Did you know Kava root has shown to be as effective as some antidepressant and antianxiety medications?
By Miranda Guilamo, Contributing Writer
We all have periods in life that produce more stress and anxiety than we would like. If you were on the island of Maewo, your family might just offer you a Kava drink. Keep reading to learn more about this interesting root with not only centuries of tradition, but also plenty of clinical studies.
All About KAVA
Kava-Kava, also known as Kava or Piper methysticum, is a tropical shrub from the pepper family originating from the South Sea Islands. It can grow up to 33 feet tall and is grown in Australia and Hawaii as well. Since as far back as 1616, documentation has been found about the Kava ceremonial drink used by Pacific Islanders; the root is chewed or ground up, then mixed with water or coconut water and then filtered into a separate bowl. This turns into a muddy light brown drink.
Alise Eastgate is a collaborative visual artist who has painted at events throughout the Fiji Islands. Her husband and artistic partner, Jack is from Fiji. Alise told me, “I learned about kava from Jack who grew up mixing and drinking it in Fiji. There, it’s common to have a mix after work and at any social gatherings, and music is often a part of it with people playing guitars and ukuleles and singing around the kava bowl. Now we have a mix at home on the weekends and often play some music too.”
Uses for KAVA
There are many clinical trials on Kava, especially with respect to anxiety. Kavalactones are the main ingredient found in the root and studies show they boost the brain’s GABA neurotransmitters, which calm the brain.
The first long-term study was done in 1997. Kava significantly diminished the patients’ perceived anxiety compared to a placebo. Also, the study showed no withdrawal side effects or dependency.
In an 8-week controlled trial at Ludwig-Maximilians University in Germany, Kava was as effective as the antianxiety drug Buspirone and antidepressant drug Opipramol in treating patients suffering from Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
The main benefits shown in different clinical studies are:
- Decreased anxiety
- Pain relief
- Help with sleep issues or insomnia
- Help with depression
- Managing stress
- Anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective
I asked Alise Eastgate if there are any medicinal benefits that Kava is known for in Fiji. She said, “Yes, it’s well known as a stress reliever and muscle relaxant.”
Cautions for KAVA
Concern has been raised over the safety of Kava. There were a few rare cases where it was connected to liver toxicity, although the true cause is still unknown. Several countries have even banned Kava. In 2014, Germany reversed the ban because the cause of the toxicity was unclear. The court declared that the German Federal Institute of Drugs and Medical Devices “had not conclusively proven the causal relationship between kava preparations and the alleged liver damage.” Many speculate that the liver toxicity may have been due to prolonged use, incorrect dosage, or contamination of the harvest.
Kava is not usually recommended for a use of more than two to three months. It has been shown to interact with several drugs, medications, and alcohol.
Do not use kava if…
- Taking muscle relaxants or sedatives
- You have Parkinson’s disease
- You have a history of liver disease
- Taking drugs for anxiety or depression
- Taking monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)
- Drinking Alcohol
- Using Acetaminophen (Tylenol)
- Taking birth control
- Taking cancer medication
As with all herbs and supplements, please talk with your doctor or an herbal professional about possible side effects and dosing.
How to Source KAVA
You can buy it in various forms: capsules, tea, powder or liquid tincture. You will want to ensure the following:
- Find Kava that is made from the root
- Know the exact kavalactone content
- Products from a reputable source and with no additional ingredients
If you are not a fan of the Kava taste, then the capsule form may be the most convenient. Most research suggests to not take it long-term.
There are “kava bars” in various parts of the country. You can try some fun recipes from Mountain Rose Herbs with Kava root powder. Lastly, you can follow Alise’s lead, she encourages “anyone curious to have a bilo (bowl)!”