Kava is a crop of the Pacific Islands. The name Kava is from Marquesan and Tongan language, meaning ‘bitter’. Kava is consumed for its sedating effects throughout the Pacific Ocean lifestyles of Polynesia, including Hawaii, Melanesia, and the Philippines.
The root of the plant is used to produce a drink with anaesthetic and sedative attributes. Its active ingredients are called kavalactones. Measured consumption of Kava in its traditional form, i.e., as a water-based mixture of Kava roots, has been considered to present an “acceptably low level of health risk” by World Health Organization.
Possible Health Benefits
The initial use of Kava is reducing anxiety and stress. Research suggests that Kava could help aid the symptoms of anxiety disorders.
In a randomized controlled trial from 2013, scientists gave 70 people with stress and anxiety disorders Kava extract over 7 weeks. At the end of the study, they found that Kava had a significant effect on reducing anxiety symptoms. Aside from mild headaches, the participants did not report any other minor or major side effects.
Another review study from 2011 suggests that Kava could be a potent short-term option for treating anxiety disorders.
A lack of sleep is connected to many major or minor medical issues, including diabetes, high blood pressure, depression, obesity, and even cancer.
Kava could help induce sleep due to its anxiolytic effects. For this reason, people also use it as an alternative therapy for sleep disorders. Interestingly, Kava’s effects on insomnia may stem from its effects on anxiety. Stress-induced insomnia is common in those with anxiety. Hence, in cases of insomnia, Kava may be aiding anxiety, which may then help people sleep better.
In a clinical trial on 60 people with generalised anxiety disorder, oral Kava extract (250 mg kavalectones per day) decreased both anxiety and depressive symptoms.
Kava also induced a pleasant mental state while reducing anxiety and fatigue in several human researches. Kavalactones in Kava increased serotonin, dopamine, and decreased glutamate in cell models.
Improves Brain Function
A single dose of Kava extract (300 mg) elevated performance and accuracy in visual processing, attention, and working memory tasks in a moderate trial on 20 people. In another trial on 10 people, Kava extract (200 mg, 3 times a day) slightly enhanced performance in a word recognition task.
Treatment of Drug Addiction
Kava reduced the cravings for addictive drugs in drug-dependant patients in a pilot study. The anti-craving effects of Kava are due to dopamine-producing neurons in the reward system of the brain.
May Protect Your Brain
Kavalactones extracted from Kava prevented brain harm caused by oxidative stress in brain disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease in cell studies. Kavalactones incite the Nrf2 antioxidant response pathway and increase the concentration of antioxidant enzymes, which may combat oxidative stress.
Forms of Kava
Kava can be consumed in tea, liquid, capsule, or powder form. With the exception of Kava tea, these products are made from a concentrated mixture that’s made by extracting Kavalactones from the root of the plant with acetone or ethanol.
Tea is the most general method of taking Kava for anxiety, as it is easily available. It’s sold alone or alongside other herbs attempted to promote relaxation and made using hot water. Be sure to find Kava teas that list the Kavalactone content, as well as other ingredients.
Kava Liquid or Tincture
This is a liquid form of Kava sold in small bottles sorting in size from 2-6 ounces (59-177 ml). You can consume it with a dropper or mix it into juice or any other drink to cover its whiskey-like taste. But it’s important to only take a small dose.
Those who don’t like the taste of Kava can take it in capsule form. One capsule may contain 100 mg of Kava root extract that is proved to contain 30% Kavalactones.
Specialists suggest that your daily intake of Kavalactones does not exceed 250 mg. A favourable dose of Kavalactones is 70-250 mg.
Kava supplements may list Kavalactones in milligrams or as a percentage. If the subject-matter is listed as a percentage, you will need to determine the amount of Kavalactones it contains. For example, if one capsule contains 100 mg of Kava root extract and is standardized to contain 30% Kavalactones, it will contain 30 mg of Kavalactones.
To attain an efficient dose within the range of 70-250 mg of Kavalactones, you would need to take at least three capsules of this specific supplement.
The Bottom Line
Kava has a lengthy history of consumption in the South Pacific and is considered an enjoyable and safe beverage. However, do consult your doctor or healthcare professional if you plan on consuming Kava, as it may interact with some particular medications.
Also, make sure you read the labels of the Kava products and supplements you’re interested in carefully to ensure the Kavalactone content in each dose.