been used for re-hydration and as a health and beauty aide in tropical regions around the world for centuries. 
A cup of coconut water from the young green coconut has been shown to be low in calories, has no fats or cholesterol, and has a natural balance of sodium, potassium (about 600 milligrams, that is more than a banana), calcium and magnesium- making it a healthy electrolyte drink. It has even been used intravenously, directly into the human blood stream, to stabilize electrolytes or treat people who were severely dehydrated. 
In fact, during the Pacific War of 1941 to 45, both sides in the conflict regularly used coconut water - siphoned directly from the nut - to give emergency plasma transfusions to wounded soldiers. 
Studies have shown that coconuts are anti-viral, anti-fungal and anti-microbial. It is recommended that mixing coconut water with other juices for a tasty blend, increases the health benefit and decreases the amount of calories and sugars in the drink. 
Previous studies indicated that coconut water lowers arterial pressure, eliminates swelling in hands and feet, normalizes the intestinal function and raise metabolism, relieves spasms and stomach pain, eases burns, re-hydrates naturally because it is free of added sugars or chemicals, and heals damage induced by antibiotics and toxins in the digestive tract.
Indeed, players in the world's $1 billion market for 'sports and energy beverages' may find themselves facing an unexpected new competitor in coconut water. FAO has taken out a patent - its first ever - on a new process that would allow manufacturers to bottle coconut water that is biologically pure, very tasty and full of the salts, sugars and vitamins demanded by both sweating urban joggers and serious athletes. 
The process was invented by Morton Satin, Chief of AG's Agricultural Industries and Post-harvest Management Service (AGSI), whose previous food inventions include high-fibre white bread and wheatless bread. 
"Fresh coconut water is already highly valued in tropical countries," he said. "A young coconut between six and nine months contains about 750 ml of water - really, its juice that eventually becomes the flesh. 
"It is a natural isotonic beverage, with the same level of electrolytic balance as we have in our blood. It is the fluid of life, so to speak." 
Most coconut water is still consumed fresh in tropical coastal areas - once exposed to air, the liquid rapidly loses most of its organoleptic and nutritional characteristics, and begins to ferment. But the production of coconut beverages, particularly as a byproduct of processing operations such as coconut cream processing and coconut dessication, has long interested food manufacturers. 
Most commercial production today is carried out in Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand, using high-temperature/short-time pasteurization (the same technology used in UHT long-life milk). But thermal processing has a drawback - it eliminates not only the risk of bacteria, but some of coconut water's nutrients and almost all of its delicate flavour. This severely limits the product's marketability. 
"The way we saw it, coconut water only had a future if we could invent a new cold sterilization process that retained its flavor and all its nutritional characteristics," Satin explained. "The answer was micro-filtration technology: you filter the water through a medium - such as porcelain or a poly acrylic gel - that retains all microorganisms and spores and renders the permeate commercially sterile." 
Drawing on his experience in the pharmaceutical industry, Satin conceived the new process "in about five minutes" and tested it on four coconut varieties with the help of an Italian consultant food technologist, Giuseppe Amoriggi. They also processed coconut water with added sucrose and L-ascorbic acid, to approximate the vitamin and energy content of major sports drinks. When the inventors noticed some discoloration in the water of one coconut variety - albeit an "attractive pink" - they added lime juice to retain its original transparency. Finally, they called in a panel of tasters, who could detect no difference between fresh coconut water and what came out the other end of the FAO filtering laboratory. 
Late in 1997, FAO officially submitted the new process to patent offices in Canada, Japan and the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom patent was granted in May 2000. The Organization is developing a licensing policy so that the process can be made freely available to a wide range of manufacturers. The main beneficiaries - apart from sportspeople - will be tropical countries that process or export coconuts, and small farmers who grow them. 
Morton Satin sees coconut water as a natural contender in the sports drink market. "Just think of it," he said. "What could be better than a natural beverage product with the delicate aroma, taste, drinking characteristics and nutritional value of pure, fresh, tender coconut water, plus all the functional characteristics required of a sports drink?"
The new process was conceived and tested on four coconut varieties with the help of a consulting Italian food technologist, Giuseppe Amoriggi. They also processed coconut water with added sucrose and L-ascorbic acid, to approximate the vitamin and energy content of major sports drinks. When the inventors noticed some discoloration in the water of one coconut variety - albeit an "attractive pink" - they added lime juice to retain its original transparency. Finally, they called in a panel of tasters, who could detect no difference between fresh coconut water and what came out the other end of the laboratory.
Miracle Group has developed coconut water-based sports drink for the global market.
Nigerian researchers have examined the blood sugar lowering effect of coconut water. The researchers include: Salihu M. Ajao, O. J. Oshiba, Rabiu O. Jimoh, Sikiru A. Jimoh, Ayokunle Olawepo and Adesola I. R. Abioye of the Department of Anatomy; and Luqman A. Olayaki of the Department of Physiology, Faculty of Basic Medical Sciences, College of Health Sciences, University of Ilorin, Ilorin, Kwara State. 

The study is titled "Comparative study of the hypoglycemic effects of coconut water extract of Picralima nitida seeds (Apocynaceae) and Daonil in alloxan-induced diabetic albino rats." 
The study compared the hypoglycemic (blood glucose lowering) effects of coconut water extract of Picralima nitida seeds to that of Daonil in alloxan-induced diabetic albino rats. 
According to the study published in African Journal of Biotechnology, 25 albino rats weighing between 170 - 200 g were randomly divided into five groups after allowing the rats to acclimatize for seven days and were made diabetic by intraperitoneal administration of 150 mg/kg of alloxan.
The rats were giving different volumes of the extract and Daonil as per their groupings. All the substances were given for five days by pro-gastric tube. The blood glucose level were measured daily in the rats. There was an initial inactivity in the rats following administration of the extract mixture and their appetite was low except for the control group. 
The researchers concluded: "Therefore, coconut water extract of P. nitida seeds have a significant hypoglycemic (lowers blood sugar) effects in alloxan-induced diabetes comparable to that of the Daonil, hence, it could be an effective adjunct in the management of diabetes mellitus." 
In another study, Nigerian researchers have established that the common use of coconut water as a palliative for drug over-dosage is contraindicated.
The new study provided a scientific basis with which to validate the claims of this practice. It also investigated the safety of this practice by testing the effect of coconut water on the liver of patients who have taken overdose of paracetamol. 
Harrison U. Nwanjo and Emma A. Nwokoro of the Department of Medical Laboratory Sciences, Imo State University Owerri; and Okey A. Ojiako of the Department of Biochemistry, Federal University of Technology, Owerri, have investigated for its possible effect on the acetaminophen (paracetamol) overdosage-induced hepatotoxicity (damaging to the liver) in three groups of albino Wistar rats. 
The study is titled "Enhancement of acetaminophen overdosage-induced hepatotoxicity by coconut water."
The study was published in the journal of the Nigerian Society for Experimental Biology, Biokemistri. 

The researchers wrote: "In concluding therefore, we posit that coconut water does not actually have any protective effect on the liver against toxicity of paracetamol over-dosage. Rather, it could enhance the hepatotoxic effect of paracetamol over-dosage. The practice of administering coconut water immediately following known or accidental poisoning by paracetamol may therefore be said to be an erroneous practice which should be discouraged. 

"We recommend that more verification be done and the results of such findings be given wider publicity in order to educate people on the potential dangers of such improper therapeutic practice. This is particularly important in the rural areas of Nigeria where this practice is rampant. It is hoped that the findings of this study would pave way for further research possibilities on the therapeutic uses of coconut water owing to its availability."
Before now, researchers have found that virgin coconut oil, added to antibiotic therapy, may help relieve the symptoms of community-acquired pneumonia in kids faster than antibiotic therapy alone. The study's findings were reported in the Journal of the American College of Chest Physicians.
In another study, D. O. Ogbolu, A. A. Oni, O. A. Daini, A. P. Oloko of the Department of Medical Microbiology & Parasitology, University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan, discovered that coconut oil at 100 per cent concentration was more active than conventional anti-fungal drug, fluconazole, against Candida albicans. The researchers in the study published in Phytotherapy Research recommended that coconut oil should be used in the treatment of fungal infections in view of emerging drug-resistant Candida species.
Nigerian researchers have also found that coconut milk offered stronger protection on indomethacin-induced ulceration than coconut water in rats. The study titled "Antiulcerogenic effects of coconut extract in rats" is published in Phytotherapy Research by R. O. Nneli , O. A. Woyike of the Department of Physiology, College of Medicine and Health Sciences, Abia State University.
Traditionally, a decoction of the bark of Coconut is taken orally in Nigeria for scabies, while a decoction of the root is taken orally for uterine diseases, urethritis, bronchitis, liver ailment and dysentery. 
Folkloric writings are replete with accounts of the efficacy of the coconut for many ailments -from the cure of wounds, bums, ulcers, lice infestations to dissolution of kidney stones and treatment of choleraic dysenteries. 
Researchers have now confirmed some of these claims opening new frontiers in the management of communicable and non-communicable diseases.
Specifically, they have demonstrated in research spanning over a decade, the efficacy of the coconut oil as a natural anti-viral and anti-bacterial agent.

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