Kava is a member native to South Pacific Islands. It is ceremonial drink used for years to achieve a state of relaxation.
People use it for healthy well-being, relaxation, and sleepiness. Off late, it has gained much attention due to its relaxing and stress-reducing properties.
Although, it has been linked to multiple health concerns raising questions about its safety. The article below explains everything about kava, so if you are inquisitive about this interesting drink scroll down.
Table of Contents
What Is Kava?
Kava is a drink made from Piper methysticum. This plant is native to the western Pacific islands. It’s a very popular drink in South Pacific used om ceremonial purposes especially. People generally take it by mouth to reduce anxiety, stress, restlessness, and sleeping issues.
More off, it is often used to cure several health conditions like Attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder, common cold, tuberculosis, migraines, urinary tract infections, muscle pain, cancer, respiratory tract infections, etc. Sometimes its often used to cure skin conditions like leprosy, eczema, wound healing etc.
Kava comes in different forms like a brownish colored drink, extracts, capsules, drops, and brown powder. The active ingredient in Kava is kavalactones that account for 3–20% of the dry weight of the plant root. The health properties of Kava comes from the kavalactones.
Researchers suggest kavalactones work by affecting the neurotransmitters in the brain. Neurotransmitters are substances released by the brain to communicate, so kavalactones act on them to change the perception of the brain. Kavalactones decrease the activity of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) specifically.
However, there is a big concern regarding the safety of Kava. It is because people are using it regularly in indefinite amounts. When taken in large amounts it can cause liver damage and in some cases death.
Due to the same reason, it has been banned in countries like Europe and Canada. Many countries have completely stopped the import of Kava from Pacific Island countries that export kava.
Health Benefits Of Kava
A few of the prime health benefits of Kava are explained below:
Kava may stop the growth of cancer cells. However, it works most effectively for breast cancer. Studies show Kava can decrease breast cancer cell size and may even increment cell death. The Flavokawain A, B present in kava increases the Bax proteins which eventually causes cell death.
It also stops the production of regulatory proteins which further stops the cell cycle and eventually cause cell death. Another study showed that kava may prevent breast cancer metastasis too. It does so by stopping the formation of blood vessels and cutting off the nutrient supply to the tumor cells.
Studies have also shown Kava to be effective against bladder cancer, colon cancer, and prostate cancer. It works against these cancers by Flavokawain A and B.
These compounds deactivates the pathways that induce tumor cell growth and inhibits the protein release to cause tumor cell death.
It is a scientifically proven fact Kava can treat anxiety and nervousness issues. It relieves stress, tension, agitation, specific phobia, and other symptoms of anxiety disorder. The kavalactones of kava activate the GABA-A receptors to produce a calming effect. Additionally, the prevent the decrease of serotonin, norepinephrines, and dopamine levels to relax the muscles.
3.Treats Sleep Disorders
Consuming Kava tea before going to bed will surely give you a good sleep. Kava is effective to treat sleep disorders like insomnia.
Studies show it is most effective against stress-related insomnia. Restlessness when sleeping and poor quality of sleep can be treated with kava root extract effectively.
The sedative effects are due to the blocking of sodium and calcium ion channels, increased neurotransmitter binding to GABA-A receptors, inhibition of monoamine oxidase B, and an increase of the neurotransmitters noradrenaline and dopamine.
The calming effect of Kava induces a pleasant mental state which reduces fatigue and anxiety. Studies suggest kava is so potent that it can replace anti-depressant drugs like benzodiazepines used for treating depression. The kavalactones increase the dopamine, serotonin, and GABA secretion to give a calming effect to the brain.
5.Effective Against Brain Damage Caused By Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimers’ and Parkinsons’ disease can damage the brain by oxidative stress. Kavalactones in kava act as an antioxidant to eliminate oxidative stress and thereby preventing brain damage. They work by activating the Nrf2 antioxidant response pathway and increasing concentration of antioxidant enzyme.
6.Boosts Immune System
The Kava extracts have flavokawains A and B that work strongly on the blood cells of the body. The flavokawains are potential to stimulate the production of white blood cells in the spleen.
Increase in their secretion increase the secretion of T cells(immunity cells). With a boost in immunity, the body becomes strong to fight against several diseases.
7.Treat Menopausal Symptoms
Menopausal symptoms include mood swings, weakness, hot flushes, night sweats, irritability, and nervousness. Kava tea can cure such menopausal symptoms by activating the GABA-A receptors. Drinking a kava tea before bed will give a sound sleep and reduce the anxiety and irritability.
6.Improves Brain Function
Kavalactones in kava work to increase the neurotransmitters of the brain which further increases the brain functioning capacity.
A single dose of Kava can improve the concentration power, makes the brain more attentive, increased memory, and increased visual processing.
However, the recommended dosage is to be taken for this. regular consumption is also to be avoided. Never use kava for kids below 18 years of age.
7.Reduces Body Inflammation
Inflammation in the body is a common issue faced by most of us due to unhealthy diet and lifestyle patterns. Inflammation shows symptoms like body pain, body soreness, and inability to do daily tasks.
Kava root extract has anti-inflammatory compounds to relieve such symptoms. The compounds relax the muscles and thus reduce the body inflammation.
Is Kava Safe To Drink?
The safety of Kava depends upon the amount consumed. It causes no adverse effects when taken occasionally in moderate amounts.
However, it may cause side effects that make it unfit for use by everyone. The adverse effect of kava can cause liver failure. Using kava for more than 3 months can lead to serious side-effects.
Kava may have severe side effects and should not be used by everyone. Kava has caused liver failure in previously healthy people. You should not use kava for longer than 3 months without consulting your doctor.
Nevertheless, you should follow a few steps to ensure its safe use.
Before consuming kava consider the following:
- Never combine Kava with alcohol or psychotropic medicines. Psychotropic medicines are the drugs meant to treat psychiatric disorders and are often used as antidepressants and mood stabilizers. In addition to it, mixing alcohol may exaggerate the sedating effect of Kava.
- Never drive or use heavy machinery after drinking kava.
- Prefer consuming it in a diluted form or go for mild forms.
Side Effects Of Kava
Now, let’s move on to the side effects of drinking kava. The side effects may last for a small time or for longer times too. A few of the short-term side effects are:
- It may make you feel less powerful
- You may find difficult to concentrate
- May cause temporary yellowing of skin, teeth, and nails.
- It can even produce an allergic reaction, however, the chances are rare.
- Nausea or vomiting
- Raised body temperature
Long-term side effects of kava are as follows:
- Liver problems
- Shortness of breath
- Redness of skin or skin rashes
- Facial puffiness or swelling
- Appetite loss
- Extreme tiredness
- Abdominal pain
As per U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), dietary supplements having Kava can relate to serious liver issues. Kava won’t show it effect on the liver all of a sudden but long-term use can cause serious liver problems. For this reason, in many countries, Kava is totally banned.
Is Kava Legal?
There are numerous controversies related to Kava. Kava import is a major economy in the South Pacific countries. Kava because of its adverse health effects has been banned from few countries. Among the banned countries are Europe and Canada. However, U.S. has still not banned Kava. Kava uses in U.S.is legal.
In U.S. it is used as a dietary supplement to help people relax and sleep better. Nevertheless, the U.S. Food and drug administration department is still unsure about its safety and effectiveness.
The FDA department is still figuring out the actual effective and safe dose of Kava. Despite the fact that kava is legal in the U.S., there are advisements from the FDA stating its ability to cause health problems and liver damage.
In 2002, the FDA released an advisory notice suggesting that the kava and its product are linked to strong adverse effects on the liver.
The report also stated kava consumption might be linked to hepatitis, cirrhosis and liver failure. These reports about kava and liver problems led to new regulation forms in Germany, UK, Switzerland, France, and Canada.
It was after the FDA report related to consumer warning, there have bend disputes regarding its use, import, and health issues. The countries are still not solved as the FDA is still confused about its effective safe dose.
It is assumed that once the FDA comes out with a dosage requirement, the use and side-effects of Kava can be regulated as per health requirements.
Forms Of Kava
Kava is available in many forms like tea, capsule supplements, powder, and liquid form. All these products are made from a concentrated mixture of kava. The concentrated form is derived from the roots of the plant with ethanol or acetone. Down below are some of the highly used forms of Kava.
Tea is the most commonly used form of Kava used to treat various health issues. Kava tea can cure sleeplessness, anxiety, etc. It’s sold alone or along with few herbs to give a state of relaxation.
The tea is prepared by brewing the leaves in hot water. When buying kava tea, read the number of kavalactones present in it as it is the most active ingredient.
Don’t go for teas that have proprietary blends as they won’t give desired results. Sipping a hot cup of kava tea before bed is a cure for many health issues.
Kava Tincture or Liquid
It is the liquid form of kava sold in small bottles. The bottles range in size from 2–6 ounces. These liquids are highly concentrated. Prefer diluting it by mixing in water or juices. You can mix a drop or two in your juice to get the desired benefit. Be cautious, never consume the bottle at once, as it may result in dangerous side effects. Kava tincture is one the potent form of Kava.
For people taking kava as a dietary supplement, this form is the best. You may use this form if you don’ like the taste of tea. One capsule of kava has 100 mg of kava root extract.
When taking the capsules, prefer consulting a doctor about the time and amount. However, there is always direction of use mentioned on the product label, you can consume as per the label instructions too
How Kava Works?
Kava works specifically on the brain and central nervous system. Even though there is no alcohol in Kava but its effect is same as alcohol. The Kavatacones present in the root are pharmacologically the active compounds of Kava.
It acts like a nervous system depressant. It slows down the functioning of the nervous systems and brain, thereby it brings the mind and brain to a relaxed state. The symptoms of Kava are an addiction, difficulty balancing oneself, and slurred speech.
They produce therapeutic effects like preventing cancer growth, antioxidants, antibacterial, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory effects.
A few of the specific pathways by which Kava works are as follows:
- The two active compounds are Kavalpyrones and Chalcones. Among the Kavalpyrones are methysticin, dihydromethysticin, yangonin, dihydrokavain, and kavain. They produce muscular relaxation and calming effect. Among the Chalcones are flavokawain A, B, and C.
- Kavain and methysticin block the sodium channels which leads to decrease in cell excitability. This way kavain also decrements the excitatory neurotransmitter release. Thus, decrement in the stimulatory pathways gives a calming effect to the body and brain.
- Yangonin, kavain, methysticin, dihydromethysticin, and kavapyrones increments an important neurotransmitter (GABA) in the brain. When the receptors of GABA are activated, the neurons are inhibited leading to a sedative and anti-anxiety effect.
- Moreoff, kavalactones like methysticin, yangonin, dihydromethysticin, and kavain inhibit the monoamine oxidase. Prevention of this enzyme removes the neurotransmitter from the brain.
- The other compounds present in Kava increase the effect of brain functioning enzymes like dopamine, noradrenaline, serotonin, and dopamine. The decrement in the crucial hormones is related to depression, anxiety, and other neurological disorders. Kava brings about the adequate release of such hormones and thus improve the brain functioning.
How Is Kava Prepared?
Kava is made from the ground roots of the plant Piper methysticum. It is consumed as a drink or as a supplement or as a root extract. The Kava root was crushed and grounded to make a powder form. This powder form was then soaked in water to make a tea out of it.
The Kava tea was a major part of the social ceremonies and gatherings throughout the Pacific Islands. Alternatively, people also used to make a paste out of the kava root for consumption. The pasted is mixed with water, strained and then consumed.
Dosage Of Kava
Experts recommend that the daily intake of kava exceed 250 mg. An effective dose of kava is 70-250mg. If you are taking the supplements, you can find the mgs of Kavalactones on the label. For an effective dose, you can calculate the percentage of Kava using the information given on the label.
The kava dose varies depending on the form you are taking. However, the FDA has not approved the use of Kava for treating any medical condition.
When taking as a supplement don’t go beyond one dose. While when taking the tea, limit yourself to a moderate number of cups. The lack of clear guideline is one of the main reason why it is cautious to take Kava.
Kava has a long history of consumption in the South Pacific, It is more off an enjoyable drink like alcohol. The root of kava contains an important compounds kavalactones that have health benefits like reducing anxiety, depression, nervousness, and curing other diseases.
The dose and the form of Kava taken are to be kept in mind before its consumption. Prefer taking the mild forms and don’t exceed your dose above 250mg in a day.
When taking kava as a dietary supplement, read the product label and calculate the dose. Also, prefer consulting your doctor if you wish to include kava as a dietary supplement and you are on prescribed medications.
Kava though a remedy for many health ailments, can prove fatal when taken is high amounts and for prolonged periods.The FDA has not recommended any proper dosage amount, but you should always limit yourself to high amounts and prolonged use.
Be very cautious, check the kavalactones amount, their derivative, and the concentration to avoid its fatal side effects. With cautions in mind, it’s possible to enjoy the health benefits of Kava.