What is The Effect of Potash (Akanwu) Consumption on Human Health?
The recent increase in different injurious and terminal illness with unknown cause and devastating effects is such that you need to be careful what you consume. Many diseases such as kidney failure, cancers and the likes which are alien to human lives are becoming more common each passing day. Some of these illnesses may be caused by edible chemicals of which potash is one of them, hence the need to find out the effect of potash on the body.
Potash is an ingredient used in preparing some local Nigerian delicacies like nkwobi, abacha, ewedu, Ugba, ila asepo, oghwo, masa and the likes. Potash, which is also known as akanwu in Igbo, kanwa in Hausa and kaun by the Yorubas, is a dry lake salt of sodium bicarbonate with water of crystallisation (Na2CO3NaHCO3.2H2O).
It is an alkaline salt that is a mixture of different substances. The naturally occurring Kanwa mineral varieties (Trona, Natron and Potash) usually contain several other impurities such as sand, clay, and metals like, silicon, magnesium, calcium, iron, aluminium, and titanium. 1
Potash is usually added to food like beans, ukwa, meat etc to tenderise and shorten the cooking time. It is used in cooking soup like okra, ewedu and ogbono where it increases the viscosity and the greenness of the soups. It can be ground and mixed with tobacco to be used as snuff. It is also used to emulsify oil and water while preparing local dishes like abacha, ugba and nkwobi.
Potash also known as potassium bicarbonate can be used as a fire suppressing agent and can be found in some dry fire extinguishers. The potash of sulfur, which is a non-flammable white crystalline salt is chemically used for producing fertilizers due to its potassium and sulfur content. 2
Is Consumption of Potash Safe?
According to Turner, 1989, akanwu is ranked next in importance to the common table salt in Nigeria because of its popularity and usage for various domestic purposes. It has been used for centuries in the treatment of various ailments and diseases.
When Potash is used in little quantity, it has little or no health risk. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has reviewed the safety of Sodium Carbonate, Sodium Sesquicarbonate and Sodium Bicarbonate and determined that these ingredients were Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) for direct addition to food. Below are some of the benefits of potash.
Benefits of potash
Potash can be used to relieve pain associated with toothache. Just mix ground potash with water and apply on the affected area.
Acts as Preservative
It can be used as preservative because of its great fungicide properties. Ancient Egyptians used natron Kanwa solution as preservative in mummification. 3
Potash can be used to treat cough where it works as expectorant to induce the secretion of respiratory mucosa.
Potash can act as antacid to relieve constipation and flatulence
Increase Breast milk
In the Northern part of Nigeria, it is also administered in large doses by the ‘Hausas’ in the form of guinea corn and millet porridges
called ‘kunun Potash’ which is administered to women immediately after delivery for the purpose of increasing the quality and quantity of breast milk (Davidson et al., 1974)
Demerits of potash consumption
Despite the aforementioned mention benefits of akanwu, experts has warned that it should be taken with caution as consumption of high amount could be detrimental to human health. Davidson et al., 1974, Bello, 1988). Potash is known to contain high amount of sodium and this poses health hazards on human beings.
Also studies has shown potash as a mixture of various salts with other earth impurities which may be toxic, this raises doubt on its ingestion safety by humans. Potash has been found to have the following negative effect on humans lives.
Pregnant women are advised to refrain from taking any kind of akanwu concoction . This is because studies has shown that it has the ability to increase uterine contractility which may lead to abortion in the early stages of pregnancy if used in high enough concentration.( Alawa et al 2000)
Reduce protein content of food
The use of ‘akanwu’ as a tenderizer should be seriously considered before further use as studies has shown that it has the tendency to reduce the protein content of food.
The results of the study on effect of alkaline treatment (‘akanwu’) and supplementary value of corn or crayfish on the protein quality of ukwa (Treculia Africana) showed that addition of ‘akanwu’ to TA was detrimental to its protein utilization. 4
Contain toxic substances
Akanwu is a mixture of different substances in order words, it contains impurities that may be injurious to human health. The Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH) has warned people not consume akanwu because it discovered that it contains significant levels of lead ranging from 1 to 18 parts per million (ppm). 5
Reduces sperm production
Studies has shown that excessive consumption of potash is linked to reduced sperm production and testicular injury. A research conducted by scientists in FIIRO, in collaboration with Biochemistry Department, Bells University in Ota, shows that consumption of potash injures testicles and thereby causes infertility in men. 6
The high sodium content of Potash also causes injury to the kidney and liver. The excessive consumption of this earthy material (potash-Kaun) may lead to its accumulation that could cause severe and irreparable damage to the kidney and disrupt normal body functions which may eventually lead to loss of life. Bankole et al (2015)
Increase Blood pressure
Studies has shown that potash dilates blood vessels to enhance renal blood flow. When taken in excess, the sodium in akanwu accumulates in the blood causing raised blood pressure.
Potash should be used sparingly if need be because of its negative effects on human health. Alternatively baking soda and the ashes of roasted, unripe plantain peel or ash of part of the palm nut or fruit can be used.
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Alawa N. Judith1,, , Kwanashie O. Helen2, Singh S. Prasad1 and Alawa B. I. Clement3
Effects Of Natron (Kanwa) Varieties on Murine Virgin Uterine Contractility”.
F M Turner. Chapman and Hall Ltd, 1989, 1177.
N M Davidson; L Trevitt; E H O Parry. Bulletin WHO 1974, 51, 203.
Bankole J. K., Ngokere A. A., Ajibade O. M.,
Igunbor C. M. and Eloka C. C. V. Degenerating effects of potash (Kaun-K2co3) on the kidney: Unabated continental challenge to human health in Nigeria.