Kava extract is a psychotropic beverage made from a mixture of water and kava root. Kava, scientifically known as Piper methysticum, is a pepper plant native to the South Pacific Islands [R].
Here are some of its health benefits supported by scientific research:
1. Treats Anxiety
Numerous human studies show that kava is an effective treatment for a variety of anxiety disorders, such as nonspecific anxiety, general anxiety disorder (GAD), specific phobia, agoraphobia, tension, or agitation [R] [R] [R].
It is considered an anxiolytic beverage that calms by activating GABA-A receptors in the brain. It also diminishes the decline of hormones such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine by obstructing monoamine oxidase and relaxes muscles by reducing beta-adrenaline receptor activity [R] [R] [R].
2. Treats Sleep Disorders
In 24 patients with stress-induced insomnia, kava effectively reduced stress levels and insomnia severity. In a double-blind, random-controlled trial, kava extract effectively remedied anxiety, restlessness, and tension experienced by 61 patients with sleep disturbances [R] [R] [R].
Kava has sedative properties because it blocks the sodium and calcium ion channels, increases neurotransmitter binding to GABA-A receptors, increases dopamine and noradrenaline levels, and inhibits monoamine oxidase B activity [R] [R] [R].
3. Treats Depression
Being a psychotropic beverage, kava was shown to induce a positive mentality and reduce anxiety and fatigue in both animal and human studies. It proved as an effective alternative to standard antidepressants, such as benzodiazepines [R] [R] [R].
4. Boosts Brain Function
A single dose of 300 mg kava extract effectively boosts brain functions, such as accuracy, attention to details, memory tasks, and visual processing. Kavapyrones are active components of kava that have psychotropic properties influencing brain areas that deal with emotions and brain functions, such as the hippocampus, caudate nucleus, and amygdala. However, impaired motor function was noted with higher doses and chronic use [R] [R].
5. Helps Treat Drug Addiction
In a pilot study, kava effectively reduced drug addiction and dependency in drug-dependent patients. This effect is attributed to the increase of dopamine production in the accumbens nucleus, which is the reward system of the brain. Desmethoxyyangonin is one of the major kavalactones that boost dopamine production [R] [R].
6. Relieves Menopausal Symptoms
Perimenopause and menopause are characterized by hot flashes, insomnia, night sweats, and increased irritability and anxiety.
In a double-blind, random-controlled trial with 80 perimenopausal women, kava treated symptoms of depression, anxiety, insomnia, and irritability by enabling GABA-A receptors, stopping monoamine oxidase-B activity, and increasing dopamine levels [R] [R] [R].
Common side effects of kava supplementation include fatigue, drowsiness, dizziness, headaches, mild stomach upset, diarrhea, and depression. A high dose and usage of kava may cause dry eyes and dermopathy (scaling skin). However, these are reversible when you reduce dosage, reduce usage, or stop intake altogether [R] [R] [R].
In general, kava is a safe supplement, it is not recommended for kava to be used as a primary anxiety treatment. Additionally, its root peelings, stems, and leaves are known to damage the liver. That is why it is best to use extracts made from peeled kava roots and rhizomes. To prevent liver damage and toxicity, you should also avoid drinking alcohol while using kava [R] [R].
This liver toxicity is due to the inability of cytochrome P450 enzymes, CYP3A4 and CYP2D6, to break down kavalactones. Around 79% of the Caucasian population has a slow drug metabolism due to a CYP2D6 deficiency. On the other hand, only 1% of the Asian population has this deficiency [R] [R].
We strongly advise you to have regular check-ups with your doctor and lab tests (blood, kidney, and liver) at least once every six months if you decide to take any herbal medicine or supplements for long-term.