Kava Kava, or simply Kava, is a tall shrub commonly grown in the South Pacific islands. It produces large, heart-shaped, green leaves and long, slender flowers. Kava roots appear as bundles of hairy branches and it’s the root that’s been used medicinally and ceremonially for thousands of years by the Polynesian natives.1,2
Kava Kava belongs to the pepper family and is also known as asava pepper or the intoxicating pepper. 1
Kava Kava is an extremely popular drink in most South Pacific societies much the way alcohol is used in the western world, except that kava kava, unlike alcohol, has proven medicinal benefits. In native cultures, kava root is usually chewed or made into a drink through boiling. It’s available in western specialty stores as a liquid tincture or standardized extract as well as in powdered and tablet forms. 2
Kava Kava Health Uses and Health Benefits
The main active ingredients in the kava root are called kavalactones or kavapyrones which include kawain, dihydrokawain and methysticum which have been found to reduce convulsions, relax muscles, reduce inhibitions and stress as well as promote decent sleep. 1,2
Kava kava health benefits are primarily their effects on the body’s central nervous system. The active chemical compounds are believed to produce anxiolytic, analgesic, anticonvulsant, and muscle relaxing results. 1
The primary disorders that kava kava uses show marked improvement on are:
- Borderline Personality Disorder - BPD is a serious mental health condition marked by turbulent emotional states and unpredictable instability. The anti-anxiety properties in kava kava reduce the intensity of emotional states.
- Paranoid Personality Disorder - PPD is another serious mental health condition characterized by paranoia, suspiciousness and mistrust of others. As in BPD, the active ingredients in kava kava make it one of the most effective PPD natural treatments available.
- Depression - Depression is a common but serious mood disorder noted by symptoms like persistent sadness, difficulty concentrating and suicidal thoughts. The mood stabilizing and relaxing effects of kava kava are an effective natural remedy in controlling depression.
- Seizure Disorders - Seizures occur when nerve cell clusters, or neurons, send out wrong signals to the muscles resulting in spasms or seizures of the neuromuscular extremities. The sedative properties in kava kava relax the brain and help prevent and control seizures.
- Epilepsy - Epilepsy is a seizure disorder that also manifests in muscle spasms. It’s exact cause is unknown however kava kava is shown to have calming effects on the brain which is the main control over experiencing seizures.
- Insomnia - Probably the biggest kava kava health benefit is the mildly intoxicating condition it puts the body into. A little consumption of kava kava has a sleep-inducing effect but, like alcohol, it can be overdone.
Kava Kava Side Effects and Precautions
While nowhere near as harmful as alcohol, kava kava side effects can be dangerous to the liver and kidneys after prolonged use. Jaundice symptoms such as yellowness to the skin and eyes have been associated with overuse of kava. 1
Kava has an intoxicating effect and should not be considered safe to use when driving or any activity that requires cognitive awareness or visuomotor performance. Studies show the sedative effects of kava are significantly increased when taken with alcohol.1,2
There is also a concern with medical professionals that because kava kava has deep relaxation benefits, it may have addictive properties and should be used in moderation.1,2,4