What Is Kava Kava?

There are many tools to help promote calmness and relaxation. Some individuals turn to meditation while others may look to supplements and herbs like kava kava to help reduce anxiety and worry. But what is kava kava and is it right for you? Here’s what you need to know. 

What Is Kava Kava?

Piper methysticum, more commonly known as kava or kava kava, is a plant native to the South Pacific and a member of the pepper family. It has been used by the Pacific Island cultures for centuries due to its relaxing and calming properties.

The part of the plant that is most commonly used is the root. The active constituents which give Kava its therapeutic effect are known as kavalactones. Natives of the Pacific Island culture would chew or ground the root of the plant to release the Kavalactones to promote a sense of euphoria and enhance social situations for religious and ceremonial purposes. The primary effects of these key constituents are as a mild analgesic (pain reliever), antispasmodic, anxiolytic (relieves anxiety) and a mild sedative. This is why Kava has been used for anxiety, stress, muscular spasms and pain. 

Kava Kava Benefits

The primary action of kava is on the central nervous system. The central nervous system is the part of the body composed of the brain and spinal cord. Kava exerts its effect through an array of neurobiological activity, primarily through the modulation of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors (1). GABA is the major inhibitory neurotransmitter in the body.

One area where this may be beneficial is in the treatment of GAD or Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Researchers have shown that kava extracts may be superior to placebo for symptomatic relief of anxiety.

Piper also relaxes the body while increasing mental alertness and improving reaction time. Its relaxation properties extend downward to the skeletal muscles, making it beneficial for muscle spasms and tension headaches.

Lastly, kava also has an affinity for the urinary tract and may be useful to reduce the pain associated with interstitial cystitis, urinary tracts or prostatitis. 

Kava Kava Side Effects

While generally considered safe at therapeutic doses, there are some specific precautions that should be taken before and during use with kava kava. Kava was banned in Europe because of its potential to cause damage to the liver. Currently there is more research that is being done to show that kava is not toxic to the liver and that other factors contributed to the reports of toxicity.

This plant is contraindicated if you have any previous liver damage and should not be used if pregnant or breastfeeding. You should also avoid drinking alcohol while taking kava and do not use concurrently with other central nervous system depressants.

Acute overdose of this plant can cause incoordination and intoxication similar to alcohol inebriation. 

When used properly, kava may help relieve anxiety, stress and mild pain. But as always, you must check with your health care provider first to avoid any potential risks. 

How to Choose a Kava Kava Supplement

Kava extracts are prepared as tinctures and teas and also come in capsule/pill form. When it comes to choosing the right product, choose whichever form works best for you.

You will want to pay attention to the percentage of kavalactones contained in the product. Most supplements are standardized to 30%, 50% or 70% of kavalactones. Many supplement companies list the amount of kava extract on the supplement label in terms of milligrams. However, it’s important to actually measure the amount of kavalactones (active ingredients) in the dosage rather than the kava extract. Clinical studies have reported that dosages of kavalactones between 60-240mg/day are effective.

To calculate the amount of kavalactones in the product, take the amount of herbal extract in milligrams and multiply it by the percent of kavalactones. For example, if one capsule contains 100 mg of kava root extract and is standardized to contain 50% kavalactones, it will contain 50 mg of kavalactones (100 mg x 0.50 = 50 mg).

Where to Buy Kava Kava

You can find many kava kava products here at LuckyVitamin.com, where we hand-select products we believe in. Here’s what customers are saying in kava kava reviews:

“When I can’t sleep at night, I just take one of the pills and I don’t have worries anymore.” —Rachel, WI

Product: Kava Kava Extract Stress Support by NOW Foods

“I use this product to help control my down moods related to PMS or stress from family issues and work. I love it and will order again.” —Gail, MI

Product: Kava Kava Liquid Phyto Capsules by Gaia Herbs

“I have been using kava kava for many years. It is an all-natural nerve calmer, and in this stressful world, sometimes you just need a little help to get through. All-natural is the way to go.” —Joan, NJ

Product: Kava Kava by Natural Balance

 

Have you used supplements and herbs to help reduce anxiety? Let us know in the comments!