What is Kava?
Kava, also known as “kava kava”, is a type of perennial shrub that belongs to the pepper family, known as Piperaceae. In social language and culture, the word “kava” denotes something bitter.
Kava has been grown throughout Micronesia, Polynesia, and Melanesia, for its relaxant and medicinal effects as a pain reliever, and muscle relaxant. It is also used as a remedy for anxiety, mood disorder, and insomnia.
A set of lactones are abundant and present almost exclusively in Kava, thus named kavalactones. These kavalactones are also believed to be responsible for the health benefits of traditional kava preparations (1).
Kava and Inflammation
Inflammation plays a vital role in the pathology of various diseases, ranging from cancer to neurological disorders (2).
Studies on Kava and inflammation have been partly stimulated by its analgesic effects. Historically, Kava has been used to treat urinary tract infections and immune-related disorders, such as asthma (3).
Neuropharmacological Functions of Kava
Kava is best known for its anxiolytic activity, including its potential against generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). GAD is an impairing disorder associated with extensive psychiatric and medical comorbidity and is usually characterized by a chronic course (6).
It has been concluded that Kava helps reduce anxiety and mood disorder, and it’s recommended as a symptomatic treatment of anxiety (7).
Kava activates GABA-A receptors, producing a calming effect. It also prevents a decrease in norepinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin levels by inhibiting monoamine oxidase and relaxing muscles by decreasing beta-adrenaline receptor activity (8) (9).
Several studies have further shown that Kava can be an alternative to Benzodiazepines and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), especially in patients with mild to moderate anxiety (10).
Kava may also promote better sleep. Kava’s effects on insomnia stem from its effects on stress and anxiety (11).
Studies also suggest that Kava may reduce cravings associated with substance abuse, such as alcohol, tobacco, cocaine, and heroin (12).
As a matter of fact, Kava has been used as part of addiction rehabilitation programs in New Zealand with a reported 90% success rate (13).
Kava consumption appears to be clinically non-addictive. It has also been linked with mood-elevating, improvements in short-term memory, visual attention, and enhanced accuracy and performance (14).
Safety and Side Effects
Kava must be taken in small dosages and only for short periods (no longer than three months). Any long-term usage is associated with several side effects like headaches, fatigue, dizziness, diarrhea, and skin problems. (15)
If you’re considering taking Kava, you should talk with your doctor first.