Kava Kava (Piper methysticum) is a tall shrub that grows on the Pacific Islands and has been used for centuries for medicinal purposes. The kava plant's root contains chemicals that when processed are believed to produce a reaction in the brain and central nervous system.
About kava kava
Kava kava roots are ground to a pulp and added to water for use as a social and ceremonial drink. It's known to have effects similar to alcohol. The plant was dubbed "kava," by Captain James Cook. It means, intoxicating pepper.
Kava is available as a dried extract, tablet, capsule, or liquid drops. You can make kava tea by steeping the plant's roots in boiling water.
It's difficult to determine a general recommended dosage for kava kava. For that reason, talk to your doctor about an amount that will be appropriate for you.
- Anxiety: 300mg daily. Look for a product that contains 70% kavalactones.
- Insomnia: 210mg kavalactones an hour before bed.
Kava kava supplements should not be used on a daily basis for longer than two weeks.
The effectiveness of kava when used for medicinal purposes is based on proven effectiveness, possible effectiveness, ineffectiveness, or if there is insufficient evidence to determine its effectiveness. This rating system was established by the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database.
Headaches, including migraines
Treating nervous disorders
Chronic fatigue syndrome
Kava kava is possibly effective for:
Anxiety: Kava is known to reduce anxiety. For that reason, it has been compared to a low-dose benzodiazepine (also called benzos). It takes about eight weeks for the drug to take effect.
Easing benzodiazepine withdrawal: Benzos are prescribed to treat anxiety. Longterm use, however, can be addictive and rapid withdrawal from the drug can cause seizures and other unpleasant symptoms. Implementing kava with a benzo withdrawal regimen -- slowly reducing benzo intake while simultaneously increasing kava intake -- has been known to reduce withdraw symptoms.
There's insufficient evidence to state that kava is effective for:
Sexually transmitted diseases
Chronic bladder infections
Chronic fatigue syndrome
WarningsIn recent years, there have been about three dozen reports of liver damage in people who use kava supplements. Injuries include hepatitis, cirrhosis, liver failure, and death. One patient required a liver transplant. He was taking three to four kava extracts per day for two months. Kava kava, like other herbs, are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. Therefore, experts do not know if kava causes liver injuries or whether certain batches were contaminated.
Talk to your doctor
You should never start a new herb or supplement without first consulting your healthcare professional, especially if you're diagnosed with a disease or take prescription or over-the-counter medications. If you've been using kava in any form and have one or more of the following symptoms, see your doctor:
- Jaundice (yellow skin): This is a sign of liver failure
- Stomach pain
- Loss of appetite
Nausea and/or vomiting coupled with joint pain
Do not take kava
Kava is not right for everyone. If you have been diagnosed with depression, Parkinson's disease, or liver disease, you should not use this supplement in any form. Pregnant and breastfeeding women should also steer clear.
The following medications and substances may produce a negative interaction when combined with kava:
Alprazolam (and other anti-anxiety agents): Xanax is an example of an anti-anxiety medication that could react adversely when taken with kava. Both substances are known to cause drowsiness.
Medications moved by pumps in cells: Kava may increase the absorption of these drugs, which means the body is getting more than it should.
Levodopa (also known as L-dopa): These medications increase dopamine levels in the brain while kava decreases levels.
Liver-metabolized medications: Kava may increase side effects of these drugs.
Medications and herbs that could cause liver damage
Phenothiazine medications (tranquilizers)
- Side effects of kava kava use include allergic reaction on the skin, drowsiness, dizziness, stomach upset, tremors, and restlessness.
Taking high doses for extended periods of time may cause hair loss, hearing loss, loss of appetite, and dry, yellowed skin.
Do not take kava kava if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Do not take kava kava prior to surgery. Tell your doctor if you have been taking it.
Some countries, including Switzerland, Germany, Austria, and France have banned the sale of kava kava, but it is still available in the U.S.
Researchers are not certain if kava kava is what damages the liver, or if taking it along with other medications and herbs is the cause.
Unsafe kava kava dosage has not been determined.
"Natural" doesn't always mean safe. Consult a qualified healthcare professional for more information before using natural products, including kava.
Where to buy
Although we don't sell kava kava supplements and products, at PricePlow you can compare bands, quality, and price.
- University of Maryland Medical Center; "Kava Kava;" 2011
- MedlinePlus; "Kava;" 2013
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration; "Consumer Advisory: Kava-Containing Dietary Supplements May Be Associated With Severe Liver Injury;" 2002
- Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database; "Kava;" 2013
- NYU Langone Medical Center; "Kava:" 2013
- Ernst E.; British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology; "A re-evaluation of kava (Piper methysticum);" 2007
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