The Kava Craze – Should You Cave to Kava?

Traditional Kava made from mixing the powdered root of the pepper plant with water and results in a numb feeling and a sense of relaxation

If you live in California, New York, or Florida, then you might’ve noticed the hundreds of Kava bars that have popped up in the last year. Clearly, though this Polynesian drink derived from the kava plant root isn’t the tastiest, its popularity is undeniable. But what are the real benefits bestowed from ingesting the kava root? And are the benefits tempered by any side effects?

Kava – A Drink Centuries Old

Kava, also known as Piper methysticum, is not some new tropical plant recently discovered. In fact, the benefits of kava have been well recognized for about 3,000 years. Though it originated in Melanesia, kava root benefits became evident after the plant was cultivated in the Polynesian islands. There were a number of uses for kava—religious and otherwise. Later on, the appreciation for kava root benefits in promoting wellness grew.

Interestingly, the kava plant is related to the black pepper family. Its roots are rich in a substance called kavain, which is known as a kavalactone. Notably, kavalactones have been shown to reduce anxiety and promote relaxation. But how they accomplish this is still not known for certain. Regardless, by grinding the root and dissolving it in water, kava root affects those who drink it. And increasingly, people in the U.S. and other countries are discovering these kava root benefits.

What Are Some Kava Roots Benefits?

spoon with kava root powder on wooden table

Kava root most commonly provides a sense of relaxation and a mild feeling of euphoria. But the actual kava root benefits you might enjoy varies significantly with the dose. In small dosages, it can offer a sense of wellness, sharpen your intellect, and help you be more tolerant of stress. As the dose increases, however, kava induces muscle relaxation and better sleep. And at even higher doses, deep sleep—as well as potential unwanted side effects—can develop.

So what is the ideal dose of kava? According to scientific studies, the effective dose to achieve mild to moderate benefits ranges from 70 to 250 mg. This range is what you would typically find in your local kava bar offerings. But this can vary significantly based on the amount of kava root extract used and its overall quality. At this time, standards for quality of kava do not yet exist. Thus, defining the actual quality of your kava beverage is challenging at best.

Are Kava Root Benefits Worth the Risk?

Kava is not a regulated substance in the U.S. The FDA has not found a need to restrict its consumption. However, side effects can develop—including some rather serious ones. Common side effects can include skin rashes, headaches, blurred vision, tremors, and clumsiness. These side effects tend to occur at higher doses and do not affect everyone. To avoid them, you should never exceed a daily amount of 250mg.

While the previously mentioned side effects are usually temporary, kava may also be toxic to the liver. Because the liver metabolizes it, cases of liver damage resulting from kava ingestion do exist. These are relatively rare, but anyone with existing liver disease should avoid the root. Likewise, medications that are metabolized by the liver are suspected to increase the risk of kava-induced liver injury. In addition, alcohol, which is also metabolized by the liver, should not be consumed with kava, either.

Kava Root Benefits Versus Risks – The Bottom Line

Most countries allow kava consumption, while some, like Canada, France, and Switzerland, do not. Germany and Australia, which had initially banned kava due to concerns about liver risks, now permit it.

If you are someone who experiences significant stress and anxiety, then kava might be beneficial in appropriate amounts. But like nearly all herbal remedies, kava root benefits must be weighed against potential harm. Ultimately, the decision of whether or not to drink kava will be an individual one. Knowing the pros and cons can help you make a healthy choice.

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About the Author

Dawna is a mom of two young kids, puppy lover, ice cream lover, chocolate lover, and lover of any ice cream with chunks of chocolate in it. She is the author of seven books, a business owner, certified health coach, motivational speaker, and creator of the 5-Day Detox and the 14-Day Clean-Eating Program. Dawna appears regularly on local and national television. She has appeared on the Today show, Martha, MSNBC, HSN, and morning news programs on NBC, CBS, ABC, and Fox. Dawna is a highly sought-after speaker and has done speaking engagements for Chobani, Disney, American Heart Association, Mass Mutual, Wharton Business School, Women’s Entertainment Television, PGA Tour, Super Bowl Leadership Forum, Susan G. Komen, and many more.
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