Kava tea is an earthy blend that originates in the South Pacific. The kava plant has long been associated with stress relief and decreased anxiety. In recent years, research shows that it may also pose significant risks to health. Studies show that long-term consumption of kava may cause liver injury and other side effects.
That doesn’t mean you can’t open your tea world to new tastes and aromas. Kava tea can be consumed in mild amounts with fewer side effects. If you want to give kava tea a try, read on to learn more about potential side effects and uses of the beverage.
What Is Kava Tea?
Kava tea is made from extracts of the kava plant known by the botanical name Piper methysticum. Tea and dietary supplements are commonly made from the kava root. The kava plant is native to the South Pacific region, where it is consumed similarly to alcohol in the United States and Europe. Many South Pacific Islands, including Fiji and Guam, use the plant as herbal medicine.
Kava goes by many different names depending on the local language of each Pacific island. It’s commonly known as kava kava, awa, yaqona, malok, and sakau. The plant belongs to the pepper family and features a rich earthy flavor. It’s often described as tasting like muddy water. To improve the flavor of this tea, you can add ginger root, lemon, or a heaping teaspoon of honey.
Is Kava Tea Safe?
Kava has been a controversial ingredient in herbal health. Short-term use of the plant seems to be generally safe, but long-term use of the plant has been associated with serious adverse effects including liver damage. The high risk of liver problems shown by recent research studies has lead to kava being banned in western European countries and Canada.
Kava is still legal and readily accessible in the United States. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration in New York (FDA) released a consumer advisory on the plant and side effects associated with its long-term use (1). The advisory outlined the potential side effects of kava including skin rash, liver toxicity, dark urine, and nausea.
Due to these potential side effects, it’s not recommended to drink kava tea daily for long periods of time or to partake in kava consumption while pregnant or breastfeeding. Consult a qualified healthcare professional before taking kava supplements, drinking kava drinks like tea, or eating kava bars.
Kava may interact with certain medications including antidepressants and medications for central nervous system disorders. If you are taking any medications, talk to your doctor before drinking kava tea. Kava also increases the production of dopamine in the brain and thus may interact with drugs for Parkinson’s disease (2).
Most research shows that negative side effects occur during prolonged or continued use of kava. Kava is safe to consume occasionally and in small amounts. Limit consumption of kava products and consult a physician regularly to prevent serious side effects.
What Is Kava Used For?
Kava tea has traditionally been used as a social drink. It’s also frequently used in traditional medicine as a treatment for anxiety disorders. Kava tea can be brewed using parts of the fresh plant or by purchasing loose leaf teas or tea bags.
Active ingredients in kava tea include kavalactones and kavapyrones. These ingredients are responsible for the sedative and calming effects of the tea as they boast psychoactive properties. Research shows that these compounds act directly on the excitability of neurons to provide a calming and uplifting effect (3). Kava stress relief effects can be attributed to these active ingredients.
Research shows that kava may be beneficial in the treatment of generalized anxiety disorders. A study published in Trials examined the effects of kava on anxiety. The clinical trial was funded by MediHerb and the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council. The study consisted of a two-arm, randomized, double-blind study that lasted for a duration of 18 weeks and included 210 patients with generalized anxiety disorder. Researchers found that data indicated kava helped to reduce anxiety, though longer-term research is needed to examine the potential side effects of continued use (4).
Kava Tea Recap
The use of kava and herbal supplements is considered dangerous when consumed long-term or in large amounts. If you choose to use kava by drinking kava tea or taking a kava extract, make sure to talk with your doctor about potential dangers. Kava use should be closely monitored to prevent side effects such as liver injury and drug interactions. Remember that the American FDA does not approve using kava supplements or kava tea for the treatment of any ailments.
Kava tea delivers a unique flavor profile and sedative effects that may help to induce calm. Join Pacific Islanders in enjoying a cup of traditional kava at your next social gathering. Whether it’s your first time trying a cup of kava tea or your hundredth, remember to keep cups to a minimum and enjoy in moderation.