Kava is a plant known by the botanical name Piper methysticum. The plant is native to the South Pacific Islands from Fiji to Hawaii. It is known by other names including kava kava, awa, ava, waka, maolok, and malogu. So what is kava exactly? Here we’ll show you the uses of kava including in anxiety treatment and explain the drawbacks of using the plant.
In the Pacific Islands including Tonga and Vanuatu, the kava plant is crushed and ground and then infused in hot water. The resulting beverage is a staple of social interactions among Pacific Islanders and visiting dignitaries and serves an important purpose in spiritual ceremonies.
Uses and Benefits of Kava
Kava is largely used for its mood-boosting properties that work to increase relaxation without affecting focus. Kava extract has also been used as an herbal remedy to treat anxiety disorders. Research published in Trials found that the plant may play a role in the treatment of generalized anxiety disorder (1).
A study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology and led by the University of Melbourne was the first human trial to find evidence that this South Pacific plant may work in the treatment of anxiety. The study included 75 participants who were given either a placebo or kava for an eight-week period.
Results showed that patients who took kava had significantly reduced anxiety symptoms. Twenty-six percent of those were classified in remission at the conclusion of the trial (2). Kava also had fewer dependency side effects compared to depressants like Xanax and Valium. It may also cause loss of appetite that can help to improve weight loss when combined with a healthy diet and exercise.
Dangers of Using Kava
According to the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a consumer advisory on the prolonged use of kava. Some research shows that long-term use of kava drinks and kava root may increase the risk of liver damage. These liver problems were only found in cases where the user used high amounts of the plant or used it daily for months at a time. The warning advises users to limit their intake and use sparingly (3).
The side effects of kava on liver and kidney health have also prompted many governments outside the United States including those in the European Union to ban the use of kava and products including dietary supplements.
Always seek medical advice from a qualified healthcare professional before using kava products. This is particularly important if you suffer from liver disease, liver injury, or other medical conditions. Kava use may increase the risk of liver failure or liver toxicity and can cause drug interactions with certain medications. A doctor can help you understand the risks associated with this root and identify whether it is a good choice for your specific needs.
Using The South Pacific Plant
Kava is a South Pacific plant known for its calming effects. It’s a popular natural remedy for anxiety and clinical trials, as well as systematic reviews, are ongoing to examine the effects and dangers of the plant and its herbal supplements. The benefits of kava supplements are largely attributed to the presence of kavalactones in the plant.
The plant is also widely known for adverse effects including hepatotoxicity. Check with a doctor before using these plant products and stop use immediately if you experience yellowing of the eyes, scaly skin, or liver pain.