Kava Q & A

Kava Q & A

Kava Q & A

What is kava?

Kava (Piper methysticum) is a tall evergreen shrub in the pepper family native to the South Pacific Islands. Traditionally, kava has been used as a ceremonial drink, consumed to bring about a state of relaxation during rituals and social gatherings. Kava is typically prepared by mixing crushed kava root with water or coconut milk. 

What’s the difference between mind kava and body kava?

If you visit a kava bar, you may be given the option of mind kava, body kava or a 50/50 mix. Mind kava, also referred to as “heady” kava, is said to clear and relax the mind and help you feel more uplifted. Body, or “heavy” kava, may feel more like a muscle relaxer, affecting the body more than the mind. 50/50 is a mix of both types.

What are the active compounds behind kava’s effects?

The active compounds in kava are called kavalactones, which account for 3-20% of the root’s dry weight. So far, 18 different kavalactones have been isolated and identified. However, six of them — kavain, dihydrokavain, methysticin, dihydromethysticin, yangonin, and desmethoxyyangonin — have been found to be responsible for about 96% of the plant’s pharmacological activity. 

Research has shown that kavalactones may help reduce anxiety and pain and improve insomnia. Kavalactones appear to work by impacting the brain’s neurotransmitters, primarily GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), which decreases nerve activity.

What does kava taste like?

Many say kava has a strong “earthy” taste. Kava actually 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.

Is kava similar to alcohol?

Kava is not alcohol. It is made from the crushed root of a pepper plant that grows in the South Pacific. It may be used in place of alcohol, as it is considered a social drink and may have an effect on the GABA receptors. The negative effects of alcohol are well-known and dangerous. With kava, there is no hangover and it doesn’t cloud judgment.

Does kava help with anxiety?

Many people report that kava helps with anxiety. Research is also promising. In a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study, researchers looked at the effectiveness of kava on patients with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). A total of 75 participants were enrolled in a 6-week trial of a kava extract versus placebo. The findings revealed 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.

Does kava help with insomnia?

Kava may help with insomnia, often with fewer side effects than pharmaceutical drugs or over-the-counter sleep enhancers. It is believed that a specific type of kavalactone, called kevain, may be behind kava’s sedative effect.

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

According to the findings, total stress severity was significantly relieved by both compounds individually, with no significant differences between them. There was also improvement with the combination, significantly in the case of 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.

Does kava help with depression?

Kava has not been studied as a treatment for people who have depression only and no symptoms of anxiety. In an early study, researchers looked at the effectiveness of kava among patients with both anxiety and depression. The team found that kava produced significant anti-anxiety and antidepressant activity and “raised no safety concerns at the dose and duration studied.” 

The authors added, “Kava appears equally effective in cases where anxiety is accompanied by depression. This should encourage further study and consideration of globally reintroducing aqueous rootstock extracts of Kava for the management of anxiety.”

What is the best form of kava?

First, make sure you are purchasing kava from a reputable source. There are generally two types of kava: noble and tudei. Noble is a far better choice for social drinking as it has fewer side effects and better mood-boosting qualities. Tudei kava is a stronger sedative with a much greater chance of negative side effects such as nausea, headaches and fatigue. Tudei may also be harder on the liver. Siesta Botanicals only carries noble kava.

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.

What are the side effects of kava?

As with any substance, overdoing it can lead to problems. Long-term use can lead to 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. 

How do I make kava at home?

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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