Kava Kava: Everything You Need to Know
Known as kava kava, or kava for short, this is a type of herbal remedy made from the roots of the Piper methysticum plant. It is a shrub with large heart-shaped leaves and long, thin flowers.
The roots of the kava plant, which contain the active ingredients kavalactones, are what is typically consumed. People commonly chew the root or turn it into a drink, extract, or tincture. Kava reportedly produces feelings of happiness and relaxation, similar to that of consuming alcohol.
Where Does Kava Come From?
Kava is native to islands in the South Pacific Ocean, such as Hawaii, Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, and Vanuatu. "Yaquona" is what the locals of Fiji call the plant, while other tribes refer to it simply as "grog." The natives of these islands have used kava for thousands of years for both medical and ceremonial purposes.
The Possible Benefits of Kava
Kavalactones, which are the active ingredients in kava, consist of dihydrokawain, kawain, and methysticum. This group of chemicals may have pain-relieving properties along with the ability to reduce seizures and increase sleep and muscle relaxation. Here are some of the ways kava could help you:
Kava has undergone numerous clinical studies to see how it works for treating the symptoms of anxiety, and may be more effective at treating anxiety than a placebo, according to a review of multiple studies. Other studies have found that kava works the same way as valium in calming the brain. It was also reported that kava improved patients' anxiety symptoms after the first week of treatment. Kava may just be an effective alternative to prescription anti-anxiety drugs.
There is ongoing research on whether or not kava can relieve insomnia in patients. A study involving 24 patients with stress-induced insomnia showed that after taking kava for six weeks, their insomnia levels were greatly reduced. It decreased the time it took to fall asleep, improved overall sleep levels, and decreased stress levels.
So far, the only studies done have been on cells and mice, but both have shown kava's ability to reduce inflammation. There are still many undiscovered possibilities on this front from kava.
Another potential benefit of kava is that it holds promise in its anti-addiction properties. The kavapyrones found in kava can bind to the sites on the brain related to addiction and craving. In theory, this should reduce the cravings of addicts for their drug of choice.
One of the most exciting potential benefits of kava is that it may have the ability to fight and prevent cancer. What originally triggered this investigation was that bladder cancer rates in the South Pacific were so low despite it being a heavy smoking population. A completed study showed that mice fed high amounts of the flavokawain found in kava had their tumor growth rate slowed. It also initiated cell death in certain cancer cells as well.
The Possible Side Effects of Kava
Although kava has numerous potential health benefits, there is also the risk of serious side effects from consuming kava. Some of the most common side effects include:
- Allergic skin reactions
- Upset stomach
If you use kava for too long at too high of a dose, you can be at risk for:
- Flaky, dry, and yellowish discoloration of the skin
- Loss of appetite
- Loss of hair
- Loss of hearing
If you are using kava and experience abdominal pain, fatigue, jaundice, joint pain, or nausea and vomiting, reach out to a doctor immediately. These are signs that you could be suffering from liver damage, which is a serious potential side effect of kava.
Drug Interactions with Kava
There are numerous drugs that interact poorly with kava. As always, consult your doctor before using kava, especially if you are on other medications. Do not use kava if you are on any of the following drugs:
- Anti-anxiety medications
- Medications metabolized by the liver
- Phenothiazine medications
It is important that you do not take kava if you have depression, liver disease, or Parkinson's disease. Women who are pregnant or who are still breastfeeding should not use kava either. If you have taken kava and are going to have surgery, notify your doctor, as this can altar the effects of anesthesia.
How to Use Kava
The three main ways to use kava include chewing the root, drinking a powder made from the roots, or taking an extract. Each method has its own use, depending on the situation.
Chew the Root
Chewing the root of the kava plant is the traditional way to consume this supplement. It is similar to chewing tobacco in the fact that you put a small pinch of it in your mouth and chew on it. You swallow the juices that come out while keeping the root fibers in your mouth. You'll slowly start to feel the buzz from the plant as you swallow. Discard the fibers after you chew them up.
Another common way of taking kava is by mixing powdered kava root with either water or coconut milk in a 1:1 ratio. You can serve this tea hot or cold.
Use an Extract
A kava extract is the concentrated form of the kavalactones found in the plant. You can put a couple of drops into any food or beverage to help cover up the strong flavor.
Dosage of Kava
Doctors recommend an effective dose of kavalactones is between 70-250mg and that your daily dosage of kavalactones should not exceed 250mg. Depending on which kava supplement you are taking, you will have to calculate the number of kavalactones in each root, drink, or extract.