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4 Proven Benefits of Kava

If you were to ask current kava enthusiasts why they drink kava, many would say that it helps reduce anxiety and stress. Others would say it helps them stay away from alcohol. And some might say it helps with insomnia. 

Below are 4 reasons why people drink kava and the research to back it up.

Relieves anxiety

Millions of Americans struggle with clinical levels of anxiety. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting about 40 million adults ages 18 and older, or 18.1% of the population each year, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA). 

Kava may be best known for its ability to reduce anxiety. In fact, many kava drinkers say they drink it for the anti-anxiety effects. In a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study, a research team investigated the effectiveness of kava on patients with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). GAD is a common debilitating disorder which commonly takes a chronic course.

A total of 75 participants were enrolled in a 6-week trial of a kava extract versus placebo. The results showed a significant reduction in anxiety for the kava group compared with the placebo group. 

According to a 2002 review of seven clinical trials and 645 people, a kava extract was found to be an “effective symptomatic treatment option for anxiety.” Safety and tolerability were also good, with no drug-related adverse events, according to the authors.

The Cochrane Review reports that kava is better than placebo and recommends it as a symptomatic treatment for anxiety (60–280 mg kavalactones/day).

Several studies suggest that kava can be an alternative to benzodiazepines and selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs), especially in people with mild to moderate anxiety.

May help with insomnia

Kava may help reduce insomnia, and do so with fewer side effects than pharmaceutical drugs or over-the-counter sleep enhancers. A specific type of kavalactone, called kevain, may be behind kava’s sedative effects.

In a pilot study of 24 patients with stress-induced insomnia , researchers looked at the effectiveness of kava and valerian separately. Stress was assessed in three areas: social, personal and life events. Insomnia was also measured in three areas: time to fall asleep, hours slept and waking mood. 

According to the study results, total stress severity was greatly reduced by both substances individually, with no significant differences between them. There was also improvement with the combination, significantly in the case of people with insomnia.

“These results are considered to be extremely promising but further studies may be required to determine the relative roles of the two compounds for such indications,” write the authors.

Alcohol substitute

In 2019, 25.8% of American adults reported binge drinking within the past month, and 6.3% reported heavy alcohol use in the past month. 

In addition, 14.5 million people ages 12 and older had alcohol use disorder (AUD). This includes 9 million men (6.8 percent of men in this age group) and 5.5 million women (3.9 percent of women in this age group).

Every day, about 28 people in the United States die in drunk-driving accidents. This is one person every 52 minutes. We definitely need a better way to relax in the evening.

Kava offers a lot of the benefits of alcohol without the negative effects. It reduces anxiety and helps you wind down after a stressful day but without the risk of getting drunk. Although you can feel “muddy” after drinking a large amount of kava, it is nothing like being drunk and your thinking processes remain intact.

When a person is “muddy,” they might feel extremely relaxed, slightly numb and a little tingly. Most say it is an enjoyable feeling.

Anti-inflammatory

Inflammation is behind the development of many types of diseases, from cancer to brain disorders. 

Previous studies have investigated kava for its anti-inflammatory properties. These studies were at least partly prompted by kava’s analgesic (pain-relieving) effects. This is because anti-inflammatory drugs are widely used for pain relief.

In addition, kava has traditionally been used “for the treatment of urinary tract infections and immune-related disorders, such as asthma.”  

Some of the first strong evidence of kava’s anti-inflammatory properties dates back to a study published in 1965. The researchers found that natural kavalactones, particularly kavain, showed significant benefits for the condition known as edema (swelling caused by excess fluid trapped in your body’s tissues) as well as on UV light-induced inflammation of rat skin. .

Since then, several animal studies have shown that natural kavalactones have significant anti-inflammatory effects.

What are the side effects of kava?

As with any substance, overdoing kava can lead to problems. Extensive long-term use can result in dry scaly skin in some people. Some side effects of kava may include mouth numbness (common), drowsiness, headache and indigestion. It is highly recommended that alcohol use be avoided when consuming kava. 

What does kava taste like?

Many people say that kava has a strong “earthy” taste. In fact, kava means “bitter” in the Tongan language. As a general rule, people don’t drink it for the taste, but for the effects. Most kava bars have flavors they can add if the taste is too strong.

How long does it take to feel kava?

It typically takes about 15 minutes to feel kava, give or take a few minutes. It may depend on the type of kava you’re drinking and whether you are drinking it on an empty stomach. Many say they can feel a mild numbing sensation in their mouth as soon as they drink it.

Preparing Kava at Home

Supplies:

  • Ground kava root. 
  • A strainer bag (A muslin bag, cheesecloth, or even an old T-shirt)
  • Warm to hot water (tap hot is perfect)
  • Bowl to prepare the kava in.

Directions: Traditional kava preparation involves steeping similar to how you would brew tea. First, measure out the right amount of kava root — 2-4 tablespoons per serving — and put it in your strainer bag. Tie up the bag and place it in your bowl. Measure out 8-12 ounces of hot water per serving, depending on how strong you want your kava. Next, pour the hot water directly into the bag with the kava powder. Steep for 5-10 minutes. 

Finally, knead and squeeze the kava root in the bag, pushing the water out into the bowl. Make sure no kava powder escapes from the bag. After 5-10 minutes of kneading, wring the straining bag tight to remove all liquid. The kava should look similar to chocolate milk.

 

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