Kava is a plant from the Pacific Islands. It is a tropical Evergreen plant with heart shaped leaves and woody stems. The scientific name of kava is ‘Piper Methysticum’. Kava is also known as, ‘kava kava’. In the Tongan language the meaning of kava is, ‘Bitter’. Some others are also used such as:
- Ava pepper
- Intoxicating pepper
Kava is used as a drink in Pacific Island culture during festivals or social gatherings. It is a very popular social drink amongst Pacific islanders. Just as alcohol is popular in Western countries likewise Kava, is popular in Pacific countries. Kava is derived from the root of the plant. The roots of the plant are then dried, crushed and made into a powder form. Then water is added and the drink is ready to be consumed. Coconut milk can also be used to make this drink. Kava is said to be a recreational therapy and medicine as well, as it helps in relieving anxiety and stress. Kava contains active compounds called kavalactones. The kavalactones are mainly found in roots and rhizomes that are underground parts in horizontal stems of the plant . These kavalactones are helpful in decreasing anxiety and they also relax muscles. They have similar effects as anti-depressant medicines. In small doses, kava kava is useful in muscle relaxation, sleeplessness and overall wellbeing. However, at high doses and long term use can possibly lead to a number of health problems like liver damage, weight loss and malnutrition.
MAIN USES OF KAVA
Stress Relief and Relaxation
Kava is most commonly known for relieving stress since ancient time. It is completely safe and very effective. Scientific studies have shown that kavalactones increase Gamna- AminoButyric Acid. (GABA) activity in brain, which is the main chemical responsible for shutting down excitability. Kavalactones bind to GABA receptors as they are the main target for the anti-anxiety drugs.
Mood Boosters and Socializer
In the South Pacific region, Kava is a trusted drink, which is considered a safe and natural alternative to alcohol. It is a significant mood booster and helps people get loose and to connect more easily during social gatherings and events. Kava primarily has an effect on Dopamine, which is the body’s main pleasure chemical.
Craving for Drugs and Alcohol is Reduced
Studies show that kava is an excellent anti-craving agent. It is useful for the people suffering from depression and drug dependency as well. As the kavalactones bind to the same receptors in the brain as many of these substances do, the kavalactones modulate brain activity in such a way that it does not create tolerance or dependency.
Enhanced Brain Activity
Kava has cognitive enhancing properties. Studies show it’s positive effects on cognitive functions. Kava leaves a positive impact on Dopamine receptors which is the main reason for feeding the pleasure senses in the body. Dopamine also plays a major role in mental health, motivation and energy. Kava releases relaxing effects as it activates GABA and serotonin.This brings to mind a state of clarity and calmness which is referred to as Alpha State.
Protects the brain from any kind of Injury due to trauma or toxins
Kava is a powerful neuro- protective agent, as it displays the ability to protect brain and the nervous system from the damaging effects of trauma, stress and toxicity. Kavalactones help to cool down the inflammation storm and as a result, there is damage to brain cells. Kava interacts with brain cells and various other components in the body in such a way that they are protected by any damage caused by certain reasons.
Fights pain and inflammation
Kava has been showing positive effects to fight pain and inflammation like any other drug as Aspirin, Ibuprofen and acetaminophen. Kava inhibits both COX1(Cyclooxygenase) and COX2. These two are responsible for reduction of prostaglandins. Prostaglandins are chemicals that is the reason for inflammation, fever and pain.
TYPES OF KAVA
Kava known for affecting the mind in positive ways, and giving a feel of relaxation and calmness without diminishing mental clarity. There are many varieties of kava kava and each variety has it’s own unique flavor. Each one has a particular combination of kavalactones. Kava kava is loosely categorized as follows;
1. They have higher concentration of kavalactones such as, Karain and yangonin.
2. Good for day-time drinking as it keeps the mind awake and alert.
3. They mainly affect mind providing wholesome relief.
4. Great for stressful situations.
5. Good for social gatherings and parties as they enhances social interactions.
1. They are versatile and popular.
2. They can be used for day time as well as night time drink.
3. Good for both experienced and beginners.
1. They contain higher concentrations of heavier kavalactones like, dihydrokavain,dihydromethysticin and methysticin.
2. They are more sedating.
3. They affect the body more than mind.
4. Promotes deep relaxation.
5. Bitter in taste.
6. Less popular among kava drinkers.
FACTORS THAT AFFECT KAVA QUALITY
Kava can be enjoyed in various forms, be it in powdered form, capsules or tinctures. But the quality depends upon;
• the variety
• age of the plant ( it should be harvested after 3-5years after growth)
• part of the plant used
• the way It is cultivated
• geographical origin
All these factors affect the appearance, consistency and kavalactones content in kava.
FORMS OF KAVA
These are made from the roots and prepared by adding cold or warm water or coconut milk, extracting all the kavalactones. To strain, always use muslin cloth, as the normal coffee strainer doesn’t work well enough.
These are made from dried, extracted roots. They are consumed by mixing with fruit juice. The powder is simply mixed with juice and consumed.
This is a popular additive to kava kava based drink and gives your drink an extra kick. It is highly concentrated and expensive as well.
They are easy to ingest and carry no taste. Capsules contain different potencies. But the capsule should contain a whole range of healthy alkaline, present in the natural root. Kava should contain about 30% kavalactones.
SIDE EFFECTS OF KAVA
In long run, kava use can cause;
• Breathing difficulties
• Liver damage
• Kidney damage
• Compromised immune systems
• Flaky, scaly skin
• Appetite loss leading to malnutrition