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Kava benefits

What is Kava? A Deep Dive into Its Uses, Benefits, Precautions

, by AussiePharmaDirect, 6 min reading time

In this modern age of buzzing notifications and late-night streaming binges, achieving a good night's rest can sometimes feel like trying to find a unicorn in a forest of espresso beans. When sheep counting fails, our ancestors had a knack for turning to Mother Nature for help to catch those elusive Z’s. Chamomile tea, valerian root, and lemon balm, you name it. Among the stars of the list of natural sleep remedies is the intriguing kava kava.

What is kava?

Kava, scientifically known as Piper methysticum, is a native plant to the Pacific Islands. The kava roots are ground into a calming concoction that is believed to ease anxiety and encourage restful sleep. While it may not have been a one-size-fits-all solution for everyone, kava kava certainly earned its place in the lineup of sleep aids.

Kava was once consumed as a ceremonial beverage – a tradition as old as the tides themselves. The underground parts of the kava plant, specifically the lateral roots and rhizomes, are what people traditionally use to create the drink that has been cherished for its potential relaxation and calming effects. 

As times evolved, so did our methods of embracing the benefits of kava. Kava consumption has taken on various new forms, such as kava capsules or tablets, adapting to the demands of our fast-paced lives and diverse preferences.

Kava benefits

At the heart of kava's charm are its active compounds, the kavalactones, which hold the key to its potential benefits including:

  1. Relaxation and stress reduction - Kava has been used as a natural remedy to promote a sense of tranquility and calmness. A research review suggests that the active compounds in kava, called kavalactones, interacts with certain neurotransmitters in the brain, contributing to these relaxing effects.
  2. Improved sleep - Due to its calming properties, kava has also been used to help improve sleep quality. People who struggle with falling asleep or staying asleep may find kava to be helpful in promoting a more restful night's sleep.
  3. Mood enhancement - Some individuals have reported an uplifted mood and a sense of overall well-being after consuming kava. It's thought that kava's potential to reduce stress and anxiety might contribute to its mood-enhancing effects.
  4. Muscle relaxation - Kava has been suggested to have mild muscle-relaxing properties, which could be beneficial for those dealing with tension or mild muscular discomfort.
  5. Potential cognitive benefits - Some research has explored the potential cognitive benefits of kava, including improved focus and concentration. However, more studies are needed to fully understand these effects.

While its traditional use has been centred around relaxation, research has cast a spotlight on kava's potential anti-cancer effects. The kavalactones in kava have demonstrated the ability to modulate certain cellular pathways and processes that are linked to cancer progression.

Kava side effects and possible contraindications

While kava has been traditionally consumed for its potential relaxation and calming effects, there are certain contraindications and considerations that you should be aware of before consuming kava products.

Here are some potential contraindications and considerations:

  1. Liver health - There have been concerns about the potential for kava to cause liver toxicity, particularly when consumed in excessive amounts or in combination with other substances that affect the liver. 
  2. Medication interactions - Kava may interact with certain medications, including those that affect the liver, central nervous system, or blood clotting.
  3. Pregnancy and breastfeeding - A report produced by the Food Standards Australia New Zealand generally recommended that pregnant and breastfeeding individuals avoid kava products.
  4. Existing health conditions - Individuals with a history of depression, anxiety disorders, or other mental health conditions should be cautious when using kava, as it may interact with medications or exacerbate certain symptoms when taken excessively.
  5. Allergies and sensitivities - Some individuals may be allergic or sensitive to kava or other components present in kava products. It's advisable to start with a small amount and monitor for any adverse reactions.
  6. Driving and operating machinery - Kava's relaxing effects can impair coordination and cognitive function. It's recommended to avoid activities that require mental alertness, such as driving or operating heavy machinery, after consuming kava.
  7. Age considerations - Children and adolescents should avoid using kava, as its effects on developing bodies and minds have not been well studied.
  8. Long-term use - Long-term and excessive use of kava may increase the risk of adverse effects, including potential liver issues.

Kava dosage: How much is considered safe?

Determining a one-size-fits-all dosage from historical practices is complex due to varying factors, including the form of kava used, preparation methods, and individual sensitivities. Reported dosages of kavalactones from traditional kava use show significant variation, spanning from 750 to 8,000 mg per day.

Most capsule formulations contain doses ranging from 50 to 100 mg of kavalactones. Moreover, the general consensus among experts suggests a maximum daily dose of around 250 mg of kavalactones when consuming kava supplements. Within the Australian landscape of sleep supplements, a range of brands have embraced the use of kava in their sleep formulations such as Blackmores, Swisse, and Herbs of Gold. 

Distinguished among natural sleep supplements, SLEEP by Ritua stands out for its thoughtfully crafted blend of kava and complementary sleep-supporting ingredients such as reishi mushroom.

Know what’s right for your needs

Embarking on a journey with kava, the ancient botanical known for its potential relaxation benefits, requires a thoughtful approach to ensure a safe and beneficial experience. It's recommended to seek guidance from a healthcare professional before incorporating kava into your wellness routine. This is especially crucial if you have pre-existing health conditions, are currently taking medications, or if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Consulting a healthcare provider can provide personalised insights into how kava might interact with your unique health profile.


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