The Health Benefits of Kava

Kava’s Health Benefits

The Health Benefits of Kava

By many accounts, kava-kava–or simply kava–is an herb on the brink of Western stardom. Manufacturers of herbal products report strong public interest in kava preparations, and articles appearing in the popular press have described kava use and its effects, both good and bad.

While many Americans are becoming increasingly aware of kava’s ability to relax tension, increase sociability, and promote sleep, their discovery of kava’s tranquilizing, calming effects comes relatively late, given that kava has been part of the cultural tradition of the South Pacific for thousands of years.

Tradition Bound

From Hawaii to New Guinea, natives of the South Pacific islands serve a special drink made from kava rootstock at weddings, coming-out-of-mourning celebrations, and other special occasions; visiting heads of state have indulged in kava during welcoming ceremonies. Considered an important part of the islanders’ social and religious lives, kava’s cultural role in the Pacific has been compared with that of wine in southern Europe.

In former times, the islanders prepared the ceremonial kava beverage by first scraping the root, then chewing pieces of it and spitting them into a bowl to which coconut milk or water was added.

Next, they stirred the mixture until it took on a muddy, opaque appearance, then strained it into another bowl.

During ceremonies, a cup of the beverage was first presented to a special guest, who was expected to down the contents without stopping. Then others attending the ceremony imbibed.

Today, the root is usually prepared by grating, not chewing. Initially, many islanders opposed giving up the chewing method because they believed that it produced a stronger drink.

Some researchers, in fact, concur with this belief.

Chewing apparently releases more kavalactones–compounds found in kava that relax muscles–than grating, because saliva contains an enzyme that breaks down the starchy components of kava pulp.

Islanders (as well as many new kava drinkers) take moderate amounts of the beverage to achieve a state of tranquility, happiness, and contentment (some describe it as a holistic sense of “being”), but without the unpleasant side effects of alcohol, such as hangovers or boisterous behavior. Over­indulging can lead to loss of muscle control and a strong urge to sleep.

The islanders have also used kava as medicine for centuries, brewing decoctions made from its rootstock to treat gonorrhea, urinary infections, menstrual problems, migraine head­aches, insomnia, and other conditions.

To The West

Captain James Cook is credited with introducing kava to the West after a voyage through the South Pacific from 1768 through 1771. Later, it was given its botanical name, Piper methysticum, reflecting both its close relationship to the familiar spice black pepper (P. nigrum) and its intoxicating effects (methys is Greek for “drunken”).

Kava is a shrub that thrives in humid, tropical climates with evenly distributed rainfall and stony soil at elevations of 500 to 1,000 feet above sea level. Plants can reach heights of 20 feet, and their sprawling rhizomes may reach lengths of 9 feet, alternately disappearing below and surfacing above the soil.

The islanders harvest kava when the shrubs mature in two to three years, either to use themselves or sell as a cash crop.

Kava first piqued scientific interest during the mid-1800s, when researchers traced kava’s relaxing properties to kavalactones, which relax muscles without blocking nerve signals that keep the muscles tense. This may explain how kava can relax muscles without numbing the thinking process.

But kava’s mind-altering action has largely been ignored in modern times due to the development of synthetic psychopharmaceuticals, including antidepressants.

Recently, however, kava and other plant therapies have received more attention because undesirable side effects, including addiction, can make some synthetic drugs unsuitable for long-term treatment.

What Science Says About Kava

Kavalactones have been shown to relieve anxiety and pain and relax muscles in laboratory animals. In humans, they have been shown to change brain activity (as measured by an electroencephalogram) without sedation.

A recent study showed that people taking measured doses of a kava extract fared better in word-recognition tests than those taking a synthetic tranquilizer (benzodiazepine), and a 1993 report in the British Journal of Phytotherapy referred to kava as one of few herbs that can safely relax skeletal muscle.

The report’s author recommended it for treating nervous tension and conditions associated with skeletal muscle spasms, such as headaches caused by a tense neck.

In 1996, a randomized, placebo-­controlled, double-blind study showed that kava significantly reduced anxiety in humans. Two groups of twenty-nine people with normal anxiety were ­treated for four weeks with three daily doses of 100 mg of kava rhizome extract or a placebo.

After one week of treatment, members of the kava group had significantly lower anxiety levels compared with that of the placebo group, and the difference between the two groups increased during the course of the study.

No adverse reactions to the kava extract were noted during the study.

A 1995 report, however, described four patients who experienced unpleasant side effects from using various kava preparations.

A twenty-eight-year-old man, who had been taking pharmaceuticals for treatment of anxiety, had sharp spasms in the muscles of his neck and eyes that began about ninety minutes after taking 100 mg of kava extract and lasted about forty minutes.

A twenty-two-year-old woman experienced a similar reaction to the same product but denied taking any other medication, as did a sixty-three-year-old woman who had taken 150 mg of kava extract three times daily for four days to treat anxiety.

Finally, a seventy-six-year-old woman with early signs of Parkinson’s disease (a disorder of the nervous system) reported a pronounced increase in the duration and number of episodes of impaired movement after switching from pharmaceuticals to 150 mg of kava extract, which she took twice a day. The study’s authors suggested that kava products be used cautiously, espe­cially by elderly patients.

Kava Cautions

When used as directed, standardized kava products are considered nonaddictive, nonhypnotic, and safe to use, except during pregnancy, lactation, or bouts of depression.

The German government’s Commission E warns against using kava with alcohol, barbiturates, antidepressants, and other substances that may act on the central nervous system. Because it apparently acts a sedative, kava shouldn’t be taken when driving or operating machinery.

No side effects have been associated with using small amounts of kava products, but long-term, heavy use can cause temporary yellowing of the skin, hair, and nails, as well as itching, sores, and vision disturbances.

In Germany, where the dried rhizome and its preparations are sold commercially, the government allows kava preparations to be labeled as treatments for nervous anxiety, stress, and unrest.

Overindulgence in kava, any other drug, poses dangerous health risks. It is best to follow the guidelines offered on the label of the product you are using or the instructions of your health-care provider.

Additional reading

• Brown, Donald J. Herbal Prescriptions for Better Health. Rocklin, California: Prima, 1996.• Foster, Steven. Herbs for Your Health. Loveland, Colorado: Interweave Press, 1996.• Lehmann, E., et al.

“Efficacy of a Special Kava Extract (Piper Methysticum) in Patients with States of Anxiety, Tension and Excitedness of Non-Mental Origin–A Double-Blind Placebo-• • • Controlled Study of Four Weeks Treatment”. Phytomedicine 1996, 3(2):113-119.• Leung, Albert Y., and S. Foster. Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used in Food, Drugs, and Cosmetics.

2nd ed. New York: Wiley, 1996.

• Schelosky, L., et al. “Kava and Dopamine Antagonism”. Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry 1995, 58(5):639-640.

Share the abundance of a fall harvest and avoid food waste by donating your fresh, homegrown excess to local organizations that can pass your nutritious produce along to those who have none.

Use our tips for sourcing and cooking local foods for a bountiful holiday meal.

If you’re looking for some new and exciting fall recipes, try these, all of which feature cider syrup made with sweet apple cider.


Kava – 14 Benefits And 5 Side Effects + How To Make Kava Tea

The Health Benefits of Kava

A root found in South Pacific islands, kava has a calming effect and prevents convulsions. This root is also known to relieve pain. Well, these are some of the many benefits of kava. To know more, just keep reading. Also. we’ll give you the recipe of kava tea today.

What Is Kava Good For?

The calming effects of kava find great use in relieving anxiety and restlessness and other stress-related ailments. This root also relieves muscle spasms and other kinds of pain that are related to stress and irritability.

Some sources say it also improves sleep quality.

That’s a brief about what this root is good for. And now, we get to the details.

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What Are The Benefits Of Kava Root?

Kava root has a calming effect and also helps relieve pain. In addition, the root also helps fight cancer and can do good to your muscles.

1. Fights Cancer

Studies have shown kava to be a potential cure for bladder cancer. The inhabitants of the South Pacific islands (the home of kava) have surprisingly low cancer rates despite being heavy smokers (1).

As per reports by the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, intake of kava has been linked to lower incidences of cancer. However, one of the constituents of kava has been found to stimulate melanoma cancer cells – so, consult your doctor before using it (2).

Other studies have also spoken about the direct relation of kava consumption with lower cancer rates (3).

2. Regulates Blood Pressure

Some sources say kava might lower blood pressure. In fact, it can even interfere with blood clotting. For this reason, avoid kava at least two weeks prior to surgery. Also, consult your doctor for further information in this regard.

[ Read: Diet Tips To Keep High Blood Pressure In Control ]

3. Can Help Lower Cholesterol Levels

There is one preliminary study that spoke of how a kava-using group had seen a decrease in their body fat and skinfold thickness (4). However, there is not enough evidence suggesting that kava can help lower cholesterol levels.

4. Eases Depression And Anxiety Issues

The relaxing and mood-elevating effects of kava are well known. The root contains compounds called kavalactones, which are known to positively affect the brain and the central nervous system. The chemicals produced from the kava root also help prevent convulsions.

Studies have also focused on the efficacy of kava in treating stress and anxiety (5). And the calming effects of kava also reduce muscle spasms and relax the muscles.

5. Is Helpful For Bodybuilders

Since kava helps relax muscles, it is of great use for bodybuilders. The root negates the symptoms of overtraining and soothes the muscles.

6. Treats Cough And Cold Symptoms

Some research suggests that kava can help treat cold, cough, flu, and other infections of the respiratory tract. Ingesting kava root tea might help in this regard (we will discuss how to prepare the tea a little later).

7. Helps Deal With Symptoms Of Alcohol Withdrawal

Kava has been known to help people deal with symptoms of alcohol withdrawal and drug addiction. Studies have spoken about its efficacy as an anti-craving agent (6).

Kava can also help you deal with the symptoms of opiate and kratom withdrawals.

8. Cures Chronic Pain

Studies have shown how kava might ease pain and other kinds of pain muscle tension or spasms. Kava has shown the ability to heal back pain and other forms of chronic pain as well. Its muscle-relaxing properties play a role here.

It also has neuroprotective properties that can help ease pain, as per studies (7). The root might also help deal with fibromyalgia.

9. Can Ease Menstrual Cramps

Given its ability to reduce pain, kava might also help ease menstrual symptoms. The root can also help deal with hot flashes.

10. Treats Erectile Dysfunction

As kava has the ability to calm the nerves and reduce stress, it can help treat erectile dysfunction (as the condition is often caused by stress and anxiety). Kava can help treat self-induced sexual dysfunction (caused by stress, etc.), but it may not show much improvement in an actually diagnosed case of erectile dysfunction.

Kava might also help treat premature ejaculation. You can take 100 milligrams of the root powder (you can also take it in a pill form) before engaging in sexual intercourse. The root is known to increase blood flow to the penis as well as sexual stimulation.

11. Promotes Sleep

Since kava has calming effects, it can help treat sleeplessness or insomnia. The root promotes deep sleep without affecting the restful REM sleep.

One German study talks about how effective kava extract can be in reducing sleep disturbances associated with anxiety disorders (8). In yet another study, researchers could treat stress-induced insomnia using kava (9).

[ Read: 8 Best Natural Sleep Aids For Insomnia ]

12. Reduces Adrenal Fatigue

We have seen that kava eases stress and anxiety – this might have some beneficial effect on adrenal fatigue too. However, we need more research on this.

13. Treats Toothache

Kava also possesses anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, and anesthetic properties that help treat a toothache. Simply chewing a small piece of dried kava root for about 15 minutes can help with a toothache. The root might also help cure gingivitis.

Even applying kava root oil to the affected part of your gums can treat any infection. The root is also used as a mouthwash to treat canker sores.

14. Might Support Hair Growth

There is very little research on this. Some sources say kava root can strengthen the hair follicles and prevent hair fall. But we are not sure. We suggest you talk to your hair care specialist before using kava for this purpose.

Those are the few ways kava can be effective for you. But hold on, this root is kind of controversial. Some sources suggest its side effects might even outweigh the benefits. Well, is that really the case? Let’s find out.

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1. Liver Damage

When taken orally, kava might lead to serious liver damage. Stay away from kava if you already have liver issues. And please consult your doctor if you are taking it for the first time.

3. Parkinson’s Disease

Kava can also make Parkinson’s disease worse. Stay away from it if you already have this condition.

4. Issues During Surgery

Since kava affects the central nervous system, it might increase the effects of anesthesia. Hence, stop its use at least two weeks before and after surgery. Also, check with your doctor.

5. Issues During Pregnancy And Breastfeeding

Please don’t use kava if you are pregnant or breastfeeding as it can affect the uterus. Some chemicals in kava can also pass through breast milk and harm the baby.

Yes, these side effects give us an entirely different perspective on kava. Hence, we recommend you talk to your doctor before taking kava root orally. The ill effects of the root have more to do with the amount taken – the higher the concentration of the root, the more the risk.

But the benefits of this root don’t need to be discounted. They are as important – which takes us to the next section.

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How To Take Kava

There are different ways you can take kava (after consulting your doctor, obviously):

  • Kava root, where you directly ingest a small part of the root and use its essence in your food.
  • Kava capsules, which are supplements that you get in the market.
  • Kavalactone paste, which is a highly concentrated form of kava (you will get this in the market as well).
  • Kava tea, which is prepared using kava root powder. 

Of these, kava tea is the most common and recommended way of taking the root. But how do you prepare it? 

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  1. In a large bowl, mix the root powder and warm water.
  2. Let the kava root powder soak for about 20 minutes.
  3. Filter the mixture through a muslin cloth. Squeeze the juice into a separate container.
  4. Once done, put back the kava root powder into the water. Mix well and repeat step number 3.
  5. Serve.

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The benefits sound great. But we recommend you not to take kava orally until you have consulted your doctor. And leave your valuable comments in the box below – we would love to hear from you.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long do you feel the effects of kava?

Kava usually takes 20 to 30 minutes to produce an effect that lasts for about 2 to 3 hours.

How do you feel when you drink kava?

Your eyes might get sensitive to light, and you may not hear much. You will also begin to feel subtle forms of relaxation.

How much kava is safe to drink?

It is safe to take 70 milligrams of kava root powder in a day. But check with your doctor first.

What is reverse tolerance to kava?

Reverse tolerance to kava means one may not feel its effects for the first time or even for the first few weeks. And then, you begin to feel the effects all of sudden, which are supposedly the good ones.

The following two tabs change content below.Alexandra Dusenberry is registered dietitian nutritionist and certified personal trainer based in San Diego, California. She works with clients around the world to help them reach their health and fitness goals. She believes that food is medicine and proper nutrition is healing and essential for wellbeing and quality of life. Alexandra enjoys hitting the gym, spending time at local cafes,… more


6 Health Benefits of Kava + Side Effects

The Health Benefits of Kava

Kava is a plant traditionally used as an intoxicating beverage by the indigenous people of the South Pacific. Kava can also be used to help with anxiety, stress, insomnia, and other disorders.

However, high doses of kava may cause liver damage and the plant should not be taken in combination with alcohol or other psychotropic medications.

Read on to learn more about the potential health benefits and side effects of kava.

What Is Kava?

Kava (Piper methysticum) extract is traditionally prepared from a combination of kava root and water and is commonly used as a psychotropic beverage in the South Pacific.

Forms of kava products include [1]:

  • Root extract
  • Root capsules
  • Tincture
  • Root powder
  • Root tea
  • Concentrate paste

Kava tea, kava root extract, and capsules generally produce mild effects, while tinctures and powders are stronger. Kava paste produces the strongest effects, since the product is highly concentrated.

Importantly, several cases of liver damage and even death from taking kava (possibly due to the presence of the root and stem peelings in the kava product, instead of only the peeled root) have been reported. For this reason and its potential for abuse, kava is banned in Europe, the UK, and Canada [1, 2].

Kavalpyrones and chalcones are the two main active compound classes of kava extract [3, 4]:

  • Kavalpyrones (methysticin, dihydromethysticin, yangonin, dihydrokavain, and kavain) produce muscular relaxation and calming effect.
  • Chalcones (flavokawain A, B, and C) have potential antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and anticancer effects.

Mechanisms of Action

Kavain and methysticin block sodium ion channels, leading to a decrease in cell excitability. By blocking sodium channels, kavain also reduces excitatory neurotransmitter release. Kavain and methysticin decrease stimulatory pathways, possibly leading to a calming effect [5, 6, 7].

Yangonin, kavain, dihydrokavain, methysticin, dihydromethysticin, and kava pyrones increase GABA in the brain (hippocampus, amygdala, and medulla oblongata). When GABA-A receptors are activated, neurons are inhibited, which may have sedative and anti-anxiety effects [6, 7, 8].

Multiple kavalactones (desmethoxyyangonin, methysticin, yangonin, dihydromethysticin, dihydrokavain, and kavain) inhibit monoamine oxidase B.

Kavalactones prevent the enzymeMAOB from removing neurotransmitters norepinephrine, serotonin, and dopamine from the brain [6, 7, 9].

Kavain, desmethoxyyangonin, and methysticin increase noradrenaline, serotonin, and dopamine. Low levels of noradrenaline, serotonin, and dopamine are associated with depression, anxiety, ADHD, and other disorders [5, 6, 7, 10].


  • May reduce anxiety
  • May improve sleep disorders and depression
  • May improve mood symptoms associated with menopause


  • Insufficient evidence for many benefits
  • Several cases of liver damage and even death reported
  • High potential for abuse
  • Banned in several countries
  • High risk of drug interactions


Multiple human studies showed that kava improved anxiety, regardless of the symptoms and type of disorder (nonspecific anxiety, tension, agitation, agoraphobia, specific phobia, or general anxiety disorder) [11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18].

In a clinical trial on 129 people with generalized anxiety disorder, kava extract (400 mg) was as effective as two anti-anxiety drugs (opipramol 10 mg and buspirone 100 mg) [12].

Kava activates GABA-A receptors, which produces a calming effect. Kava prevents a decrease in norepinephrine, serotonin, and dopamine levels by inhibiting monoamine oxidase and relaxes muscles by decreasing beta adrenaline receptor activity [7, 6, 1, 18].

All in all, the evidence suggests that kava may help with anxiety. Remember that this supplement is not approved by the FDA for this purpose and is even banned in some countries due to its potential for abuse and risk of liver damage. Discuss with your doctor if it may be helpful in your case and always take it as recommended by them.

1) Sleep Disorders

Kava reduced stress and improved sleep quality in 24 patients suffering from stress-induced insomnia. 61 patients suffering from sleep disturbances associated with anxiety, tension, and restlessness were also effectively treated with kava extract [19, 20].

Kava’s potentially 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 [1, 21].

Although promising, the evidence to support the use of kava in sleep disorders is insufficient. More clinical trials on larger populations are needed to confirm these preliminary results.

2) Depression

In a clinical trial on 60 people with generalized anxiety disorder, oral kava extract (250 mg kavalactones per day) reduced both anxiety and depressive symptoms [2].

Its combination with Saint John’s wort improved depression (but not anxiety or quality of life) in a small trial on 28 people with major depressive disorder [2].

Kava induced a pleasant mental state while reducing fatigue and anxiety in human and animal studies. Kavalactones in kava increased dopamine, serotonin, GABA (only slightly), and decreased glutamate in cell models [22, 23, 24].

Again, the results are promising but only two small clinical trials have been conducted. Further clinical research is required to confirm the potential benefits of kava in people with depression.

3) Menopausal Symptoms

Perimenopause and menopause symptoms include hot flashes, night sweats, insomnia, and increased anxiety and irritability.

Kava improved anxiety, depression, irritability, and insomnia in 3 clinical trials on 120 perimenopausal and menopausal women. It activated GABA-A receptors, inhibited monoamine oxidase-B, and increased dopamine levels in the brain [25, 26, 27].

All in all, there is insufficient evidence to claim that kava helps with mood symptoms of menopause and perimenopause. Larger, more robust clinical trials are needed to validate these findings.

4) Brain Function

A single dose of kava extract (300 mg) improved accuracy and performance in attention, visual processing, and working memory tasks in a small trial on 20 people [28].

In another trial on 12 people, kava extract (200 mg, 3x/day) slightly improved performance in a word recognition task [29].

Kava pyrones are active in parts of the brain (amygdala, caudate nucleus, and hippocampus) that deal with emotions and brain processes. However, chronic usage and higher doses of kava can result in impaired motor function [1].

Because only two, very small clinical trials have been conducted, there is insufficient evidence to support the use of kava as a cognitive enhancer. Further clinical research is needed.

5) Treatment of Drug Addiction

Kava reduced the cravings for addictive drugs in drug-dependent patients in a pilot study [30].

The anti-craving effects of kava are due to dopamine-producing neurons in the reward system of the brain (nucleus accumbens). The kava pyrone desmethoxyyangonin may increase dopamine [31].

A single pilot study (which we couldn’t access for a critical analysis) is clearly insufficient to back the potential benefits of kava in treating drug addiction. More clinical research is required.

Animal and Cell Research (Lack of Evidence)

No clinical evidence supports the use of kava for any of the conditions listed in this section. Below is a summary of the existing animal and cell-based research, which should guide further investigational efforts. However, the studies should not be interpreted as supportive of any health benefit.

Brain Protection

Kavalactones extracted from kava prevented brain damage caused by oxidative stress in brain disorders Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease in mice and cell studies. Kavalactones activate the Nrf2 antioxidant response pathway and increase the concentration of antioxidant enzymes (heme oxygenase-1), which may combat oxidative stress [32, 33, 34].

Epilepsy and Seizures

Kava helped treat seizures and epilepsy in rats. Alone and in combination with the antiepileptic drug diazepam, kava reduced motor activity, increased the seizure threshold, and enhanced the anticonvulsant effect of diazepam.

Kava binds to GABA-A receptors in the brain (hippocampus and frontal cortex) and blocks sodium and calcium ion channels in the brain [35].


In cell-based studies, kavain and flavokawains A and B inhibited NF-kB and decreased TNF-alpha, both of which play a central role in inflammation [36, 37].

Immunity Boost

In mice, flavokawains A and B stimulated white blood cells in the spleen, causing the secretion of cytokines IL-2 and TNF-alpha and increasing the level of immune T cells [38].


Below, we will discuss some preliminary research on kava’s potential anticancer effects. It’s still in the animal and cell stage and further clinical studies have yet to determine if its extract may be useful in cancer therapies.

Do not under any circumstances attempt to replace conventional cancer therapies with kava or any other supplements. If you want to use it as a supportive measure, talk to your doctor to avoid any unexpected interactions.

Kava stopped the progression of bladder cancer and suppressed tumor growth in mice. Flavokawain A activated pathways (caspase-3/9 and Bax protein) that induce tumor cell death and inhibited proteins that prevent cell death (survivin) [39, 40].

Flavokawain B reduced prostate tumor growth, in part by reducing androgen receptors in prostate cells, in both mice and cell studies. Flavokawain B also killed tumor cells by activating the pathways that cause cell death (caspases and Bax) [41, 42].

Kava decreased breast cancer cell size, prevented their spreading, and increased their death.

Flavokawain A, B, and a flavokawain derivative (FLS) increased the concentration of a protein that activates cell death (Bax) and inhibited two proteins needed for cell growth (PLK1 and FOXM1).

Flavokawain A also cut off nutrient supply to tumors by inhibiting blood vessel formation and decreasing the levels of the glucose transporter GLUT1 [43, 44, 45].

Flavokawain B also inhibited the growth of colon cancer cells (through the release of cytochrome c and Bax/Bak protein) [46, 47].

Side Effects & Precautions

This list does not cover all possible side effects. Contact your doctor or pharmacist if you notice any other side effects.


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