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What is Kava Kava?
Kava kava, also called kava, is a crop found in the western Pacific. The roots of this plant are used to yield drinks with sedative anesthetic and entheogenic properties. People in the Pacific Ocean region such in Hawaii, Melanesia, Vanuatu, and parts of Micronesia consume it to relax without reducing mental lucidity. The active ingredients are kavalactones, a class of lactone compounds, that when consumed have analgesic, anti-convulsant, anxiolytic, amnestic, hypnotic, and nootropic effects. It is said to be more effective than a placebo when it comes to treating short-term social anxiety.
About the Plant Kava
The kava plant is a tall shrub that produces green, large, heart shaped leaves and long, slender flowers. The roots are like bundles of woody, hairy branches, and it is this part that is used for medicinal purposes. In Hawaii it’s called “awa”, while in Aboriginal tribes it’s called “grog”.
Current kava strains consist of numerous, sterile cultivars which are cloned from its wild ancestors. The strains vary in concentrations of primary and secondary psychoactive alkaloids. Kava is grown across the Pacific, however the Republic of Vanuatu is often considered the home of kava because the most kava is grown there.
How Does Kava Kava Help People with Anxiety?
The kavalactones found in the roots of kava have similar effects on the brain’s chemistry to regular prescription antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications. Kava effectively elevates low mood related to depression and anxiety. It causes changes in brainwave activity to calm the mind. A dosage of 300 mg of kava can improve mental activity and cognitive performance unlike the prescription drugs that have the tendency to dull cognitive functions.
Kavalactones also reduce the tendency of convulsions, relax muscles, and relieve pains. Chewing the kava roots temporarily numbs and causes a tingling sensation on the tongue to relieve pain.
Kava can also help people with insomnia and may improve the quality of sleep. However, using kava to address insomnia may not be the best choice because it is not always effective.
What Should You do Before Taking Kava
Before taking kava, you should consult your physician. Whenever taking supplements and any other drugs, doctors should give you the go ahead first. Some people have developed liver problems after taking kava so you should only take it when your doctor advises you to do so. If you have a liver disease like hepatitis or cirrhosis, you shouldn’t take kava. It should not also be given to children. Also, never take kava together with alcohol.
What are the Negative Effects of Kava Kava?
Kava kava calms nerves and temporarily relieves stress and anxiety. But did you know it can also negatively affect you in certain ways? It is not a miracle plant. Kava has damaging effects to the liver. That is why it is strictly regulated to some countries including the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Germany, Switzerland, and France. In the United States, kava is legal as a nutritional supplement.
Be cautious when taking kava with other herbs because it might cause more damage to the health. Herbs contain components that interact with other herb components, supplements, and other medications. This is why people are advised to take extra precautionary measures and only take supplements after seeking their doctor’s advice. This is especially true for kava kava because it can severely damage the liver.
Other side effects of kava include allergic reactions on the skin, drowsiness, dizziness, tremors, stomach problems, and restlessness. Taking kava in high doses or for a long time can cause hair loss, loss of appetite, discoloration of the skin, and partial loss of hearing.
Why is Kava under Scrutiny?
The World Health Organization (WHO) reported a potential link between the use of kava and seven deaths and fourteen liver transplants, with the majority of the cases occuring in Europe. However, these cases may have occurred because they used formulations of kava that used the whole kava plant instead of just the root.
The WHO reported that kava has been used for many years in the South Pacific islands without any of the aforementioned liver problems being reported. Pacific islanders only use a water-soluble extract and the peeled root of the plant in preparing kava to reduce anxiety.
At East Carolina University, Professor of Psychiatric Medicine Richard Bloch, PhD, has expressed concerns that there is lack of regulation of dietary supplements like kava in the United States, so the consumer is never certain of what they are getting from these supplements. Supplement’s ingredients, manufacturing process and dosage suggestions are not monitored.
Is Kava Safe?
It can be hypothesized that kava is safe to temporarily relieve stress, anxiety, and pain when it is prepared from scratch and only using its roots rather than the whole plant. Kava supplements have been the causes of the liver damages as reported by several patients, though these supplements may have used the whole kava plant.
Before taking any kava supplement, you should first understand its uses, effectiveness, the recommended doses, and potential health risks. Consult a medical health expert first about your anxiety disorder condition and your health in general including your allergies, the medications you currently take (if any), and other medical conditions. This is because kava supplements and supplements in general can be dangerous to your health if combined with other medications.
Taking kava kava in the short term can be highly effective. When it is used long term, however, kava can lead to allergic skin reactions, drowsiness, dizziness, tremors, stomach problems, restlessness, hair loss, skin discoloration, and partial loss of hearing. Worst of all, kava supplements can lead to death or liver problems.
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