Kava (Latin name Piper Methysticum) is a small shrub grown in Pacific Islands that belongs to the pepper family (what a family!). Traditionally, the root of the plant is ground and made into a drink consumed to induce a state of psychological and physiological relaxation. In some cultures, kava is used for both medicine and as an integral part of social traditions like weddings, funerals and royal events.
People have been drinking kava root for centuries to help calm the mind and body and induce a sense of relaxation and euphoria. Some of the common uses for kava include:
- Stress relief
- Natural remedy for anxiety
- Social alternative to alcohol
- Natural sleep aid
- Mood elevation
- Help relieve muscle tension
How Kava works:
The calming effects of kava root are due to a combination of the main active ingredients in the plant known as kavalactones. Kavalactones act as a muscle relaxant, boost dopamine levels, and have a a range of mental and physical effects associated with calming, anxiety reduction, and mild euphoria.
Is Kava Safe:
If you’re researching kava for the first time, you likely came across blogs and articles postulating that kava consumption may be dangerous. The research behind these claims was done decades ago in Switzerland and Germany and led to a kava bans in many European countries. However, newer research has changed those original conclusions. Reviews of the original data revealed that the cases of liver toxicity, initially attributed to kava, actually occurred because participants were consuming additional substances (hard drugs) that negatively impact the liver, and (and this is key!) the participants were given parts of the plant not meant for consumption and known to be toxic!
As a result of the new research, the ban on consumption of kava was lifted in Germany in 2006, and has been lifted in other countries as well.
According to the National Library of Medicine, “based upon reported cases, the estimated frequency of clinically apparent liver injury due to kava is less than 1:1,000,000 daily doses.” That is incredibly low. And the long history of kava drinking supports this statement. Kava consumption has been an integral part of the cultural traditions of the Pacific Islands for over 1,000 years without any record of causing liver problems. For a good summation of kava research and current opinion check out here.