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What is Kava? The Next Big Thing in Wellness

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Kava, The Next Big Thing for Wellness

Kava kava, or piper methysticum, is a tropical shrub native to Polynesia. Pacific Islanders have been cultivating and cherishing the kava plant for thousands of years, using it for medicinal and ceremonial purposes. Now people all around the world are praising the benefits of kava and using it for overcoming anxiety and other modern ailments.

Kava Benefits: What can Kava do for Me?

  • Anxiety Reliever - Those who suffer from anxiety often experience unwarranted fear or distress that can drastically interfere with their emotional and social well-being. There is extensive clinical evidence that proves kava root extract is effective at treating anxiety and related medical conditions such as depression.

  • Better Sleep - Kavalactones, the known active compounds in kava, slow down messages from the brain to the body, producing a sedative effect. Studies have shown that consuming kava before heading to bed decreases the amount of time needed to fall asleep and improves overall sleep quality. 

  • Regulate Hormonal Fluctuations - Hot flashes, irritability, tension, nervousness and sleep disruption are common PMS and menopause symptoms in which kava can offer some help.

  • Lessens the Need for Addictive Substances - Kava can be used as a healthier alternative to drugs, alcohol, or tobacco use. Due to its relaxant effect and anxiolytic capabilities, kava can help people cope with cigarette cravings and the associated anxiety.

  • Combat Physical Effects of Stress - Prolonged anxiety puts our immunity and cardiovascular system at risk. Adaptogens, like kava kava root, help counter act the physiological effects of stress at a molecular level.

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Kava Effects: How will Kava make me Feel?

A kava kava high isn't really a high, it's more like an augmented state of relaxation. 

If you consume kava in a liquid form, whether as a kava tea or kava extract, you will instantly feel a numbing sensation on your lips and mouth. Kava is a natural anesthetic and the numbing sensation is a prized characteristic from a kava connoisseur's perspective. It's an enjoyable feeling, though a little intense if it's your first time. If you take kava in pill or capsule form, you won't get this full kava experience.

After consuming kava you'll start to feel relaxed and a general sense of well-being within five minutes, which is why many people rely on it to help them come down from anxiety attacks or moments of extreme stress. Learn more on how to stop an anxiety attack with kava.

How does kava work

The known active ingredients in kava are phytochemicals called kavalactones that give kava it's calming, anxiolytic, and euphoric effects. 

Kavalactones appear to work on the limbic system of the brain, an area indirectly associated with emotional excitability, due to its inhibition of the emotional centers of the brain cortex. This is probably why many people use kava as a natural Xanax.

Common Side Effects:

  • Headache

  • Drowsiness
  • Gastrointestinal Discomfort and Nausea - often due to the large amount of liquid consumed. Side effects of kava tea can be minimized by using a kava extract or capsule preparation.

There were previous studies linking kava use to liver damage, but those reports have been proven faulty. According to the National Library of Medicine, the estimated frequency of liver toxicity caused by kava is 0.000001%. Although if you experience any symptoms of early liver damage including: yellowed eyes and skin (jaundice), fatigue, and dark urine, stop consuming kava immediately and contact your health care provider. 

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How to Prepare Kava

Simply put, the root of the kava plant is uprooted, and then ground, steeped in water, and made into a kava tea before it is consumed as a non-alcoholic beverage. 

The steeping process involves filling a muslin bag with kava root pulp and then submerging it into warm water while continuously squeezing the bag resulting in a caramel-brown beverage.

Here's a fool proof recipe on how to make kava tea

Different Types of Kava and Where You Can Buy it:

Kava Dosage

The best way to find your ideal kava dosage is to start with a small amount and increase the dosage over time as you become familiar with the effects it generates for you. 

Many Pacific Islanders are accustomed to drinking multiple bowls of kava per day and it’s not uncommon for people to consume a kavalactones dosage of up to 2500 mg daily for years at a time. There have also been no recorded adverse effects in indigenous groups that frequently consume these high amounts of kava.

The Kava Committee’s recommended dosage stands at a maximum of 300 mg of kavalactones per day.

  • Traditionally Prepared Kava Tea: 150-500mg of kava root, with about 30% kavalactones, is typical for a 4oz serving. 

  • Anxiety, Social Anxiety, Depression: 70-210mg kavalactones has been proven clinically effective. This moderate amount of kavalactones can reduce anxiety while leaving you alert and lucid, making it suitable for daytime use.

  • Better sleep for Insomnia Relief - 150-200mg kavalactones, taken 30 minutes to an hour before bed, can help encourage quicker sleep onset and better quality of sleep for people suffering from insomnia.

Kava Safety

You might be wondering, is kava bad for you? No, not at all. Actually, the opposite is true. For once, there's a natural medicine that is acutally nourishing to the body.

Kava can be transformational for your wellbeing, but care needs to be taken to ensure that you are consuming the best kava kava available. Concerns about the possibility of liver toxicity from kava use are for the most part a result of improper kava extraction, mixing kava with hepatotoxic drugs or heavy alcohol use. 

Kava extracts and other products should only be made from kava root, not from kava stem or leaves. Consuming improperly cultivated and processed kava is potentially harmful.

Disclaimer: The goal of this post is to share information on kava kava and my personal experience with it. This post is not intended to diagnose, prevent, treat, or cure any disease.

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About the Author

Allison Lardizabal, RN

Allison Lardizabal, RN

As an ER nurse, I helped people through some of their most difficult and vulnerable times in their lives, providing me invaluable insight on what really matters most. This led me on another path where I stepped away from my clinical practice to pursue other dreams; to live life on my own terms; and be more intentional with my time.

More posts by Allison Lardizabal, RN >
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