What is Kava Root and what are its benefits?

Relieving Anxiety with Kava 

Today, many Americans are turning to Kava for it’s naturally calming benefits. This root has been used for many centuries by the indigenous tribes of the South Pacific for ceremonies and holistic medicine. Traditionally the people of the South Pacific prepare Kava as a tea by brewing together the Kava root and water. In the United States and other parts of the world,  you can consume Kava by tea, capsules, ground root, instant powder, and flavored drink products. You can even stop by a Kava Bar in some cities to enjoy a “relaxing, peaceful, and stress relieving experience.”

Read more about the uses and benefits of Kava below.

What is Kava?

Kava is an herbal supplement made from the Piper methysticum root, native to the islands of the South Pacific. The extract contains two main active compound classes, Kava Pyrones and Chalcones, that give off a relaxing and mildly euphoric effect on the mind and body. Kava Pyrones such as methysticin, dihydromethysticin, yangonin, dihydrokavain, and kavain produce muscular relaxation and calming effects. Chalcones such as flavokawain A, B, and C have potential antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial effects, and anti-cancer effects

Uses and Benefits

Anxiety Relief

One of the most common uses for Kava is to aid with stress and anxiety. A clinical trial, led by the University of Melbourne and published in the Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology, revealed Kava could be an alternative treatment for Generalised Anxiety Disorders (GAD). Over the course of eight weeks, 75 participants were given kava extract or a placebo. Results showed a significant decrease in anxiety in the Kava group as compared to the placebo group. [1

Similarly in 2011, a review by the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry shows that the evidence supports the use of kava as an aid for anxiety. However, it was suggested that safety issues, such as operating machinery and combining with additional medications, must be considered. [2]

Extensive research supports the use of Kava extracts to aid with stress and anxiety. The herbal supplement has shown to have similar effects of some anxiety medications without the risk of dependency. 

Other Possible Benefits

There are many claimed benefits of Kava, however there has not been enough sufficient medical research with concrete evidence to back up these claims.  

Insomnia Relief 

Everyday billions of people are dealing with stress-induced Insomnia often turning to sleeping pills to get the sleep they need. Unfortunately, many sleep medications cause dependency along with a large list of side effects. This makes Kava a great alternative to relieve Insomnia. A clinical trial conducted in 2001 used 24 participants in a 6-week period to study the effects of Kava on Insomnia. This study showed a decrease in both stress and Insomnia in the participants [3]. In further studies, the decrease in Insomnia is often linked with anxiety. There has not been enough sufficient evidence to show how Kava affects those who suffer from Insomnia that is not caused by anxiety. 

Cancer Prevention
** Do not under any circumstances attempt to replace conventional cancer therapies with Kava or any other supplements. Please consult your doctor before consuming Kava. **

A Systematic Review on the effects of Kava on cancers using mice concluded that the components of Kava has chemotherapeutic potential in cancer prevention and treatment, particularly for epithelial neoplasms. [4]

In 2016, a case study was conducted using a Kava extract solution as well as a combination of Kava and Sea Hibiscus to examine the inhibitory activity  on human colon cancer cells in vitro. The study concluded that “ traditional kava, alone or combined with sea hibiscus, displays activity against human cancer cells.” [5]

Treating Depression

The Kava Anxiety Depression Spectrum Study (KADSS) concluded that the Kava extract solution produced significant antidepressant activity. [6]

Menopausal Symptom Relief

A clinical trial conducted a study on the effects of combining Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) and Kava extract on menopausal women. The study shows that the association of HRT and Kava extract has excellent therapeutic properties in treating women in stabilized menopause. [7]

Anti-Inflammatory

A trial was conducted on the effects of Kava-241, a kavain derived compound, on arthritis caused by Porphyromonas gingivalis. In this clinical trial, mice exposed to P. gingivalis were treated with Kava-241 and showed a decreased number of inflammatory cells in the joint. [8]

Drug Addiction Treatment 

Kava is claimed to have anti-craving effects that are caused by the increased levels of dopamine produced by kavapyrone desmethoxyyangonin. There have been few studies to back up this claim. [9]

Side Effects and Precautions. 

Kava is generally safe to use, however consumption amounts should be monitored due to potential side effects. 

Most Common Side Effects

  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Diarrhea
  • Mild Stomach Discomfort

Least Common Side Effects

  • Dry Eye 
  • Scaly Skin
  • Liver Toxicity

Majority of consumers do not experience liver toxicity, Some experts believe that the Liver Toxicity in cases involving use of Kava cannot be directly linked to Kava. [10]

Precautions

  • Do not consume or mix Kava with alcohol!
  • Avoid use if you have renal or liver disease. 
  • Avoid use when pregnant or breastfeeding. 
  • Do not drive or operate machinery as Kava may impair reaction time and motor ability similar to the effects of alcohol consumption. 
  • Kava use is not recommended for children. 

Interactions

If you are on any of the medications below, please consult your doctor before consuming Kava. 

  • Benzodiazepines
  • CNS depressants
  • Paroxetine
  • Diazepam
  • Amitriptyline
  • Propranolol
  • Fluoxetine
  • Haloperidol
  • Morphine
  • Beta-blockers

Forms of Kava

Although Kava was consumed in the form of tea for many centuries, Kava can be taken in many forms. 

Kava Tea

Kava Tea is the most common form of consumption. The tea is prepared by grinding the Kava Root into a powder and adding it to a straining bag. The bag is then steeped and kneaded in warm water.  

Kava Tincture

Kava Tinctures are more potent than the other forms of Kava. This form of consumption is more convenient and can start working immediately. Kava Tinctures are usually extracts of Kava root in grain alcohol. 

Kava Capsules

Kava Capsules are one of the most available forms of Kava on the market. The Kava Root is grinded and packed into a capsule. Kava Capsules tend to be less potent compared to Kava Tea or other Kava Drinks. 

Kava Powder

Kava Powder is a powder form of the Kava Root that is commonly mixed into water, skim milk, soy milk, or coconut milk. 

Kava Drinks 

Flavored Kava drinks are concentrated blends of Kava Extract with natural or artificial flavors. You can commonly find Kava Drinks at Kava Bars. 

Dosage

The United States Food and Drug Administration has not approved Kava for any treatment, therefore there are no official dosing guidelines. Always consult with your doctor before introducing Kava to your daily regime. 

According to the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration, you should take no more than 125mg of kavalactone at a time and should not exceed 250mg of kavalactone daily. There have been no adverse reactions reported at this dosage. [11]

 

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