A Registered Dietitian-Nutritionist at the Alex Ekwueme Federal University Teaching Hospital, Abakaliki, Ebonyi State, Nwabumma Asouzu, has called on Nigerians to stop putting high quantities of potash in their foods.
Asouzu warned that using potash in high quantities could cause severe and irreparable damage to the kidneys, noting that studies have revealed that potash is the second most popularly used salt in Nigeria.
Speaking with PUNCH HealthWise, the dietician says potash has high sodium content and very little potassium.
She noted that potash is widely used in Nigeria as a tenderizing agent for local dish preparation, to relieve toothache and also as a preservative due to its antifungal properties.
Potash, she said, is also used for medicinal purposes, adding that some people use it as an herbal concoction for cough treatment, to relieve constipation and stomach ache among others.
She explained, “Potash also known as Kaun (Yoruba), Akanwa (Igbo) or Kanwa (Hausa) is a lake salt (sodium bicarbonate) that is very dry and hydrated in nature.
“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 to increase the quality and quantity of breast milk.
“There have been reports of its use as a softener for food and vegetables such as cowpea, okro and ewedu.
“But various studies carried out on Wistar rats have shown that at varying concentrations of potash, there were progressive tubular and vascular changes, cellular necrosis and glomerular degeneration and this implies that potash is cytotoxic to the kidney tissues.
“Therefore, excessive consumption of this earthy material potash 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.
“Potash has also been associated with loss of appetite, weakness, reduced activity level and weight loss in Wistar rats.”
Citing some published articles on the health risk of potash, Asouzu cautioned that its consumption should be reduced to the barest minimum, adding that high intake of the substance could also lead to liver problems.
“In an article entitled “Peripartum Cardiac Failure” published in the Bulletin of World Health Organisation, potash was implicated in the incidence of peripartum cardiac failure (a type of heart failure that occurs during the last months of pregnancy or within few months after delivery) among nursing mothers especially in the Northern region of Nigeria.
“Consumption of potash in high quantity increases the uterine contraction in women which could induce premature delivery or abortion during the early stages of pregnancy, reduces the protein value in diet.
“It is also said that excessive intake of potash by men predisposed them to low sperm production. The high sodium content makes it accumulate in the blood and could trigger high blood pressure, and also makes it unfit for consumption to hypertensive individuals”, she said.
The National Kidney Foundation says eating too much food that is high in potassium can also cause hyperkalemia, especially in people with advanced kidney disease.
According to experts, hyperkalemia occurs when potassium levels in the blood get too high, stressing that too much potassium in the blood can damage the heart and cause a heart attack.
This is even as a 2015 study published in Scholars Research Library journal and titled, ‘Degenerating effects of potash (Kaun-K2co3) on the kidney: Unabated continental challenge to human health in Nigeria’ stated that potash could cause considerable kidney damage.
Scholars Research Library is one of the world’s open-access journal publishers.
The authors said the study was to determine the effects of potash on kidney histology.
According to them, previous studies have indicated that the high level of potash in foods and drinking water could be detrimental to human health.
The researchers noted that as the concentration of potash increased, it became more severe on the kidney.
“From the present results, it may be inferred that higher dose of potash administration resulted in more degenerative and atrophic changes observed in the renal corpuscle and tubules which are symbolic signs of cell death. The necrosis observed could probably be due to the high concentration of the potash on the kidney that must have been toxic to the kidney tissues. It could be inferred therefore from the result of this study that the cell death was due to the nephrotoxic effects of the potash on the kidney”, the researchers said.
Asouzu called on public health nutritionists to always educate the populace especially the rural dwellers on the trends in foods and health and to avoid some traditional harmful practices as regards their food intake.
“Nutrition experts should be encouraged from time to time to educate the populace on some trivial and silent issues surrounding intake of some substances related to food such as potash”, she said.