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A n a t o my o f t h e c o c a l e a f


Alfonso Zavaleta Martnez-Vargas, MD. Dr. Sci

Surgeon, Doctor, Pharmacology
Head of Research, CEDRO
Professor Department of Celular and Molecular Sciences
Faculty of Sciences and Phylosophy
Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia
President, Peruvian Pharmacological and Experimental Therapeutics Society

Coca is a plant whose leaves are traditionally used by a large segment of the
population of the Peruvian Andes. It is used in conditions of hard work at high
altitudes, to take advantage of coca leaves properties to reduce fatigue. This use is
recognized and respected by the state and the medical and scientific community in
Official institutions and other national and international organizations claim that
most coca leaves grown in Peru feeds the illegal drug trade, so there is a growing
demand for proposals to find some use "legal" uses for the surplus coca leaf crop.
A proposal that emerged in recent years, which is not related to the traditional use
of coca leaf and has primarily commercial purposes, and geared at a market
principally in peruvian large coastal cities that are not traditionally areas of leaf use,
is to use the coca leaf as food (whole or ground, or the so-called coca flour) or to
prepare foods that incorporate coca leaf powder in their formulation. To this end,
various print and Internet media have published pseudoscientific claims (or
fallacies, ie apparent truths) about the nutritional properties of coca flour, and
various assertions about the results of the Duke, Aulik and Plowman 1975 study,
the chemical composition of coca leaves, including alkaloids, proteins,
micronutrients -such as calcium and potassium-, vitamins and inhibitors of the
uptake of nutrients (anti-nutrients).
This article presents and discusses 17 fallacies about the coca leaf and its relation to
human nutrition.


PROLOGUE ..............................................................

INDEX .......................................................................

FALLACY N 1 ..........................................................

FALLACY N 2 ..........................................................

FALLACY N 3 .........................................................

FALLACY N 4 ..........................................................

FALLACY N 5 ..........................................................


FALLACY N 6 ..........................................................


FALLACY N 7 ..........................................................


FALLACY N 8 ..........................................................


FALLACY N 9 ..........................................................


FALLACY N 10 .......................................................


FALLACY N 11........................................................


FALLACY N 12........................................................


FALLACY N 13........................................................


FALLACY N 14.......................................................


FALLACY N 15........................................................


FALLACY N 16........................................................


FALLACYN 17........................................................


REFERENCES ..........................................................


Fallacy No. 1. Much has been made of the nutritional value of coca, but the most
meritorious of coca chewing is that it creates an area for reflection
and for group sharing, a practice that is even medicinal. With coca
mitigating the thoughts and concerns, perception of life is made
with fewer words and rhetoric. "

Chewing does not fed or nourish people. Devida 2003
survey of traditional uses does not mention its use as food
or nourishment. Coca leaf is chewed mainly for its antifatigue and is used primarily for work at high altitude,
under harsh working conditions or at social gatherings
(such as trade-in vehicle among highland communities) or
in mythical religious activities.

Fallacy # 2. Among the ancient inhabitants of the Andes the prevailing idea
was that any important activity would not succeed if it was not
accompanied by coca. Coca is the plant that blesses and sanctifies
human activities from which they could only expect good wishes."

This is a modern generalization. The ancient inhabitants of
the Andes term refers usually to the Incas. In Cuzco Inca
society, coca was cultivated and given as a tribute to the
Inca. Its use was restricted to the Inca and the nobility, and
only for ritual purposes and sun worshiping. (See
Rospigliosi, Blondet and Llorens, 2004). This tradition does
not endorse the nutritional use of coca leaf.

Fallacy No. 3. The coca leaf is a plant species, rich in alkaloids energy. Coca is a
power plant par excellence, that provides physical and mental
stimulation, such as coffee and tea, but because of its nutritional
and medicinal application, coca is more beneficial.

The alkaloids of the coca leaf are not a source of energy nor
provide energy to the body. Energy is produced from the
digestion of fats and sugars, not alkaloids. Many people
confuse the anti-fatigue stimulant effect of cocaine, which
is a specific effect on noradrenergic pathways in the brain,
that gives the impression of having more force or energy
(mitigating the effect of fatigue). (See Castro de la Mata
This is a fallacy based on the alleged "energy" giving
properties of the coca leaf and that extrapolates
unsubstantiated alleged benefits of coca leaf in nutrition
and medicine.

Fallacy No. 4. To have a primary source of calcium the ratio of calcium to

phosphorus must be greater than 2 to 1, because phosphorus
inhibits the absorption of calcium. For example, the ratio of calcium
and phosphorus in cow's milk is 118mg to 97 mg., ie a proportion of
1.27 to 1, each cancels a phosphorus atom cancels one of calcium,
therefore only 21.25% of the calcium content in milk is available,
provided it is unpasteurized raw milk.
When milk is pasteurized, calcium availability falls by 50%. Coca
contains 2097mg of calcium and 412.67mg of phosphorus, ie the
calcium / phosphorus ratio is 5.08 to 1, and is therefore a primary
source of calcium.

This statement has three fallacies:
To have a primary source of calcium, we need a calcium ratio greater
than 2 to 1.
Each calcium atom cancels each phosphorus atom and the
remainder is free calcium the intestine can absorb.
The calcium in milk is available (absorbable) only if the milk is fresh
and unpasteurized.
The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development
recommends milk and other dairy products as the main sources of
calcium. In addition, a variety of other foods (eg spinach, cooked beans,
cabbage, almonds, figs) are also excellent sources of calcium.
Green leafy vegetables and foods to which calcium is added are healthy
and effective ways to get calcium needed in the diet. Calcium is absorbed
in the small intestine by two mechanisms (Schroder and Brever 2007,
Bronner and Pansu 1999, Bronner 2009, Wasserman 1981, Schroder et al
a) Transcellular transport mediated by calcium channels and
calbindinD protein carrier. This mechanism is dependent on sodium
and vitamin D3.
b) Passive paracellular transport.
Phosphorus is absorbed in the small intestine by a transcellular transport
mechanism mediated by a channel attached to the sodium ion, and is
dependent on vitamin D3 (Wasserman 1981, 1996 Kaune, Schroder et al
Citric acid, casein phosphopeptides and lactose increase the absorption
of calcium. The presence of lactose increases to 25% the absorption of
calcium from milk. (Bronner and Pansu 1999).
Milk is the best source of calcium, as it has high levels of calcium, carries
vitamin D, and contains lactose and casein that enhance calcium
absorption. The calcium:phosphorus (Ca: P) ratio in fresh human milk is 2
to 1 and in cow's milk, 1.3 to 1. Both conditions ensure the proper
absorption of calcium and phosphorus in milk. It's incorrect to hold that
the pasteurization of milk alters the availability of calcium. Pasteurization
affects some enzyme proteins from milk, which are unrelated to the
absorption of calcium or of phosphorus.
Penny et al. (2009) have reported calcium levels of about 990 mg/100 g in
powdered coca leaf from various Peruvian coca growing areas, as well as
coca flour produced by ENACO.

The calcium to phosphorus ratio (Ca:P) according to the latest

laboratory tests (Penny et al, 2009) is 2.4:1. However, in vivo
bioavailability (intestinal absorption) of both calcium and phosphorous
present in these leaves is affected by the presence of oxalic acid and
phytic acid (Penny et al 2009) as well as casein-type proteins and lactose
that are not present in leaves. The amount of vitamin C detected in coca
leaves is not significant.
Several chemicals inhibit the absorption of nutrients like calcium. They
are commonly called anti-nutrients. The presence of oxalic acid inhibits
the absorption mainly of calcium and phosphorus (Penny et al 2009).
The presence of phytic acid inhibits the absorption of phosphorus
(Schroder et al 1996).
It is not correct to hold that higher calcium to phosphorus ratio in the
diet, above 2:1, calcium absorption is beneficial to the individual. Liu et
al (1999) have shown that the appropriate ratio is in the range 1.3 to 1.
Experimental studies have shown that when mammals were fed a diet
with at a ratio of 1.5 or more, and in the absence of a supplement of
other factors favoring absorption of these micronutrients (Vitamin D,
Vitamin C, or milk proteins), the absorption of calcium in the small
intestine actually decreased. (Liu et al, 1999).

Fallacy No. 5. The coca leaf is a superior source of calcium as a supplement.

Penny et al (2009) have shown that this is a fallacy. At the
recommended daily intake of coca flour of 5 grams or less,
only minimal amounts of calcium are delivered which are
insufficient to cover the amount of calcium required by a
normal adult human being. If to this fact is combined with
the presence of anti-nutrients found in the coca leaf, the
amount of calcium absorbed in the intestine is even
smaller. At the suggested doses for daily use, coca flour
has no value as a supplemental source of calcium.
Additionally, it is a harmful product because toxic
alkaloids are present.


Fallacy # 6. The coca leaf is a source of protein, with 19.6% protein content.

The coca leaf contains about 20% vegetable protein.
Unfortunately, coca leaves contain plant-proteins, that are
less digestible than animal proteins. Generally vegetable
proteins lack one or more amino acids that are essential for
humans, making them less valuable in human nutrition.
This is the case of the coca leaf, where the amino acid lysine
is a limiting factor (Penny et al 2009). Thus, coca protein is
not suitable for animal nutrition because of its low protein
nutritional quality. If desired to be used as a human
nutrition supplement it would be necessary to increase
the amount of pure protein from 30 to 40% by weight,
compared to what is required from an animal protein,
increasing its cost.
Proteins as they are found in dry coca leaves or coca flour
are accompanied by toxic alkaloids and other
components, which limits the latters use as a protein

Fallacy No. 7. The coca leaf has in turn the highest concentration of calcium,
magnesium, and the alkaloid reserpine, all of which calm anxiety.

Claims of the anxiolytic effects of calcium and magnesium
are false. Neither of these components has the property
asserted. Both are required for nerve function (action
potential and neurotransmission). Calcium is required for
muscle contraction. Calcium and magnesium are required
for the deposition of calcium in the bone and for many
intracellular enzymatic reactions.


The amounts of calcium found in the coca leaf are similar to those of
other edible leaves like spinach, and lower than those found in parsley,
cilantro or oregano. The presence of oxalic acid antinutrients suggests
that amount of calcium absorbed in the intestine is even lower than that
proposed in studies by Duke et al 1975 and Penny et al 2009.
Two tablespoons (5 grams) of coca flour containing 25 to 45 mg of
calcium are equivalent to one tenth of the calcium contained in a glass
of fresh milk and 1/20 of the daily requirement of calcium. In other
words, the intake of flour of coca (coca leaf ) is not an important
nutritional source of calcium.

Fallacy No. 8. The coca leaf is rich in nutrients but its use as medicine is discarded
because it contains the toxic effects of cocaine.

In this statement there are two fallacies. The first links the
presumed nutritional effects of coca to its use in
medicine, But these are two different things.
Penny et al. (2009) have shown that cocas supposed
"wealth" in nutrients is not such. Calcium levels in the
suggested daily intake dose of coca flour is equivalent to
one tenth of the calcium contained in a glass of fresh milk,
iron content is also similar to the level found in other
edible leaves (spinach) and a third of that found in parsley.
The coca leaf is not a good source of iron.
Proteins are plant proteins, where the lysine amino acid is
the limiting amino acid. These are proteins of low
nutritional quality compared with animal proteins. (Penny
et al 2009, Zavaleta 2006) .


In animal models it has been reported that these proteins

are not appropriate for nutrition. Animals fed coca leaf or
leaf protein isolates lose weight and many die. From the
nutritional point of view a food should be safe (no harm
caused principle).The existence of 5 alkaloids of known
toxic effect limits the intended use of the coca leaf in
nutrition and medicine.

Fallacy No. 9. The coca leaf has no anti-nutrients.

This claim has been rejected by Penny et al (2009) who
found 4 inhibitors (anti-nutrients) in the coca leaf: fiber,
phytates, oxalates and polyphenols. These anti-nutrients
affect the bioavailability of calcium and iron in the coca

Fallacy No. 10. The coca leaf is a rich source of vitamins and minerals.
The statement is generally false. The coca leaf contains beta
carotenes (precursors of vitamin A), which can be absorbed.
However, the obtained maximum dose of beta-carotene
(vitamin A) from chewed coca is much lower than that from
other produce such as carrots that do not imply exposure to
toxic alkaloids. The contribution of other vitamins from the
coca leaf is negligible.
As regards minerals, much has been speculated about
calcium intake. The amounts of calcium (20 mg) found in 2
tablespoons of coca flour (coca powder) is about one tenth
of the calcium content of a glass of fresh milk, and is
insufficient to cover the minimum required daily doses of
this micronutrient .


The presence of oxalic acid and phytic acid inhibitors in coca leaves
further reduces the possibility of absorption of calcium from coca leaf
preparations (Penny et al 2009).
The amount of calcium present in the coca leaf is no marvel nor is coca
leaf the wonderful product containing the highest amounts of calcium
in nature. Parsley, cilantro, spinach and oregano have more calcium per
weight unit. (Penny et al 2009).

Fallacy No. 11. Coca has a lot of chemicals that are acting dynamically, so an
analysis of each alkaloid isolated is not similar to the effect of
consuming all simultaneously."

This is a theoretical approach that presupposes beneficial
synergies exist between different components of the coca
leaf (alkaloids, and vitamins and minerals), which would
give coca leaf its "power".
Such probable beneficial synergistic effects have not been
demonstrated experimentally in the coca leaf, and are
more theoretical and must be viewed from a mythical and
religious standpoint.
Instead, antagonistic effects are known as those of the
anti-nutrients and calcium and iron ions, which are not
considered in this hypothesis, but have already been
reported in the literature (Penny et al 2009).


Fallacy No. 12. The coca alkaloids are:

1. cocaine
2. benzoine
3. reserpine
4. inulin
5. globulin

6. hygrine
7. pectin
8. ecgonine
9. quinonine
10. papain

11. cocamine
12. pyridine
13. atropine
14. conine

An event of particular note is the claim of the existence of "alkaloids" that are not,
and medicinal and pharmacological properties attributed to compounds that do
not exist in the coca leaf creating several fallacies in this regard. Here we describe
the characteristics of these presumed alkaloids of the coca leaf, their condition,
biological activity and presence or absence in the coca leaf:
Atropine or Scopolamine (C17 H23 N O3). - Reduces tremor and rigidity of
Parkinson's, depresses the basal ganglia, reduces salivary, bronchial and gastric
secretions, increases heart rate, and it is mydriatic (dilates pupils).
Comment: This alkaloid does not exist in the coca leaf where there is
pseudotropine, a different compound from atropine or scopolamine.
Benzoiloxytropine. - Hydrolyzes inulin, is invigorating, optimizes the use of
carbohydrates, optimizes the pancreas, which regulates weight.
Comment: This "alkaloid" has not been reported in the coca leaf.
Benzoin. - Aromatic, closely linked to ecgonine, antiseptic, natural preservative,
prevents bacterial and fungal growth, prevents food from putrefaction, cures
gastritis and ulcers, accelerates the formation of muscle cells.
Comment: This substance has not been reported in the coca leaf.
Cocaine (C17 H21 N O4). - The methyl ester of benzoyl-ecgonine, a crystallizable
alkaloid that inhibits nerve conductivity, hence its property as a local anesthetic.
Natural cocaine and its associated alkaloids raise blood acidity and metabolize uric
acid, converting it into urea, which is why combined with salt and silicates, they
fight rheumatism, arthritis, gout, arteriosclerosis, and osteoporosis.
Comment: This is an alkaloid known to be present in coca leaves. There is talk of
associated alkaloids. They are said to acidify blood (?). As for alkaline
compounds, it is held they metabolize urea. This is not a property of coca leaf
compounds. Their therapeutic applications and the explanation are absurd and
unrelated to known pathophysiologic mechanisms for these conditions.
Cocamine (C15 H12 O2 N). This is a non-crystallizable alkaloid, highly volatile,
which acts as a sedative.
Comment: This substance has not been reported in the coca leaf
Conine (C8 H15 N). - An analgesic that acts directly on the nervous system and is
a good antidepressant.
Comment: This substance has not been reported in the coca leaf.


Cuscohygrine. With the properties of pectin, this is anti-diarrheal and digestive, helps
remove free radicals, and is an antioxidant.
Comment: This is a pyrrolidine alkaloid present in coca leaf, which is an inhibitor of
delayed cellular immune response. Its effects are not related to antioxidant activity.
Ecgonine (C9 H15 N O3). A byproduct of atropine with carboxyl in carbon-3 of pyridine,
ecgonine has properties to metabolize fats and carbohydrates, which is why coca chewers
are slim and have a strong and healthy physique. This is a good weight regulator and
improves the functioning of the pancreas, fostering enzyme balance.
Comment: All statements are false. This is a breakdown product of cocaine in the body, or
a degraded form of cocaine in the leaf. It is inactive at low doses. A very high dose blocks
the uptake of dopamine.
Erhitroxine. - With properties similar to globulin; its synergistic properties enhance the
immune system, preserving the balance of white and red blood cells; it increases blood cells
and hemoglobin and is cardiotonic and pulmonary functions enhancer.
Comment: This substance has not been reported in the coca leaf. All statements are false.
Hygrine. - Stimulates the salivary gland, is an excellent tonic for the larynx and throat,
increases oxygenation to the lung, preventing high altitude sickness, or decompensation of
oxygen at high elevations, and prevents dry throat.
Comment: This substance has been reported in the coca leaf. All statements about his
alleged drug effects are false. It is an alkaloid which lacks pyrrolidine local anesthetic
Pyridine (C9 H5 N). - A substance similar to benzene (C6H6), where a CH group has been
replaced by a nitrogen group. The metameric pyridine bases, including aniline and its
analogs, are present in coal tar, gasoline, smoke, tobacco and many organic substances. It
accelerates the formation and functioning of the brain, hence the coca, due to its complex
composition, increases the volume of blood supply to the pituitary, resulting in improved
overall body performance.
Comment: This substance has not been reported in the coca leaf. All statements are false.
Quinoline (C9 H7 N). A substance similar to naphthalene (C10 H8) where a CH group is
replaced by a nitrogen group. It helps to fix tooth enamel, combines well with vitamin A,
phosphorus and calcium , avoiding the formation of dental cavities.
Comment: This substance has not been reported in the coca leaf. All statements are false
Tropacocaine. - Similar to papain, which facilitates digestion. It is an animal cathepsin-like
meat tenderizer. It has antitumor and antineoplastic properties.
Comment: This is an alkaloid reported in the coca leaf. However, claims about its
effects are false. They refer to similar effects of papain, a papaya enzyme.
Reserpine. - Hypotensive and tranquilizing alkaloid, reserpine release of catecholamines
and serotonin, improves kidney function, regulate blood pressure, and reduces fatigue and
Comment: This substance has not been reported in the coca leaf. All statements are false.


Fallacy No. 13. Coca leaves may contain insulin.

"Apparently the coca leaf also contains insulin, but this is still not
This fallacy arises from an analysis performed in 1872 in Russia which
would have determined the presence of the hormone insulin. This
hypothesis is absurd. Insulin is a protein, not an alkaloid. Insulin is not
found in the coca leaf. Insulin is a natural animal hormone protein
produced by the pancreas of mammals, including humans. It is not a
vegetable protein produced by Erytroxilon coca.

Fallacy No. 14. No toxic alkaloids are absorbed through ingestion of coca leaf
Toxic alkaloids are definitely absorbed on ingestion (oral) of the leaf or
coca flour. There is abundant scientific evidence demonstrating such
absorption, primarily of cocaine (the main alkaloid, which accounts for
80% of total alkaloids present in coca leaf ). It has also been found in
blood circulation, followed by urinary excretion of metabolites in
urine (primarily benzoyl-ecgonine) and the incorporation of the main
metabolite benzoyl-ecgonine in hair. (Holmstedt et al 1979, Rerat et al
1997, Henderson et al 1992, Moller et al 1992, Paly et al 1980, Castro de
la Mata 2003)
There is abundant scientific evidence about the absorption of cocaine
in humans. There are no major human studies on absorption of the
other alkaloids. The other toxic alkaloids of the coca leaf may be
absorbed similarly to cocaine.

Fallacy No. 15. Antinutrients and toxic constituents of the leaves. [The coca leaf
contains toxic substances], "but there are toxic substances present
in each of the foods we eat every day ...... cow's milk has
casomorphin opioids, wheat also has opioids (gluteomorphin) as
well as lectins and phytic acid; soy has antinutrients like phytic acid;
potato and eggplant contain toxic alkaloids such as


solanine, and spinach has oxalic acid. In other words, all plants
contain antinutrients and these do not represent a major health

Here follow several fallacies described frequently in nutrition websites:
a) A common fallacy among advocates of vegetarian diets is that
proteins such as casein contain opioid peptides and thus create
addiction. Endogenous opioids (ie endorphins) and exogenous
(eg, opium) are recognized at present. Endogenous opioids are
short chains of amino acids called peptides produced by different
cells in our body, that are able to interact with opioid receptors of
different cells of the organism (eg in the way of pain). Chains of
amino acids in proteins such as casein from milk have been found
in sequences similar to those of endogenous opioid peptides
(called casomorphin) and it is assumed that an opioid effect could
be generated after enzymatic digestion in the stomach or
intestine. These effects are likely only speculation. The proteins are
enzymatically digested, releasing their primary structural units
called amino acids, which are then absorbed in the intestine and
are used to produce new proteins and for tissue regeneration. No
effect has been demonstrated on intestinal opioid receptors
through the administration of milk or casein, much less addiction
to milk.
b) A similar mechanism occurs with wheat. (Gluteomorphine)

When anti-nutrients are mentioned it is not explained that these

substances include dietary fiber, phytic acid, oxalic acid and
polyphenols (all of which detected in the coca leaf, Penny et al
2009) among other substances capable of forming compounds
with minerals, mainly calcium, iron and zinc. It is a fallacy to
present them as toxic agents, which they are not. These are
components that trap micronutrients and decrease their
gastrointestinal absorption. We agree that anti-nutrients by
themselves do not represent a major health problem.

d) The solanine alkaloid is a toxic and bitter glyco-alkaloid

(C45H73NO15) derived from the shoots of potatoes, eggplants
and other solanaceous plants. It is often found in the shoots of
immature plants. It gives bitter taste to potatoes skins where they
concentrate in larger quantities (30 to 80% of total content).
Peeling potatoes reduces the amount of ingested solanine, which
is completely destroyed by frying. Maximum allowed solanine
intake values are available.


Fallacy 16.-

Fallacies after Duke, Aulik and Plowman (1975) report. The

"Harvard Study".
Research by Harvard University in 1975 entitled
"Nutritional value of coca leaf" shows that daily chewing of
100 grams of coca leaves meets the recommended dietary
intake for both for men for women, while 60 grams fill their
calcium needs.
Its content of vitamins and other trace elements make coca
tea a nutritional supplement of the daily diet.
The "Harvard Study" of 1975 reaches surprising conclusions
about the human body's capacity to assimilate coca leaf.
Coca is richer in calcium than milk. "A 240 ml glass of milk
has 300 milligrams of calcium, while 98 grams of coke
contain 1,540 mg of calcium, the Chancellor said.
Nearly two grams of potassium may be obtained from 100
grams of coca. This amount is needed for a balanced heart.
Coca is also attributed weight reducing properties.*

In 1975 James A. Duke, David Auklik, Timothy Plowman published an
article in the Journal of the Botanical Museum of Harvard University,
entitled "Nutritional value of coca." This study in subsequent years has
been called the "Harvard Study" and attributed to the prestigious
American university. However, the study was not conducted by the
The Duke, Aulik and Plowman study was based on data previously
published in 1972 by a Peruvian scientist, Dr. Edgardo Machado, who
published an extensive study of the genus of coca, describing 24
species. Under the "Chemical Composition" heading Machado
reported the results of coca leaf analyses in Cuzco, La Libertad and
Huanuco (20 samples of coca in total). Three years later Duke Machado
compiled the data in tables, and added data from analyses of a sample
of 1 kg of coca leaf obtained in San Francisco (Chapare, Bolivia).


Many people have commented the Duke et al (1975) study. However,

very few have read it. In this study the authors do not refer to the coca
leaf as food, but the potential nutritional value of coca chewing , and
conclude that "although the coca leaves contain high levels of certain
nutrients, the presence of alkaloids and the presence of insecticides
suggest caution should be exercised when chewing it ".
The results of chemical analyses of coca leaves from San Francisco
(Chapare, Bolivia) showed that 100 grams of leaf with a humidity of
6.5%, contain 18.9 g protein, 46.2 g of carbohydrates and 5g of fat. It
also detected the presence of vitamins C, B6, B12, thiamine, riboflavin,
niacin, alpha-tocopherol, folic acid, biotin and pantothenic acid, all at a
low level, except for vitamin A. There were found also mineral elements
including calcium, iron, iodine, phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, copper,
sodium, potassium, aluminum, barium, manganese and chromium. All
of them in low amounts except calcium which showed a remarkably
higher value than expected. Coca leaf, like other plant products, have
proteins, carbohydrates, very little fat, vitamins and trace minerals.
However, table data on nutrient and and micronutrient composition
analyzed by Duke et al in 1975 has been inappropriately used to
extrapolate and claim presumed nutritional properties of the coca leaf,
in particular on its content of calcium, proteins, and some vitamins,
such as vitamin C and vitamin A.
In general, extrapolating data and making claims about certain effects
on the human body are a source of numerous fallacies. Thus,
extrapolating data on high calcium levels lead some to the fallacy that
cocas calcium content would be greater than that of milk, a hypothesis
rejected by the of Penny et al 2009 study, and to advocate including
coca leaf in schoolchildrens diet, or assert that because of high levels
of calcium coca "can be used medicinally in the treatment of
osteoporosis (a hypothesis rejected by Zavaleta 2011).


During the past 30 years the consumption of the coca leaf has been
promoted for its alleged nutritional value, based largely on
extrapolations from the study of Duke, and Plowman Aulik published
in 1975 and popularly known as the " Harvard Study.


Coca leaf powder is sold as a nutritional supplement. It has been proposed to add
coca leaf powder to bread, include it in food assistance programs for school
children, and use it to fight malnutrition in the Andes.
In 2009, an international multidisciplinary team composed of Penny, Zavaleta,
Lemay, Liria, Huaylinas, Alminger, Mac Chesney, Alcaraz and Reddy published in
the Food and Nutrition Bulletin an article entitled "Can coca leaves contribute to
improving the nutritional status of the Andean population? ". The study included
samples of 3 to 7 kg of sun dried coca leaves from seven different provinces of
Peru, and a sample of powdered coca leaf, or "coca flour" commercially produced
in Peru.
Nutrients and micronutrients analyses were performed in specialized analytical
laboratories in Peru, UK, Canada and Sweden. Proximate analyses were
performed for moisture, minerals, polyphenols, alkaloids, vitamins, proteins,
amino acid profile, and anti-nutrients (fiber, polyphenols, phytic acid, oxalic acid).
The alkaloid content analysis showed the expected levels of cocaine and four
other alkaloids previously reported in the literature. Dust coca (coca flour) had
similar cocaine concentrations as cocaine leaves.
We obtained the results of chemical analyses of nutrients, micronutrients and
antinutrients in the coca leaf. Analyses were likewise conducted for coca leaf
portions recommended in Peru by coca leaf sellers or advocates, and maximum
recommended human daily intake. Sellers of coca leaf products do not
recommend consuming more 5 grams a day due to its toxic effects.
The protein content had a mean value of 20.3 g/100 g dry weight (in a range from
17.2 to 22.2). A portion of 5 grams (two teaspoons) provides less than 1 gram of
plant protein, while a portion of 60g of quinoa provides 8g of protein, and a 250
ml cup of milk provides 7g of protein. We found that the coca leaf protein is
deficient in essential amino acid lysine. Therefore, the coca leaf protein is
equivalent to 77% of animal protein, so a greater intake is needs to receive the
same amount of equivalent protein. Coca leaf powder consumed in the
maximum recommended dose (5g/day) provides little poor quality protein.
With regard to vitamins, it was detected that 5g of powdered coca leaf (2
tablespoons) contains: Vitamin A and beta carotene (equivalent to 15 ug
retinol/5g activity. The daily requirement of retinol is 500ug). Vitamin E (0.8 ug/5g
vs. 9 ug daily requirement). Vitamin D is found only in some samples in
insignificant trace values.
Calcium concentration in the coca leaves reached 1012mg/100g an average dry
weight value. This amount is about half of what Duke and colleagues reported in
1975 (1960 mg/100 g dry weight).Calcium values were similar in the coca leaves
obtained from different localities. The concentration of zinc (2.67 mg/100 g) in the
coca leaf is low and similar in leaves from different sites.


As for anti-nutrients, the following values were determined for every 100 g dry
weight: 38g/100 insoluble fiber, 2.83g/100 soluble fiber, 2.9 g/100 oxalic acid,
0.03g/100 phytic acid, and 3.78 g/100 polyphenols. Importantly, anti-nutrients
(mainly oxalic acid) which reduce the absorption of calcium are present in the
leaves and can affect calcium in vivo bioavailability. Fiber, phytates and
polyphenols, all antinutrients that reduce iron absorption, are present in the
leaves. Phytates inhibit zinc absorption but in this case only relatively small
amounts of zinc are present in the leaves which therefore do not provide dietary
Much has been speculated and argued about the very high levels of calcium in
the coca leaf. It has been argued that coca is the food with the highest calcium
content, more even than milk. The following table shows the values of calcium
found in the coca leaf and other edible leaves. It is observed that oregano,
parsley, cilantro and spinach have higher calcium content per unit of weight than
coca leaf. Thus the statement "the coca leaf is a superior source of calcium as a
supplement" is a fallacy. The statement that coca "is the best source of
micronutrients that nature has given us" is likewise a fallacy, as shown clearly by
the following table.

From the above table, it is clear that the statement according to which "coca has
more calcium than milk," is false. Coca leaves contain about 20 mg of calcium per
5 grams of leaf powder. A glass of milk contains about 300 mg / 230 mL beaker.
When comparing the portions eaten, it is concluded that the amount of calcium
administered daily to humans through the dust of coca leaf is from 6 to 10% of
the contents of a glass of milk.
The graph below shows the nutritional content of various rations of foods
compared to coca leaf. In relation to calcium intake per serving, milk, cheese and
amaranth are much better options than the coca leaf. With regard to iron,
amaranth and quinoa are better sources than the coca leaf. The contribution of
zinc in the coca leaf is minimal. Amaranth and quinoa again far outweigh the
coca leaf, as do chicken liver and milk.


Nutritional content in usual rations of various foods.

A comparison with coca leaf

The findings are based on the quantities recommended by those who sell or
promote the consumption of coca leaf. It is obvious that the consumption of
larger quantities would result in clear toxic effects in consumers.
The study by Penny et al (2009) concluded that the mineral and vitamin content is
lower in coca leaf than in other edible leaves. There are anti-nutrients in the coca
leaf which reduce the absorption of minerals (primarily calcium and iron) and
their bioavailability. In edible portions, the coca leaf does not add significant
amounts of nutrients so that the coca leaf does not offer any advantage over the
foods available in the Andean diet. Finally, the presence of toxic alkaloids in coca
leaves means that coca leaves are not safe and therefore not suitable for human


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