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Kava Kava
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[Contamination Responsible for Liver Problems | Possible Liver Complications]
[Benefits of Kava kava | Frequently asked questions | Safety Profile]
[Using Kava Kava | Daily Equivalents | How Kava kava works]
[History & Botany | Clinical Studies | References]

See also: Anxiety & Stress Relief

Photo of Kava Kava plant.Kava Kava is commonly sold as an over-the-counter drug for conditions of anxiety, stress, and restlessness in Europe. Although kava kava is often compared to standard sedatives, Kava's unique action on the nervous system is not so easily categorized. Kava kava's effects usually begin with a relaxed, sociable state of mind and heightening of the senses. At higher dosages, Kava kava enhanced relaxation typically gives way to a deep, refreshing sleep. Traditional kava kava users, described by anthropologists as the happiest and friendliest people in the world, have also used kava kava for resolving arguments peacefully - another possible use for the western world! Today kava kava is also an increasingly popular herb in the chaotic, stressed-out western world.

Because of kava kava's mild muscle relaxant and pain-relieving properties, some health practitioners also recommended kava kava for a variety of other health complaints, such as back pain, chronic tension headaches, and fibromyalgia.

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Kava Root Contamination with Leaves and Peelings May be Responsible for Negative Liver Effects of Kava Products

University of Hawaii scientists may have an answer as to why Kava Kava, consumed as a beverage by Pacific Islanders for 2000 years, has only recently been associated with liver toxicity.

According to the team of scientists headed by Dr. C.S. Tang at the University of Hawaii - Manoa, an alkaloid compound found in the stem peelings and leaves, pipermethystine, has a 'strong negative effect' on liver cells.

The beverage consumed by islanders is made from kava kava root, rather than peelings or leaves. It is speculated that products on the market may contain non-root material, and this may account for the liver problems recently observed, which led banning of kava products in many markets around the world. According to an article in Florida Today, it wasn't until recent demand increases (2000 and 2001), that non-root materials were traded and presumably used as raw materials.

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Kava Supplements Pose Possible Liver Injury Risk -- FDA is advising consumers of the potential risk of severe liver injury associated with dietary supplements containing the ingredient kava.  These products typically are promoted for uses such as relaxation, sleeplessness and menopausal symptoms.

The U.K. Food Standards Agency regulations ban the sale and the importation into England from outside the UK, of any food consisting of, or containing, kava kava.

Health Canada is issuing a stop-sale order for all products containing the herb kava after a safety assessment concluded there is insufficient evidence to support their safe use. The department is also requesting the recall of these products from all levels of the market.

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Benefits of Kava kava:
  • Kava kava calms the nervous system by binding to GABA sites in the brain and by exerting generalized effects on the brain's limbic system.
  • Kava kava relaxes skeletal and smooth muscle tissue in many parts of the body (experimental).
  • Kava kava may help relieve mild pain (except mental).
  • Kava kava may help people recovering from stroke because of its ability to protect the brain from damage caused by oxygen deprivation (experimental).
  • Kava kava may be a useful adjunct treatment in epilepsy due to its anti-convulsant properties (experimental).

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Frequently Asked Questions about Kava Kava:
  • What is the purpose of this product?
    Kava Kava is an herb used for relaxation.
  • What is the purpose of the other herbs?
    The other herbs also aid with relaxation.
  • Will this product make me tired?
    No. It simply causes relaxation without affecting memory or reaction time
  • Do I need to take it all the time?
    No. The product will work if taken episodically. You can take it just when you feel stressed out & you need to relax.
  • Can I go off my (anti-anxiety drug) if I start taking this?
    No. Nor should the two be taken together. It is not wise to mix a drug and a supplement that are supposed to perform the same function in the body. If you want to continue with your medication and take Kava Kava Root, please consult with your pharmacist or healthcare professional.
  • Can I take this product with St. John's Wort?
    Yes. There is no contraindication with these two supplements.
  • Is the product standardized?
    The product is SpectrAll Certified. This means that each batch is tested for quality, purity, and potency. We guarantee 30% kavalactones. This is the active ingredient in the Kava Kava Root.
  • Is this the same as the old Kava Kava Formula?
    Yes. It is identical to the old product.
  • Is it vegetarian?
    No. The capsules are derived from bovine (cow).
  • Can I take Kava Kava Root with a pharmaceutical drug? OR Can I take Kava Kava Root with my disease or condition?
    The label states that everybody should consult with a healthcare professional before taking any supplements. We even advise people who are healthy to do that. I understand that you are concerned about your health. However, as we are not healthcare professionals, we are forbidden by law to advise you regarding how a supplement or Kava Kava Root might interact with a pharmaceutical drug OR affect the disease state.

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Kava kava's Safety Profile
The key to safe kava kava use is to cultivate a traditional respect for kava kava's power. Kava kava's safety is well established in its cultural context of the South Pacific, where kava kava is used in small quantities with no obvious adverse effects. Modern clinical studies have also confirmed the safety of moderate amounts of kava kava used over short periods of time. However, it is not uncommon for heavy kava kava users to develop a dry, scaly (reversible) rash known as "kava dermopathy" - a side effect first reported by members of Captain James Cook's Pacific expeditions in 1768. An intake of 400 mg kavalactones or more daily over a period longer than three months is considered heavy use. Extended kava kava use has also been linked to dizziness, mild gastrointestinal disturbance, and a temporary yellow discoloration of skin, hair, and nails. 8

Kava kava should not be used on conjunction with other central nervous system depressants such as alcohol and antidepressants, or by anyone with endogenous depression, according to Germany's Commission E Report. Kava kava may be contraindicated in Parkinson's Disease due to possible interference with dopamine. Kava kava is contraindicated during pregnancy and nursing. And as with any relaxing substance, kava kava should not be used if you are driving or operating heavy machinery. 8

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Using Kava kava
Use of kava kava is based on levels of kavalactones, with a recommended daily amount between 60 and 210 mg of kava kava, divided into two to three doses. In comparison, traditionally prepared kava kava drinks contain around 250 mg kavalactones. As a sleep aid, the daily quantity of kava kava may be taken in a single dose 30 to 60 minutes before bed. Use of kava kava for longer than three months is not recommended without the guidance of a physician. Clinical kava kava preparations in Europe are typically standardized to contain 30% to 70% kavalactones.

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Daily Equivalents of Kava kava

  • 1500 to 3000 mg dried kava kava root
  • 3 to 6 standardized herbal kava kava capsules (net contents 500 mg each) 9
  • 3 to 6 ml of an alcohol-based kava kava extract (1:2 ratio) 9

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How Kava kava works
Modern research has identified six kavalactones - including kavain, dihydrokavain (DHK), and methysiticin - as the pharmacologically active compounds responsible for kava kava's anti-anxiety, analgesic, muscle-relaxant, and anticonvulsant effects. Kava kava created changes in brain activity (measured by EEG) typical of anti-anxiety drugs, but without their sedative effects. 4 In comparison studies with benzodiazepine drugs such as Valium, Kava Kava demonstrated comparable anti-anxiety effects without the typical decrease in cognitive performance. In one study, the kava kava group actually showed improvement in reaction time and performance on a word recognition test. Unlike standard sedatives, kava kava does not interact with GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) or benzodiazepine binding sites in the brain, so there is less risk of physical addiction or dose tolerance. 5,6 Kava kava appears to have a broad effect on the brains limbic system, where we produce and process emotions. 4

In modern herbal medicine, kava kava's potential as a pain-reliever hasn't caught up with its extensive traditional use. Preliminary kava kava research is promising, with in vivo studies placing kava kava somewhere between aspirin and morphine in pain-relieving ability. Kava kava's powerful antispasmodic effects have also been compared to papaverine, an opium alkaloid. In vitro studies show that kava kava has a direct relaxing effect on both skeletal and smooth muscle tissue. Because Kava kava's pain-relieving pathway differs from that of opiate drugs, there is less risk of physical addiction to kava kava. 7 A major focus of current clinical research is the role kavalactones might play in managing epilepsy.

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Kava kava's History and botany
A member of the pepper (Piperacae) family, kava kava is thought to have originated in New Guinea-Indonesia, spreading to other islands through trade and exploration. Named from the Greek word for "intoxicating," kava kava has been used socially and ceremonially in the Pacific for centuries. From mid-1800's to the early 1900's, kava kava was exported to the US and Europe and used mainly for urinary tract infections. Only recently have westerners begun to use kava kava for anxiety and stress. Today, the main source for kava kava is still the South Pacific, fueling concern that increasing world demand for kava kava may soon exceed kava kava supply. Kava kava roots take from three to five years to reach maturity after planting. The solution may lie in Hawaii, where kava kava has long been considered sacred. Struggling family farmers, assisted by a Hawaiian rural economic assistance program, are now striving to cultivate the most potent varieties of kava kava in a sustainable fashion.

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