The Truth Behind Using Kava Kava for Anxiety

Have you been considering using Kava Kava as a natural remedy for your anxiety? First, you might want to learn more about this somewhat mysterious substance, and what it can do for your anxiety and state of mind.

The use of Kava Kava for anxiety slowly gained traction over the years, particularly as people searched for alternative treatments for their mental health concerns. Just as CBD and aromatherapy have captured the attention of anxiety sufferers around the world for the calming benefits, Kava Kava is earning its own reputation.

The question for most people first looking into it, is What exactly is Kava Kava, and what can it do?

A herbal concoction for issues such as anxiety and insomnia, Kava Kava comes from the roots of a plant found in the Pacific region, called Piper Methysticum. Otherwise referred to as the “intoxicating pepper”, Kava Kava is commonly used throughout Tonga and Fiji as a traditional herbal medicine and healing substance.

Kava Kava is a plant-based alternative to anti-anxiety medications, for those who do not want to take prescription anxiety medications.

Let’s explore how Kava Kava works, and what it can do for an anxiety sufferer or insomniac:

What is Kava Kava?

Touted as a natural anxiety treatment, muscle relaxant and sleep aid, Kava Kava is commonly used among residents of the Pacific Islands. Traditionally, people would make a paste from the root of the Piper Methysticum plant to consume this substance. Regularly, the plant appears in religious and cultural ceremonies to create an altered state of mind.

It’s quite common to make a warm drink made using Kava Kava, and drink it while anxious or right before bed.

While the results of consuming Kava Kava can vary, many states that the root has both a euphoric and relaxing effect, similar to a stiff drink or medications like Valium. Medicines capable of causing euphoria are known as anxiolytic.

Though capable of reducing anxiety and stress in some cases, Kava Kava also has its downsides. High doses of the substance may cause hallucinations, and significant side effects which we’ll discuss later in this article. Like any medical treatment, Kava Kava may be dangerous when consumed improperly.

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Kava Kava Uses: What Can This Substance Do for Anxiety?

The primary use of Kava Kava is for the treatment of anxiety and stress. There are many potential treatments for these conditions, ranging from deep breathing and meditation to medication. The right treatment for you will depend on your genetic makeup and circumstances.

In a study from 2013, scientists gave 75 people suffering from anxiety an extract from the Kava Kava plant. The researchers found Kava had a significant impact on anxiety treatments. Though some patients had headaches when taking the medicine, they didn’t report any other issues.

Unfortunately, the NIH states that research studies about Kava Kava uses often produce mixed results, making it harder to draw conclusions about efficacy.

Aside from helping with anxiety, some scientists believe Kava Kava can also induce sleep. Currently, however, there are no reports showing any significant impact from the medication on sleeping patterns. Some people also believe Kava Kava can reduce pain, prevent seizures, and relax the muscles, but research is limited.

How Do People Use Kava Kava?

Before using Kava Kava, it’s crucial to get advice from a medical professional. Some people may react more negatively to this drug than others. Getting a DNA test can be a good way to evaluate your chances of responding poorly to certain “natural” treatments.

If Kava Kava is deemed safe for you to use, there are various ways you can take it. Usually, Kava Kava is taken in capsule, liquid, or powder form, and it frequently comes mixed into a tea. Most treatments are produced by extracting “kavalactones” from the root of the plant with acetone or ethanol.

  • Kava Tea: One of the most common treatment options used for dealing with anxiety, Kava tea is often sold alongside other herbs touted for promoting relaxation. When using Kava tea, be careful to avoid any “proprietary” blends, as it’s difficult to know how much Kava you’re getting in these blends.
  • Kava liquid or tinctures: Liquids or tinctures with the Kava extract are often dissolved into a drink or dropped onto your tongue. Some people believe the tincture from Kava tastes a lot like whiskey.
  • Kava capsules: Those who don’t like the taste of Kava Kava can sometimes find the medication in capsule form. It’s important to avoid anything with more than 250mg of kavalactones, as this can be dangerous.

Speaking to a doctor about your treatment will be the best way of ensuring you get the right dosage for your condition or situation.

Is Kava Kava Safe to Use? What Are the Side Effects?

Research into Kava Kava for anxiety is ongoing. Some scientists are concerned the medication may cause severe side effects, including withdrawal, addiction, and even damage to liver cells. Though Kava Kava is legal in the US because of it’s possible uses as a treatment, the FDA has warned customers about its potential for liver damage.

Other possible side effects of Kava Kava may include:

  • Addiction or Dependence
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Jaundice
  • Fever
  • Rash
  • Abnormal enzyme levels
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness

When taken in high dosage, Kava can also cause yellow, dry or scaly skin, heart problems, eye problems, and even depression. While the potential damage to the liver is the biggest concern for most doctors, scientists aren’t yet sure what causes the risk of liver cell scarring and failure.

Following several cases about toxicity and liver risk, many countries have banned the use of Kava Kava, or restricted it according to specific situations. The substance is banned in Canada, France, the UK and Switzerland at the time of writing. Germany previously banned Kava Kava, but has since lifted the ban due to lack of evidence about the potential risks.

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Will Kava Kava Cause Liver Damage?

Concerns regarding liver damage are common among doctors and scientists dealing with Kava Kava. Though some studies have found people taking this natural substance tend to suffer from liver conditions, it’s worth noting the reports are problematic.

Liver enzymes responsible for breaking down the Kava Kava medication also break down other drugs. It’s difficult to know which medication has caused the damage in these cases.

One risk which may heighten the chances of liver damage is if the company producing Kava Kava uses other parts of the plant (instead of the roots) to create pills and tinctures. The stems and leaves of the plant are known to be problematic for the liver, but some companies may attempt to use these in small doses to save money.

Currently, analyses of studies into the topic of Kava Kava and liver damage have not found specific evidence of liver problems in people who have taken the substance in the short term, for between 1 and 24 weeks. People without liver injuries and conditions which require them to take medications that could harm the liver may be more suited to Kava Kava medication.

Before You Use Kava Kava

Natural treatments for anxiety and stress like Kava Kava can sound like a good idea to many of us – particularly if you’re concerned about taking traditional substances like barbiturates and benzodiazepines. However, there are risks to any kind of treatment, including the consumption of natural pills and tinctures.

Notably, you should always speak to your doctor before taking a medication – even one considered to be natural. Kava Kava may interact with certain medications, like antiretroviral medications, and those used for the treatment of Parkinson’s Disease. It’s also recommended to avoid this substance if you have depression, bipolar disorder, are pregnant, or are breastfeeding.

Though there are some concerns surrounding Kava Kava, it’s also worth noting the substance has an extensive history of consumption in the Pacific islands. Many locals enjoy the root as a delicious tea, and find the kavalactones within to be extremely helpful for anxiety and stress.

Before taking Kava Kava, we recommend:

  • Exploring all your options: Talk to your doctor about your anxiety symptoms to find out what kind of treatments might be most suitable to you.
  • Know your medications: Avoid taking Kava Kava with any medications that may cause negative side effects or interactions.
  • Research suppliers: Make sure you know exactly the level of kavalactones included within your Kava Kava substance to avoid overdosing

To determine how your body is likely to respond to various prescription drugs, medications and natural ingredients, you can also get a DNA test from Circle DNA. As part of your health report, your CircleDNA results tell you about how your body will most likely react to certain drugs and medications,  based on your DNA. You’ll also receive stress and sleep reports based on your genetics.

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