Kava Kava Root

Other Names for Kava Kava Root: Piper methysticum; kava kava; kew; 'awa; 'ava; yagona; kawa; sakau

Useful Parts of the Plant: Roots

Kava kava is a plant of the pepper family that grows in the western Pacific. The roots of the plant are have been used to produce a drink that has sedating and anesthetic properties. The drink has been used for thousands of years for its medicinal value and as a social and ceremonial beverage. It is used throughout the Pacific Ocean cultures of Polynesia. Its sedating properties make it popular as a means of relaxing and for treating anxiety. It is intoxicating when consumed in large quantities and serious concerns have been raised over its addictive nature and the damage it may cause to the liver. The root is dried and then ground into a powder which is then made into a beverage and consumed. It is also available as a liquid extract and in capsule and tablet form.

Nutritional Information and Properties of Kava Kava

The active ingredients in kava kava root are known as kavalactones. Studies have shown that it was likely to be more effective than placebos in treating cases of anxiety. Concerns have also been raised over the possibility of kava causing liver damage. This may be caused by the use of the stem and leaves while preparing the extract, but the matter requires further study. Heavy use of kava kava in combination with alcohol consumption or an existing liver condition may lead to malnutrition and weight loss along with liver damage and renal dysfunction. It may also cause elevated levels of HDL cholesterol, hypertension and decreased platelet count in the individual.

Health Benefits and Therapeutic Uses of Kava Kava

One of the main therapeutic benefits of kava stems from the sedating effect of kavalactones present in it. This property has made it useful as a means of lowering inhibitions by inducing relaxation at social gatherings. It has been used in traditional medicine to treat anxiety, insomnia, stress and depression. Other traditional medicinal uses include rheumatism, leprosy, venereal disease, tuberculosis and menstrual problems. Kava kava is also used in many religious ceremonies amongst the Pacific Rim cultures as a means of attaining an enlightened state.

Research into the kava kava root has shown promise for its use in treating ovarian cancer and leukemia. It can also be used for pain relief in place of conventional drugs like aspirin, ibuprofen and acetaminophen. It acts as an an anti-inflammatory agent, making it useful in the treatment of gout and osteoarthritis. It is often used to keep babies calm and to induce sleep. Chewing kava can produce relief from throat pain. It produces a numbing effect on the tongue and the throat. It should first be chewed for about 5 to 10 minutes. This releases the kavalactones which are then swallowed along with saliva to produce the numbing effect.

Long term use of kava may cause dryness in the skin leading to skin ulcers. It should not be taken while driving as it could affect motor coordination and impair mental acuity with higher doses. High doses may lead to dizziness, visual impairment and muscle weakness. Long term use may lead to hypertension, blood cell abnormalities, reduced protein levels and may even cause liver damage. The addictive properties of this herb are a matter of controversy and need to be investigated further. Some researchers claim that it could be a gateway drug that leads to the use of harder drugs, but this is debatable. It should not be used by people with liver disorders, those taking anti-depressants and by pregnant women or nursing mothers.