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The Best Kava for Anxiety? It's Personal.

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Photo by Kobe Subramaniam

Photo by Kobe Subramaniam

Just like anxiety, kava comes in different varieties. Like pairing a proper wine with whatever meal is for dinner, it is important to consciously pair the kava you choose to complement your mental state. Unique compounds found in the kava root are proven to enhance your body’s own natural way of dealing with anxiety. Because of these compounds, kava could be a helpful addition to your daily anti-anxiety regimen with the potential to even replace daily prescription medication.


The Science: How Kava Reduces Anxiety

The body’s natural anxiety response presents in a vast multitude of outward symptoms that can range from sweaty palms to raised heart rate and escalate further to full-blown panic attacks. Though these symptoms are different for each person who experiences anxiety, the biochemical pathway that fuels their expression is largely the same. People who experience anxiety often have low levels of a neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in their brains. Neurotransmitters are chemicals that convey messages in the brain and nervous system, in charge of controlling many bodily processes, like the ones associated with anxiety responses.

Kavalactones in the kava root are natural compounds responsible for the therapeutic effect of kava products. These compounds are lipophilic, meaning that they can readily pass through fatty membranes like those found in neurotransmitters. Studies have shown that these kavalactones decrease anxiety by stimulating the activity of GABA, making up for what had previously been missing. To fight anxiety, it has been proven that increased production of GABA results in:

  • An upbeat mood

  • A more positive self-image

  • A sense of calm and contentment

  • A more sound sleep

Different types of kava will produce these effects at different intensities, which makes finding the perfect mix of kavalactones essential to understanding how those specific compounds can hurt or help an individual most. The great thing about kava, though, is that there truly is something for everyone.

READ MORE: The Best Natural Supplements for Anxiety

Different Kava for Different Types of Anxiety

The six kavalactones found in the kava root have different properties that, together, tackle anxiety from all directions. They are proven to be:

  • Sedative (calming and relaxing)

  • Anxiolytic (anti-anxiety)

  • Analgesic (pain reducing)

  • Local anaesthetic (numbing)

  • Anticonvulsant (reduces muscle spasms)


Though lumped together in this list, not all kava ticks all of these boxes all the time. When looking for the perfect kava to combat your own anxiety, it is important to figure out the best balance of these desired effects for your own personality. Luckily, kava experts have made it easier for us to figure this out. In all, kava has been separated into 3 distinct types: heady, heavy and balanced. The determination of each classification is made depending on which of the 6 kavalactones is more or less present in that particular batch. Below you will find a list of the different compounds in kava listed as the numbers they are commonly referred to in packaging and their effects on the body:


  1. Desmethoxyyangonin - Helps to influence the increase of dopamine and serotonin levels, thought to help boost attention levels

  2. Dihydrokavain - Have sedative properties, often making the user feel relaxed and sleepy

  3. Yangonin - Thought to be responsible for the stimulating effects kava can have, giving the user energy and mental stamina

  4. Kavain - Will often promote a sense of euphoria, helping to elevate mood or improve overall self-image

  5. DihydromethysticinResponsible for Kava's analgesic effect, reducing tension and pain

  6. Methysticin - A relatively neutral compound in kava that does not affect mood in any particular way

For example, kava low in dihydromethysticin (#5) and high in yangonin (#3) are heady kavas that impart relaxation, while kava high in dihydrokavain (#2) and dihydromethysticin (#5) are known as heavy kavas that cause drowsiness and muscle relaxation. Most kava products will list these compounds as the numbers listed above in order from most to least present.

So, if you know that your anxiety causes your mind to race, maybe shy away from kava products listed as heady, opting for a heavier product that helps slow you down. And if your anxiety induces feelings of sadness or drains your energy, it might be best to choose a headier kava to help increase your energy levels and mood.

The Best Kava for Anxiety Infographic (1)-1


Different Kava for Different Lifestyles

The dynamic nature of kava means that there are myriad ways to ingest it, so it is key to find the most convenient means for ingestion that slips into your lifestyle. A heady kava tea in the morning is a great way to start the day feeling fresh and euphoric. If tea isn’t your thing, kava pills containing either powdered or liquid kava extract can be taken easily and discreetly, fitting nicely into a morning routine of brushing your teeth or washing your face. Tinctures, too, can be quite effective for quick ingestion, requiring only 2 dropperfuls for a proper dosage. For both the tincture and pills, a heady kava to start your day might wash away the morning fatigue accompanying your anxiety, or a heavy kava might help to ease you into the day with its calming properties. A quick and easy means for ingestion of a heavy, calming kava in a busy on-the-go-type of lifestyle is a kava spray that can be applied directly under your tongue for when the anxieties of daily life flare up and you could use a moment of calm.

Kava is also available as an instant mix, easily dissolvable in water or fruit juice if you aren’t a fan of its earthy, natural taste, but still want the experience of drinking it. Kava gum is a great way to get your daily dose if all you need is a little pick-me-up in between meals or in the middle of a long day. At the end of the day, relaxing with a nice heavy kava to sooth you into the night’s slumber is a great way to ensure you wake up feeling refreshed and mentally clear to take on the next day.

A typical dosage of kava recommended to treat anxiety is anywhere between 210-240 mg, so be sure to be mindful of that number throughout the day. Be sure to consult your doctor before adding kava to your daily routine.

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About the Author

Tony Camme

Tony Camme

Tony has a background in International Politics and Chemistry, guided and inspired by the challenging puzzles each field provides. Traveling ignited a passion for understanding and serving underrepresented populations, calling for economic justice in the field and in writing. When he isn't working in rural Laos as a lead guide and project coordinator practicing asset-based community development, he spends his time between his native New Jersey, USA and Cape Town, South Africa.

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