I’m Pregnant – Can I Take Kava?

Dear Kava Guru,

I’m pregnant, can I take Kava?

Marissa, Denver, CO

Dear Marissa,

This is quite a common question, and I will give you the stock answer first:  “The Kava Guru is not a doctor and cannot dispense medical advice.  Please seek the advice of your family doctor if you want to take Kava during your pregnancy.”

And now, the answer that has been gathered from doctor’s opinions, research papers, and stories taken directly from the people of Oceania who have used this amazing plant safely for thousands of years:

 Unfortunately, the short answer is that not enough is known about kava’s safety in pregnancy to recommend it. To give you a better idea of why this is, let’s take a look at kava kava’s common effects: kava is used as a sedative and anxiolytic because of its tranquilizing and antispasmodic properties. In other words, kava calms the central nervous system and also acts as a muscle relaxant. It has been suggested that kava’s relaxant properties could have a negative effect on uterine tone [1].

When questions of kava safety arise, the first thing to look at is the anecdotal evidence. Kava’s history stretches back thousands of years: in the South Pacific, the root has been used medicinally for pain relief, insomnia, urinary infections, and other conditions. According to Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy, kava kava has also been used to help women more easily give birth and to correct displacement of the womb [4]. However, the book goes on to say that a combination of kava and other pepper species has also been used to induce miscarriage. In Hawaii and Polynesia, the kava leaf was used topically for the same purpose [4]. However, the Kava Guru would like to point out that kava leaf is known to be poisonous to humans. In contrast, the kava root has been proved safe for human consumption by thousands of years of traditional use.

The American Pregnancy Association has given kava a rating of possibly unsafe for use in pregnancy, mostly because there isn’t enough known about the effect of kavalactones on a developing baby. It isn’t known whether kavalactones can be transmitted to the fetus in the womb, and the same kavalactones that are perfectly harmless in an adult might still be harmful for fetuses whose livers and brains are developing [1]. Many prescription anti-anxiety medications such as Valium are listed as unsafe for use in pregnancy because they can harm the developing fetus [2].

It’s also possible that kava kava may weaken the muscles around the uterus, which could lead to miscarriage or premature delivery [3]. Finally, kava’s sedating effects could amplify the effect of anesthesia if a mother must be sedated during labor for any reason [2]. Physicians recommend that patients stop use of any herbal supplement with sedative effects (such as passionflower, valerian, or kava) 2 weeks before any medical procedure involving anesthesia.

While there are few definitive studies of kava’s safety in pregnancy, a good starting place for herbal safety in pregnancy can be found in this 2002 literature review [3]. Based on the research, it is the Kava Guru’s opinion that kava should not be used in pregnancy. In those times when anxiety or stress becomes an issue during pregnancy, it may be possible to consult a holistic health care practitioner about herbs that are definitively safe in pregnancy, or about other stress-busting techniques such as prenatal yoga and meditation that can help you feel calm and ready for this change.

Mahalo,

Kava Guru

REFERENCES

1. The American Pregnancy Association. “Herbs and Pregnancy”. Last modified January 2013. http://americanpregnancy.org/pregnancyhealth/naturalherbsvitamins.html 

2. Livestrong.com. “Kava Kava and Pregnancy”. Last modified February 7th, 2014. http://www.livestrong.com/article/184996-kava-kava-pregnancy/

3. Ernst, E. March 2002. “Herbal medicinal products: are they safe during pregnancy?” British Journal of Gynaecology 109 (3): 227-235.

4. Bone, Kerry and Simon Mills. Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine, 2nd ed. Churchill Livingstone, 2013: pg. 711.

 

 

Kava for Beginners – The Ultimate Guide to Kava

Dear Kava Guru,

I’m new to kava.  Do you have a Kava for Beginners Guide???

Ken, Cincinnati, OH

Kava for Beginners Ultimate GuideRequests for a Kava for Beginners Guide could be the question that Kava Guru gets asked more than the Where to Buy Kava question!  Not only are there are so many varieties of kava to pick from, there are so many forms of kava; from regular old powdered root, to instant kava mixes, to pills, capsules, dissolving strips and gum.  Let’s take a brief walk through each of the forms of kava first, to give you a better understanding of which kava might be the form you’ll choose for yourself. There are a couple of great guides I’ve borrowed some information from with permission of course if you want a further perspective on Kava:

Where Do I Begin With Kava? (Kava.com) | Kava Beginner’s Guide (Kava.com)

Which Type of Kava for Beginners?

What probably matters most to you in this moment, is simply this: Do I want powdered Kava root, instant Kava mix, Kavalactone Paste, Kava Tea, or Kava and Kavalactone Capsules? Any other form of Kava is going to be a variation on this theme, whether it’s in the form of Kava Singles, Kava Candy, strips, or whatever else people dream up as a delivery method for Kava. All you need to know to answer that seemingly complicated question is what are you looking for from your Kava experience?

  • TO RELAX/CHILL OUT – This is the most common reason people find their way to Kava. People are looking for a safer alternative to sometimes dangerous pharmaceuticals, or as an alterative to alcohol.  If you’re looking for a calming Kava experience, then your best bets would be any Kava that’s in a drink form, whether it’s Powdered Kava Root or Instant Kava Mix.
  • FOR ANXIETY RELIEF – This is perhaps one of the most effective uses for Kava.  Because it’s known as the anti-shyness herb, due to its inhibition-lowering effects, Kava is naturally suited to help fight anxiety.  In fact, we’ve got 20+ clinical studies on the powerful effects of Kava and anxiety.
  • FOR STRESS RELIEF – Anxiety is more of a long-term emotional issue.  Stress is more of an “in the moment” issue.  This can really be helped with taking a moment to simply slow down, take a step back, and take a deep, mindful breath.  What would be perfect for you is to force yourself to go through the process of making a “shell” of Kava the traditional way.
  • FOR PAIN RELIEF – Although we have to be extremely careful with how we discuss Kava as an effective aid to fight pain, I can’t stress enough how effective of a pain fighter Kava can be.  Especially for joint pain and lower back pain.  I have chosen Kava Tincture Plus over aspirin on several occasions.  Although Kava doesn’t have any anti-inflammatory properties to it, it’s an amazing aid for pain.  Also, after interviewing the folks over at Kava.com, I was told that lower back pain is when Kava for pain relief is most effective.
  • AS A SLEEP AID – Now here’s something that might turn some people off when looking for something natural to relax with, but let me make a quick, important distinction: Kava does not make you sleepy.  What Kava does do, is help you get into a state that can be conducive to sleep.  So, it’s often used as a sleep aid, and from my own personal experience — it can be an amazing one at that.  Personally, I blend some Valerian Root Capsules and Kava, in any form, and that makes for an unrivaled sleep combination.
  • AS A LEGAL HIGH – Let’s face it; we’re human, and humans are seeking ways to alter their consciousness.  Although “legal high” has gotten a very bad rap, it’s probably because we’re not being honest with ourselves.  Some who are looking for a Kava experience are looking to get kicked in the pants, and honestly, as long as you’re being responsible and not hurting anybody, then that’s your choice.  and, you should have the freedom to make that choice.  For you, let me say this: There is no such thing as an overdose from Kava.  Also, despite the bad press, there is no known link, according to the World Health Organization, between water-extracted Kava and liver damage.  So, for you, I have two great recommendations; Kava Tincture Plus and Kavalactone Paste 55%, both manufactured by Kona Kava Farm.
  • AS AN APHRODISIAC – This is a curious usage of Kava that has been hidden from the Western World.  When explorers first visited the Hawaiian islands way back in the days of Captain Cooke, one of the curious features of Hawaii was the yearly Summer Festival.  This celebration of life, love and nature took place when taxes were being collected, and the king was making his way through the people.  Kava was renown for lowering inhibitions, for inspiring the deeply meaningful, hip-gyrating Hula dance.  Any form of Kava can be a great aphrodisiac, simply because of its very nature.  Kava helps even the toughest customer relax.  It’s not known as the “anti-shyness” herb for nothing!  In addition, there is a curious product called KavaLOVEtone that was invented by Kona Kava Farm.  It’s not only a Kava-based aphrodisiac, it has additional ingredients such as Damiana that have been clinically-proven to increase blood flow to the genitals.  We’re not legally allowed to make any mention of Viagra and KavaLOVEtone Capsules in the same sentence, but it is definitely worth checking out.

For me, though, especially if you’re beginning your experiences with Kava, I think it’s best to immerse yourself in the spirit of Kava by going through the traditional preparation method.  For me personally; I think it’s the most desirable kava experience.  And that method simply uses powdered kava root. I like the fact that the whole energy of this ancient, and often sacred plant is preserved.  We like that ingesting kava this way is in alignment with the ancient traditions of Oceania [1]. Most of all, I like that the traditional method of working with kava has a 3000-year history of use to back up its effectiveness. While this form of kava requires a bit of preparation, as you will have to steep the powder in water and then strain it, I believe the effects and the connection to tradition are worth the effort.

Main Types of Kava Available

Of course, I understand that sometimes—sadly, perhaps most of the time in our 24/7 culture—there isn’t time to prepare kava the traditional way. Well, my Kava for Beginners – The Ultimate Guide to Buying Kava will not disappoint!  There are many kava products that cater to on-the-go relaxation. Let’s look at some of those below:

INSTANT KAVA DRINK MIXES: The closest in form to a traditional brew, instant kava powder can be mixed up in minutes and doesn’t require any straining or steeping time [2]. For some people, flavored instant mixes offer the added benefit of disguising the taste of kava. (Though the Kava Guru personally enjoys kava’s peppery, earthy flavor, many people find it takes some getting used to.) Make sure that any instant kava mix you’re considering is made with a kava root extract; plain kava root that hasn’t been extracted in some way will not be effective. One way to tell the difference is that a truly instant kava mix should dissolve completely in liquid without leaving a residue. Mix it up with water, fruit juice, or nut milk for delicious results!  There are Instant Kava Mixes and Instant Kava Singles available from Kona Kava Farm or Kava.com.

KAVA ROOT/KAVALACTONE CAPSULES: Another way to tastelessly get your kava dosage is in capsule or pill form [2]. Again, check to make sure the capsules are made with a kava root extract—this is a rule for any instant kava product. Kava capsules may contain either a powdered or a liquid kava extract (in liquigels). A quality kava vendor should also list the amount of kavalactones in the capsules, either as a percentage or in milligrams. Kavalactones are the relaxing constituents in kava root, and most research suggests that a dose of at least 70 milligrams is necessary to generate an effect[3].

There are 2 main types of Kava Capsules; Kava Root Only Capsules and Kavalactone 30% Capsules. It’s

While kava capsules generally aren’t as strong as a kava brew, they may be helpful for helping you cope with stressful situations such as demanding workdays and plane trips, and the capsule format means they can be taken easily and discreetly.

KAVALACTONE PASTE 55%: There aren’t many vendors who sell this concentrated paste extract, yet some “kavasseurs” absolutely swear by it! Kavalactone paste is a semi-liquid kavalactone extract with a yellowish color and the consistency of cake batter [2]. Kava pastes with a blend of select kavalactones and full-spectrum kavalactone pastes are both available on the market. The Kava Guru prefers full-spectrum pastes that contain a ratio of all the kavalactones and other active constituents in the kava root. In our opinion, full-spectrum kava pastes are best for those who want to access the whole energy of this healing plant. Kavalactone paste can be taken alone in small amounts or added to a kava brew as a “booster”—though we recommend waiting on this until you have experience with kava and know how it affects you.

KAVA TINCTURE/KAVA TINCTURE PLUS: There aren’t many reliable vendors for Kavalactone Tincture as this oily extracts does not blend well with water or alcohol.  We highly recommend the Kava Tincture Plus from Kona Kava Farm or Kava Tincture from Root of Happiness Kava, as both products have a verified 6% Kavalactone content.  Given that Kava root naturally has about 12% Kavalactone content in it, taking 2 dropperfuls (not drops) of either of the above Kava tinctures will give you a full on Kava experience, complete with a numbing effect on your mouth.  There are weaker versions of Kava Tincture for the timid, with about 3% Kavalactone content. Give that a try if you want to get a milder effect from your first Kava experiences.

The Weakest Forms of Kava

Kava Gum/Kava Strips: Both of these intruiging new kava products take advantage of kavalactones’ ability to be absorbed through the mucus membranes of the mouth. They’re also almost as easy to use as a kava capsule and just as discreet. Kava gum is essentially a gum infused with a kava root extract; it can be chewed to release the kavalactones into the mouth over a few minutes.  Kava strips, or K-strips as they are often called, are dissolvable strips of paper infused with a kava extract. They can be dissolved sublingually (under the tongue), or added to a warm beverage like your afternoon cup of tea…just make sure not to add these strips to liquid that is over 140 degrees Fahrenheit, as kavalactones are destroyed by higher temperatures.

Kava Tea: I didn’t include Kava tea in the main list of Kava types because Kava tea is barely Kava at all.  There is so little Kava in Kava Teas that we have not noticed much of an effect at all.  In fact, the folks over at Wonderland-Labs have tested all kinds of Kava, and have reportedly found only trace amounts of Kavalactone in the Kava teas they tested.

Kavalactone Lineups

One of the most basic bits of information you may want as our Kava for Beginners Guide winds down, is the Kavalactone percentage, and the Kavalactone lineup of your Kava.  Most mass marketed Kava from places like GNC have no idea what their true Kavalactone content or the Kavalactone lineup is.  Why does this even matter?  Well, for obvious reasons, the total Kavalactone content is relatively important.

One our favorite and fun ways to learn about Kava is over on YouTube, with a video called “Kavalactone Lineups”.  It is super entertaining, and just a few minutes long.  There’s no product plugs until the very end, and even then, it’s mild.  I’ve watched the video dozens of times, and it’s made a big difference in helping me to choose which Kava is best for me.  I think it would be a huge help for anyone who is a beginner with Kava, and is looking for some solid advice on how to proceed.

If it’s embedded correctly, there should be a video below:

Go Go Go, You Kava Guru!

No matter what form of kava you choose, always make sure the product is made using only the kava root and never the above ground stems or leaves, which are inedible and potentially poisonous.  Now that you’re not a Kava beginner any longer, just remember these few additional tips:

  • NO SUCH THING AS AN OVERDOSE – There is no such thing as an overdose for Kava.  If you happen to take too much Kava, you will not be able to operate heavy machinery (such as a car) for a while, and, you may just go to sleep for an hour or two.  If you are getting nervous that your heart rate is increasing too much, fret not, as that’s natural, and you are perfectly safe.
  •  NO LIVER DAMAGE– Despite the mountains of media hype, please believe the World Health Organization on this one rather than the media.  The World Heath Organization did their own study on Kava, which consisted of taking every bit of Kava data and clinical trials there were, and they arrived at conclusions based on 100+ case studies.  What did they conclude? – That there was absolutely no connection to liver damage when consuming water-based Kava extractions using roots only Kava.  High quality vendors such as Kava.com only carry products from verified vendors who wouldn’t dream of using anything other than pure Kava to any of their products.
  • HAVE FUN/BE RESPONSIBLE – Kava can be an immense joy, and is really meant to be shared.  Even if it’s one loved one or an entire group, Kava brings people together. It can make feelings of well-being arise in us, and it can have a lasting positive effect on our life.  Life is short, love as much as you can.  Kava can help!

Remember; which kava product you choose will depend a lot on how and where you want to use it. Do you want to relax with kava at the end of the day, inject some calm into a hectic workday, or use kava to soothe nerves on a long trip? When deciding which form of kava is right for you, your intention and the context for its use will guide you to the kind of kava that is right for you.  Hope this Kava for Beginner’s Guide was helpful. As always, let me know if you have any comments or suggestions to make it better, and I’ll add onto the article as needed.

Share the love, feel the joy, and let’s connect at the roots!

Mahalo & Aloha,
Keith Cleversley

REFERENCES

1. “Piper methysticum.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed February 28th, 2014.

2. “Kavalactones Dosage.” Kava.com. Accessed February 28th, 2014.

3. “True Kava Side Effects“. Kava.com. Accessed February 28, 2014.

4. “Where Do I Begin With Kava?” – Kava.com

5. “Kava Beginner’s Guide” – Kava.com

How Much Kava To Take?

Dear Kava Guru,

How much Kava is the right amount of Kava for a relatively healthy 185lb man in his 30’s?

Chris, Austin, TX

Kava dosage and how much kava you take has everything to do with the type of kava you’re taking, as well as your body type and weight.  To answer your questions, first, we always suggest following the directions on each individual package of kava that you purchase.  On that package, if it’s from a legitimate kava company or farm, will be the standard “Supplement Information” panel on the package, giving serving suggestions.

But I understand that these instructions don’t always cover you! This dietary supplement has so many methods of ingestion that it can get quite confusing quite quickly.  At least know that there is no single dangerous kava dosage.

First, there’s good old fashioned kava root.  This typically comes as a powder, and needs to be extracted. Most of the kava recipes we’ve found use a ratio of 1 tablespoon of powdered kava root to 1 cup of water [1]. Sometimes a vegetable fat is added, such as a teaspoon of soy lethicin or vegetable oil [3]. This will act as an emulfisier to help extract the kavalactones into the water. Alternatively, you can substitute some of the water for a fatty liquid such as coconut milk—one effective recipe calls for 2 cups of water and 1 cup of coconut or another nut milk. Since some kavalactones are soluble in fats and others in water, combining the two will help you make a stronger kava drink.

The usual serving of prepared kava in the South Pacific is 2 to 4 fluid ounces. Depending on how it’s prepared, a bilo (coconut shell bowl) of kava can contain anywhere from 150 to 500 mg of kavalactones, and indigenous islanders often consume several bilos in a kava drinking session [2]. In other words, although the Kava Committee has issued an advisory upper limit of 300 mg of kavalactones per day, many Pacific Islanders consume far higher doses of this wondrous plant daily without ill effects. If you’re planning to make kava the traditional way from powdered root, the Kava Guru suggests starting with the standard recipe and seeing how it works for you. You can always adjust the ratio of kava to water, and thus the strength of your brew, until you achieve a satisfying result.

I know that the imprecision of the traditional method will not appeal to everyone. If you want to know the precise amount of kavalactones in your serving of kava, consider a supplement that contains a kava extract, such as an instant drink mix, kavalactone paste, or capsule. For most people, the smallest effective dose of kavalactones is about 70 milligrams. One of the Kava Guru’s favorite kava-related blogs offers this rubric for determining how many milligrams of kavalactones to take: in general, 70-210mg of kavalactones is the average effective dose for reducing stress and anxiety [2]. Between 150 and 250 milligrams is more useful for addressing insomnia, especially if it is taken an hour to 30 minutes before bed [2].

Note that some kava supplements list kavalactones as a percentage rather than in milligrams. In this case, you’ll have to calculate the milligrams of kavalactones per serving based on the total number of grams or milligrams in one serving of the supplement. For instance, a kava capsule that is 30% kavalactone will contain 30mg of kavalactone per 100mg of material. To reach the average threshold dose of 70mg of kavalactone, you must take 230 mg of the supplement. However, should you choose a supplement that combines kava with other relaxing herbs such as chamomile, lemon balm, or valerian, the required dosage of kavalactones may be less because the other herbal ingredients will contribute to the supplement’s relaxing effects.

It’s true that every body is different, and you may find yourself needing a larger (or smaller) kava dosage for satisfying effects. Where it gets tricky is that kava can sometimes have reverse tolerance, meaning that the new kava drinker won’t feel any effects the first few times they try kava [2]. Some people interpret reverse tolerance to mean that kava doesn’t work on them. The Kava Guru’s advice is to be patient with kava, as reverse tolerance usually goes away after a few kava sessions. With patience and a little experimentation, the Kava Guru is confident you will find the right amount of kava for your individual constitution.

Mahalo,
Keith

REFERENCES

1. “Kava Recipes for Kava Drinks.” Kona Kava Farm. Accessed March 4th, 2014. www.konakavafarm.com/recipes.html.

2. “Kavalactones Dosage”. Kava.com. Accessed March 4th, 2014. http://www.kava.com/?p=587.

3. “Kava Brew Recipe”. The Vaults of Erowid. Last modified February 5th, 2011. https://www.erowid.org/plants/kava/kava_recipe1.shtml.

What Kind of Kava Should I Buy?

Thinking of buying kava? Not too sure where to begin with kava varieties or asking yourself what kind of kava to buy? Well, you have come to the right place! I share what kind of kava is best for what scenario, but: The very free Beginners Guide to Kava offers a more detailed analysis and is just a click away. That article outlines the various reasons people come to Kava, whether it’s to relax or chill out, as a way to fight anxiety and/or stress, as a sleep aid, or even as a legal high or an aphrodisiac.

So, you’re sitting there thinking to yourself, “Arghh, there’s so much kava to choose from; I’m so confused!” Or “What kind of kava is best for me?”  By the end of this article, you’ll have a better idea of what kind of kava is right for you, but really, read the Beginner’s Guide to Kava to be an instant expert.

If you want to keep things traditional, the best plan might be to go with the most traditional form of kava kava, which is Powdered Kava Root:

Although quality kava root is not typically available online and is a bit hard to come by in Western and European countries (although this is quickly changing), it is bountiful throughout Oceanic island nations.  The root is traditionally chewed up and spit out into a communal bowl, in order to speed up the fermentation process.  It is then mixed with water or other solubles to create a drink with sedative and anesthetic benefits.  But who wants to do that, just to relax?  Not me!

Having trouble deciding between fresh kava root and dried kava root?  If you wanted to break the kava down into a powder to mix into a shake or turn into a kava drink, then dried kava root is the better option, plus you keep all of the wonderful benefits by retaining its purest form!  If, on the other hand, you really wanted to get in touch with kava culture you could chew up fresh kava root and mix it with water or coconut water and make a traditional kava beverage!

Are you a busy person, looking to get the benefits of kava, but don’t have the time for traditional preparation? Here are some quick options:

Instant Kava:

Instant kava supplements work kind of like instant coffee.  They’re derived from the original plant matter – in this instance kava root – but are manufactured in such a way that they do not require any preparation.  You can toss instant kava powder into a shake on your way out the door, or mix it with water and toss it into a to-go cup – and better yet, instant kava doesn’t require any steeping or straining! Also, it’s important to remember when using instant kava or other kava options that are mixed with water, that kavalactones are destroyed in temperatures above 140 degrees Fahrenheit.

You also want to make sure that you get a kava instant mix that has kava root extract.  The kava extraction process is how we gain access to the beneficial kavalactones.  Instant kava that is just root (not traditionally prepared) will leave you missing out on all of the wonderful things kava has to offer!

Kava Capsules:

Just like with instant kava – you want to make sure to get a capsule that is made with extracted kava, in order to retain all of those pleasurable kavalactone qualities!  That being said, it’s best to get a supplement that indicates the amount of kavalactones it contains – some sources suggest that 70 milligrams is the minimum amount required to experience the sought-after effects.

However, kava capsules – like with any supplement that deviates away from the purest form – don’t have all of the same benefits as pure kava kava.  Kavalactones are absorbed through mucous membranes, so the capsules miss all of that salivation action going on in your mouth on their way down into your stomach. But, if you’re in a rush or wish to be discreet and need quick relief from a stressful moment, the capsule option may be just right for you.

Kava Gum:

The kava gum is exactly what it sounds like – a chewable dietary supplement! It contains kava extract which is released into your system as you chew.  This item is a great option for busy people who would like a discreet and valuable alternative to more time-consuming ways of taking kava.  You can tuck the pieces away in your purse or briefcase and have them handy on the go!  Forgot to have your kava drink in the morning? No problem! You can always have these yummy kava supplements at hand.

Kava Strips:

Have you ever enjoyed the efficiency of Listerine strips? Pop them in your mouth and boom – fresh breath! Well, k-strips (kava strips) are relatively similar in terms of their quick and effective use.  Pop them in your mouth, or under your tongue and within moments you will feel the ease and relaxation of the kavalactones working their way in through your mucous membranes and wrapping their calming arms around you.

The strips are infused with kava extract and can be eaten or added to a warm kava beverage to add more kava goodness.  Make note though, that kavalactones are destroyed in temperatures over 140 degrees Fahrenheit – so if you are adding the strips to tea or another hot beverage, make sure it’s not too hot!

Can’t stand the taste of kava? 

Many people struggle with the taste of kava, but power through it so that they can enjoy all of the beautiful things kava has to offer.  Personally, as a kava guru – the flavour of kava is homey and right in line with everything my taste buds crave – but, for those that are a bit new to kava culture the taste may take some time to get used to.  So, here are some tasty alternatives to pure kava kava:

Kava Gum or Strips:

Kava gum chewable supplements and k-strip kava supplements are relatively similar in terms of benefit and flavour-masking potential.  These quick kava options are infused with kava extract, but also have flavoured options so as to mask the sometimes intolerably bitter flavour of the kava root.  And the strips are dissolvable, so you can always add them to your favourite flavoured beverage!

Instant Kava Drinks:

Instant kava supplements are often flavoured and are a good method of consuming kava for those who find the taste of pure kava kava less than appealing.  Also, because of the instant form, this kava supplement can be added to shakes or other tasty drinks to mask the overall flavour of kava.

Kava Capsules:

Since kava capsules are swallowed and not chewed or dissolved in your mouth, they are essentially tasteless! So, if kava’s flavour is something that you just cannot bear, masked or otherwise – perhaps this is the best option for you.  You could always start with the capsules and move on to the gum and then to the instant mix and maybe even one day to the root itself – building up a tolerance for the flavour over time.

Want a flexible kava option? Kava Paste:

 Kava Paste:

There is also a nifty option for kava consumption, blandly referred to as a kava paste or kavalactone paste.  It’s a yellowish to orange substance with the consistency of cupcake batter.   There are full-spectrum options that contain all of the goodness that pure kava kava contains – all of its kavalactones as well as the various alkaloids – or isolated kavalactone paste, that is infused primarily with just kavalactones.  If you are looking for a flexible method of kava ingestion, the paste is a good place to start.  You can easily regulate the amount you consume, use it as your primary kava source or add it to a tea before bed to get an extra dose of kava as you ease your way into a peaceful slumber.

New to kava and want to take things slowly? – Kava Capsules:

Kava capsules:

 Kava capsules are a solid option for those who are relatively new to kava or only want to use it occasionally here and there to help ease a moment or day that is particularly stressful.   Since the kava capsules tend to not be as strong as some other forms of kava, they are a good option for those who want to try it out for the first time, but are feeling a bit shy or uncertain.  As you become accustomed to the effects of kava you can increase your dosage as recommended by a physician or other health practitioner or move on to other forms of ingestion.

Mahalo,

Kava Guru

 

 

 

 

When Was Kava First Used?

Dear Kava Guru,

When was Kava first used and can you tell me a little bit about the history of Kava in general?

Mitch, Carmel, CA

In the beginning – a long, long time ago there was kava kava in its most raw and untamed, wildly beautiful and organic form, Piper wichmannii.   The exact origin of Piper wichmannii seems to be indeterminate, although mythical accounts speak of heroes and gods as the  beings responsible for introducing Piper wichmannii to the South Pacific regions, having imported it from some far off nation or spiritual realm [6, p. 14-15].

Although I have reviewed many sources – an exact date or date range does not seem to be identifiable for when or where wild kava kava (Piper wichmannii) was first used before it was domesticated.  As Yadhu Singh, who writes about kava at great length and across many well-cited texts, says: “Kava usage itself is much older than any documented history of this part of the world and oral traditions do not seem to have brought forward relevant, reliable, or consistent accounts” [6, p. 51].

The first dated records of domesticated kava kava (Piper methysticum) surface with the colonization of the South Pacific Islands in the 17th and early 18th century [7, p. 108].  Captain James Cook made records in the 18th century about his visit to the South Pacific that explained the narcotic effects of the kava plant that were experienced by his crewmembers upon ingestion – this log was dated for 1785.  Additionally, there is an even earlier log (1769) of a drawing by Captain Cook’s botanist of the kava plant and it can still be viewed in the London Natural History Museum today [6, p. 5].

John Lynch discusses at some length the linguistic history of the word “kava” and concludes that this information may give some idea of the plant’s domestic origins.  It is possible that the word “kava” has its roots in the Proto-Oceanic term kawaRi – which may refer to the wild kava (Piper wichmannii) that domesticated kava was derived from.  If this is the case, then it is likely that the original use of kava in its wild form was specific to the Oceanic region of Melanesia – and more specifically to Papua New Guinea.   However, botanical evidence seems to suggest that kava kava was first domesticated in Vanuatu [4].  So, ultimately – it seems to be indisputable that kava kava is Oceanic in domestic origin and specifically Melanesian, but whether or not it was first domesticated in Vanuatu or New Guinea is unclear.

Domesticated kava kava or the kava kava that we are all familiar with – Piper methysticum – is consistently referenced as having its origins in Vanuatu.  Although, some sources do fall more in line with the view that domesticated kava kava originated in New Guinea [4].  However, the argument for the Vanuatu origin does make a strong case, by suggesting that New Guinea did not have the resources necessary for domesticated kava cultivation [4]. And given that domesticated kava is dependent upon human interaction for survival [7, p. 108], I would say that this line of argument is also quite possible.

As Lynch mentions, this seems to lead to two veins of thought on the origin of domesticated kava: the origin within Papua New Guinea, and the origin within Vanuatu – neither can be wholly substantiated [4].  As Singh said, kava kava “…might be considered the one item in their material culture that linked together most of the peoples of Oceania” [7, p. 13], indicating just how widespread the use of kava was and still is.

The Historical Usage:

Historically kava kava was primarily used for ceremonial/ritualistic and sociopolitical purposes, although kava kava has also been used for medicinal purposes as far back as the domesticated origins of kava kava.  The ceremonial procedures revolved around a link to indigenous gods and the overall spirituality of the Oceanic peoples – such as an honoring of ancestry. Traditionally, the root and lower parts of kava kava are dried in the sun and then broken down into a powder that is then steeped in water.  The mixture is then massaged and strained using hibiscus tree bark and  distributed in half coconut shells.   However, during less ritualistic ceremonies, such as the installment of chiefs or resolution of conflicts, a cloth is often used instead of the hibiscus tree bark [8, p. 109-110]

The Banning:

Because of the link to non-Christian gods and other spiritual purposes of using kava kava – such as the initiation or lifting of curses – Christian missionaries that first landed in the 17th and 18th centuries proceeded to ban all use and growth of Piper methysticum.  Some missionary groups went so far as to buy kava kava plantations and then have them destroyed. Given the necessity of domesticated strains to be cultivated by humans, the plant died out in many areas across the Oceanic islands due to this forced neglect. Where blatant methods of destruction did not suffice to eradicate all of the plants, missionaries took to attacking the “unsanitary” method of kava preparation – namely, the chewing and spitting of the root into a communal bowl (the saliva aided in the breaking down of the plant’s active substances) [7, p. 113].

However, this monotheistic banning of kava kava was not universal across the islands and some Christian denominations actually began to incorporate the use of kava kava in their own ceremonies [7, p. 115].  I think that this sporadic acceptance of kava kava as well as the colonial accumulation of foreign materials is likely how kava first began to trickle from the South Pacific islands into European countries and elsewhere.

European and Western History:

However, it wasn’t until about 30-40 years ago that kava kava began to seep out of the South Pacific and grow in popularity in the Western and European world.  Kava kava first began to gain popularity locally as the South Pacific Islands gained their political independence and adopted the Piper methysticum plant as a kind of national identifier.   As immigrants from these South Pacific regions began immigrating to the United States and Europe, kava kava began to gain popularity amongst South Pacific cultural pockets within those regions. Once herbal medicine became more widely accepted and gained popularity within the United States and European nations, kava kava naturally grew in popularity as well [6, p. 43-44], and was primarily sought as an alternative to pharmaceutical treatments of anxiety and other neurological disorders.

The Commercialization of Kava:

Kava bars initially began developing across the South Pacific islands and local regions [11].  As these regions gained political independence and adopted the Piper methysticum plant as their national identifier, kava became more and more a socially used plant – although it does still retain its medicinal and ceremonial use [6, p. 43].  As kava became socialized, so to speak, so did the places where it would be frequently consumed – hence the birth of the “kava bar”.

The kava bar has very recently begun making an appearance in Europe and the United States.  Nakava, initially named Nakamal, was the first kava bar to open its doors in the United States of America in 2002 and it has since gained a Floridian following for kava kava – a popularity that has since seeped into other states and will likely continue to grow [1].

A Look to the Future:

Although kava has been banned in Australia and many European countries, such as the ban in Germany as of 2002 [9], there has recently been a growing acceptance of the plant and some European bans were lifted in 2008 [5].   As of yet, there hasn’t been any entirely concrete evidence indicating why kava kava should be banned and it is growing in popularity as a casual drink at kava bars and in European and Western homes.   Furthermore, kava kava has been growing in popularity as a medicinal alternative to Western anxiety medication. German physicians prescribed kava kava as early as 1990 [10].

Many Oceanic countries are driving toward universal acceptance of kava kava and have succeeded in many cases.  Initially the bans greatly agitated the kava trade and production within Oceanic countries, with a claimed annual net loss of $US200 million [9].  This loss was recorded in 2003, just after the 2002 European bans, which would then suggest that these bans greatly affected the kava-growing and trading regions.  However, this would also suggest that with the lifting of many European bans in 2008, the trade will greatly grow and kava culture will likely become stronger and more pronounced as it is more widely accepted.  Additionally, one of the most prominent issues that the European and Western world has had with kava is the lack of standardization.  But, as of 1999 the South Pacific regional organization,  Pacific Island Kava Council, had a meeting and agreed upon publishing a producer’s manual for standardization purposes [6, p. 40-41].

As standardization methods are increased and conspirator scares deflated, it is safe to say that Piper methysticum will live on forever and ever, to give the people of this world all of the calming and beautiful benefits that the peoples of the South Pacific islands have enjoyed for many upon many peaceful centuries past.

Mahalo,

Kava Guru

REFERENCES

1. Bula Kafe. “What is a Kava Bar?” Last modified: October 25, 2010. http://www.bulakafe.com/general-info/what-is-a-kava-bar.html

2. Ives, Laurel. “Make Mine a Kava”.  Sunday Times, London UK: January 31, 2000.  Ed. 1GZ.

3. Krape, Micheal. “Taste of Kava Culture”. Sunday Herald Sun: October 14, 2007.

4. Lynch, John. “Potent Roots and the Origin of Kava”. University of Hawai’i Press: December, 2002. Oceanic Linguistics, Vol. 41 – 2, pp. 493-513.

5. Pollock, Nancs J. “Sustainability of the Kava Trade”.  University of Hawai’i Press: Fall of 2009.  The Contemporary Pacific, Vol. 21 pp. 265-297.

6. Singh, Yadhu N. “Kava: from ethnology to pharmacology”. Taylor and Francis LTD: 2004.

7. Singh, Yadhu N. “Kava: an overview”. Elsevier Scientific Publishers Ireland Ltd: 1992.  Journal of Ethnopharmacology, Vol. 37 pp. 13-45.

8. Singh, Yadhu N. “Kava: An Old Drug in a New World”. University of Minnesota Press: winter of 2009. Cultural Critique, No. 71 pp. 107-128

9. The Fiji Times. “Europe Lifts Ban on Kava”. Suva, Fiji: November 2008. Ed. 17

10. The Province. “Kava is Hot Stuff – Final Edition”.  Vancouver, B.C: January 27, 1999. Ed. B13

11. Wikipedia. “Kava Culture – Vanuatu”. Last modified: February 26, 2014. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kava_culture

 

What Is the True Origin of Kava?

Kava Guru,

Where is Kava Kava from?  Did all Kava originate in Oceania, or was it found elsewhere in the world?

Anastasia, Chicago, IL

The question, “Where did kava originate?” has long been of interest to Kava scholars who have done dedicated research on the plant. The quest for a definitive Kava origin has been complicated by the fact that Oceanic cultures have an oral rather than written history [5] —scholars couldn’t conveniently check an indigenous historical record to trace Kava’s origin the way they could with tea or coffee, both of which are surrounded by rich written histories! It was Kava scholar Vincent Lebot who first traced Kava’s origin to northern Vanuatu [2]. More recent botanical and biochemical evidence has helped solidify Vanuatu as the most likely place of origin for kava kava, and Vanuatu has become the most accepted place of origin [3].

Aside from the evidence briefly outlined above – which I will later go into in more detail – there isn’t much else to go by in determining the origin of kava kava as we know it. We know Kava as a drink made from a root of a pepper plant called Piper methysticum, and it is the exact origin of this drink and its uses that escapes us along with the physical origin of Piper methysticum. However, the mythological accounts of kava kava – prior to cultivated uses – do offer a fantastical account of how the wild version of Kava (Piper wichmannii) was graced upon our earth by deities and god’s [6]. But, it is the exact origin of Piper methysticum – the cultivated version of the wild plant – that I will be concerned with here.

Origin Possibilities:

Kava kava (Piper methysticum) is a member of the pepper family Piperaceae, and early taxonomists attempted to trace Kava’s origin to regions of the world where other pepper species were found. Some early (but now generally discounted) theories speculated that Kava originated in South India or Southeast Asia, regions where the pepper species Piper nigrum (black pepper) and Piper longum (long pepper) are found. These arguments trace the similarities of ceremonial and ritualistic procedures in each culture. One scholar suggested an Asian origin for Kava by linking the Kava ceremony to the Chinese tea ceremony [7]! And another scholar outlines the similarities of Kava drinking ceremonies to the ancient Vedic religion of India. There is one ritualistic rule governing Vedic ceremonial traditions that declares that an older brother must offer a sacrifice before his younger brother does and this declaration is directly in line with the order of brothers in a Kava ring ceremonial procedure [5].

One author – John Lynch – actually goes so far as to say that the argument of origin is clearly divided in two: one line arguing for a New Guinea origin and another arguing for an origin in Vanuatu. As was indicated in the introduction, most scholars have accepted Vanuatu as the true origin and Lynch is among those scholars [4]. While I will later go into more detail about why Vanuatu has been accepted as the true origin, I will here briefly outline why there is such a pervasive argument about a possible New Guinea origin.  It is widely accepted that Piper methysticum (cultivated Kava) was domesticated and adapted from Piper wichmannii (wild Kava). Quite simply put, the most prevailing evidence to suggest that domesticated Kava originated in New Guinea is that the largest diversity of wild Kava is found there; New Guinea has the single most diverse population of the Piper wichmannii plant. As the theory goes, Piper methysticum cannot self propagate or at least very rarely does so; the Piper methysticum plant requires human interaction in order to continue growth and adaptation [4]. In fact, domestic varieties of kava kava are said to essentially be sterile and can only be propagated by grafting or dividing the root bundle of a parent plant [2]. Furthermore, there are forty variants of words intended to refer to Kava in New Guinea that have so far been recorded [5]. So, these bits of information have led some scholars to conclude then that New Guinea must be the place of origin of Kava. However, Lynch along with other authors such as Vincent Lebot, still side with the argument that leans toward Vanuatu as the origin of Kava.

Accepted Origin:

Lebot used morphological evidence to argue that kava kava likely originated on Vanuatu [2]. Lebot observed that Vanuatu grows over 80 morphotypes of Kava — Kava strains that are distinguishable based on their physical appearance. In contrast, other South Pacific regions Lebot examined have far fewer morphotypes: 12 in Fiji, 7 in Tonga, and 6 in Samoa. Furthermore, there is also a much greater diversity of names for kava kava in local Vanuatuan languages, which Lebot took to mean that Kava had more time to diversify and spread on Vanuatu than elsewhere. Finally, Vanuatu is also home to two wild varieties of kava kava, while other South Pacific Islands have no wild Kava varieties at all. As a result, Lebot suggests that Vanuatu may have been the point of origin for domestic Kava, which was then spread to other South Pacific islands by trade [2]. Lynch goes on to say then that, if this Vanuatu origin of Kava were correct, Kava would have arrived in New Guinea via Micronesia and Polynesia or perhaps even from Vanuatu through the Soloman Islands [4].

Chemotype Specifics:

Current researchers are trying to narrow down Kava’s point of origin even further within the Vanuatuan archipelago, with some favoring an origin on Maewo Island, or possibly Pentecost Island [3]. This research is focused on identifying clusters of specific Kava chemotypes as a reliable way of determining both Kava’s origin and the pattern in which it spread to other regions of the South Pacific [3]. The Kava Guru understands chemotype to be a very useful tool in identifying different strains of plants and other organisms. While a morphotype refers to strains of a single species that differ in their outward characteristics, a chemotype means a variety of organism (commonly a plant or microorganism) that produces a chemical metabolite that distinguishes it as a class from other varieties of the same species [1]. In essence, plants of the same species can be different chemotypes, meaning they can have the same physical appearance but a different chemical makeup.

In Kava’s case, different chemotypes are defined based on the ratios of kavalactones in their roots. There are five known chemotypes of kava kava, all of which contain differing ratios of kavalactones in their roots. As it turns out, all five chemotypes are represented among the Kava varieties grown in Vanuatu [3]. Kava’s five distinct chemotypes are not found in one place anywhere else in the South Pacific, which further suggests that kava kava may have originated and diversified on Vanuatu before being spread to other South Pacific regions.

Well, there you have it: not only does Vanuatu grow some of the strongest, most medicinal Kava on the market, it may very well be kava kava’s original home. That would certainly explain Vanuatu Kava’s notable, mouth-numbing potency! And with that thought, the Kava Guru is off to the nakamal for the evening…

Mahalo,

Kava Guru

REFERENCES

1. “Chemotype.” Wikipedia, Accessed March 6th, 2014. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chemotype.

2. Lindstrom, Lamont, Vincent Lebot, and Mark David Merlin. Kava: The Pacific Elixir – The Definitive Guide to its Ethnobotany, History and Chemistry. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1992.

3. Lindstrom, Lamont. “History, Folklore, Traditional and Current Uses of Kava”, in Kava: From Ethnology to Pharmacology, edited by Yadhu N. Singh. CRC Press, 2004.

4. Lynch, John. “Potent Roots and the Origin of Kava”. Oceanic Linguistics, Vol. 41 (2): December, 2002, p. 493-518.

5. Singh N. Yadhu. “Kava: An Overview”. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, Vol. 37: 1992, p. 13-45.

6. Singh, Yadhu N. “Kava: from ethnology to pharmacology”. Taylor and Francis LTD: 2004.

7. “What is kava?” Kavaroot.com. Accessed March 6th, 2014. http://www.kavaroot.com/what-is-kava

How Many Kava Varieties?

Dear Kava Guru,

How many different varieties of Kava are there, and how do I know which variety to choose?

Kava Lover, Ft. Lauderdale, FL

Any plant that’s been cultivated for a long time tends to branch out into different strains: just as apples, tomatoes, lettuce, and other produce have their varieties, so kava has its treasured strains. This article will help you know what to expect from the most commonly available kava varieties in terms of taste and effects.

Although kava kava is technically one species (Piper methysticum), there are many kava varieties spread out across millions of square miles in the South Pacific. “How many kava varieties are there?” is a question whose answer keeps changing as botanists and phytochemists come up with different methods of distinguishing between strains of kava. Vanuatu alone grows at least 30 and as many as 70 kava varieties depending on the source one consults. However, many Vanuatan kava strains are never exported to the world market because they are classed as “ignoble” strains of unreliable quality and strength. By law, only “noble” strains of kava that have a reliable kavalactone content can be exported from Vanuatu for global trade.

Botanists can often distinguish kava strains by the appearance of kava’s aboveground stems and leaves: kava ranges in color from light to dark green depending on the strain; some strains also have white or purple spots on their stems or leaves. As a consumer, you’re more likely to encounter kava in its powdered root form. Kava powders from different strains will have distinct aromas, colors, tastes, and effects. For instance, some kava varieties can be very uplifting, while others may be sedating and encourage introspection. Likewise, some kava varieties are renowned for their physically relaxing and analgesic effects, while others may work primarily on the mental or emotional plane. The list below will introduce you to the most common strains and their typical effects, so you can make the best choice for your needs.

Fu’u: From Tonga, Fu’u is a very finely ground kava with a complex, nutty, almost coconut or almond-like flavor. It also has very low bitterness. Said to inspire humor, creativity and lively conversation on a wide range of topics, Fu’u is probably best enjoyed at a social occasion with lots of opportunity for conversation.

Tongan White: As the name suggests, this kava is very light tan when prepared —like coffee with a lot of cream—and has a creamy, smooth taste that is quite accessible to the newcomer. It also brews up thicker than other kavas, so you might want to use a bit more water than the typical recipe calls for. Tongan white kava offers palpable muscle relaxation and endows the mind with a calm alertness. Along with Hawaiian Mahakea, many “kavasseurs” mention Tongan white as their favorite kava for relaxing after the workday.

Fijian Kava: Kava seems to have come to Fiji later than other regions of the South Pacific. That didn’t stop Fijians from adopting this healing root as a national staple, and Fijian kava’s stress-relieving and anxiotlytic effects make it easy to see why! Brewing to a rich golden tan, Fijian kava is creamy with an underlying hint of pepperiness and lightly sedating, relaxing effects on the mind and body. Fiji kava helps many people simply feel at ease and is a wonderful variety for relaxing on a weekday night.

Melo Melo: Along with Fu’u, this Vanuatan kava is perhaps the best “party kava” the Kava Guru has encountered. Unlike some varieties that make one want to lay down and contemplate the universe, Melo Melo has a laidback yet euphoric energy that makes us want to get up and dance (though not too fast!), and while the evening away telling stories and cracking jokes. However, as the name suggests, Melo Melo can also be a very “mellow” kava should you decide to approach it that way.

Isa: Also known as Tue Dai or Tudei (pronounced “two day”) kava, the Isa strain from Vanuatu has caused a bit of a kerfuffle in the kava world for its supposed strength, bolstered by the rumor that it is actually Piper wichmannii, the ancient wild relative of kava. As far as the Kava Guru is aware, this claim is marketing hype that has never been confirmed. There is some controversy surrounding Tudei kava strains, however: they can be high in Flavokawain B, a compound that may deplete the liver-protective enzyme glutathione. Since there are so many strains of kava to choose from with purely beneficial effects, in general it may be better to abstain from “tudei” kava cultivars.

Mahakea: Because the Hawaiian Islands are relatively isolated from the rest of the South Pacific, they have given rise to unique kava strains found nowhere else. Take Mahakea: often thought to be the sweetest and least bitter of the kava varieties, Mahakea is rich and earthy with black tea-like undertones. Less cerebral than Vanuatan kavas, Mahakea tends to be very physically relaxing and analgesic, making it helpful for easing sore muscles, headaches, backaches, and general stress relief.

Mo’i: Another famous Hawaiian varietal, Mo’i is often known as the kava of kings: before European Contact, its use was restricted to Hawaiian chiefs and their families—not surprising given its intriguing and unique effects! Mo’i is mentally stimulating and feels physically lighter than other more sedating kava strains. It’s up there with Melo Melo as a euphoric, energizing kava that can make worries disappear and conversation flow freely. With a flavor that is smooth and buttery with hints of cocoa, we believe Mo’i kava really is fit for a king.

With so many varieties of kava, we believe there is a strain to suit everyone—or really several strains, based on your own mood and intention for a particular kava session. When you read the list above, consider what you want to use kava for, as well as the kind of experience you wish to have. You’ll quickly discover the kava varieties that appeal to you!

Mahalo,

Kava Guru

Sources

“Kavasseur: Your Number #1 Source for Kava Reviews and Kava News.” Accessed March 4th, 2014. www.kavasseur.blogspot.com.

“Kava- Strains and Origins.” Wikipedia. Last modified February 21st, 2014. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kava#Strains_and_origins

Kilham, Chris. 2000-2005. “Kava, The Plant” in “Kava: an Ethnomedical Review”. University of Massachusetts teaching notes. Last modified March 27th, 2009. https://www.erowid.org/plants/kava/kava_article1.shtml.

“Hawaiian Kava.” Kona Kava Farm. Accessed March 4th, 2014. http://www.konakavafarm.com/kava-hawaiian.html

“Tudei Kava”. Kona Kava Farm. Accessed March 5th, 2014. http://www.konakavafarm.com/kava-tudei.html.

Pure Kava Kava Does Not Cause Liver Damage

Dear Kava Guru,

Can Kava really cause liver damage?

Linda, Carson City, CA

To answer your question simply – there hasn’t been any formal or concrete evidence to indicate that pure kava kava causes liver damage or toxicity. In fact, South Pacific Island populations have been using kava kava (Piper Methysticum) for centuries on end without any known incidences of liver damage [2].

Now for lengthier Kava Guru wisdom on the topic of liver damage:

Kava kava has effects that are said to be similar to those felt from the consumption of alcohol – alleviation of stress, mood elevation, contentment, and overall relaxation.  Kavalactones, the kava compounds believed to grace us with those benefits, have been shown to have anesthetic and muscle relaxation effects as well [1]. Given these much sought-after qualities, it’s no wonder it has been used as a remedy for anxiety, insomnia and other neurological disorders and is steadily growing in popularity!

Additionally, kava kava has been shown to actually improve cognitive functioning, making it a worthy alternative to other neurological medications that impair cognitive functionality. For instance, the University of Maryland Medical Center recently published an article that documents a 2004 case study.  This case suggests that 300mg of kava kava can actually improve cognitive functioning while alleviating anxiety.  As the article also indicates, this is quite a significant result given that standard anti-anxiety medications, like diazepam (Valium), have been proven to cause cognitive impairment [7].

This information could substantiate the reasoning behind the recent evidence that pharmaceutical giants  have conducted false and corrupt reports about kava kava and liver damage, in order to have them banned from hosting countries.   Given that kava kava has become an increasingly popular anti-anxiety, and insomnia remedy, with the added benefit of cognitive improvement – it’s no wonder that some may think that pharmaceutical companies might have a vested economic interest in devaluing kava kava.

Not to mention that there are even reports about “fake kava” being distributed that are actually chemical elixirs intended to induce a “high” and have nothing to do with kava at all! These elixirs are reported to cause some pretty serious health risks due to the types of toxic chemicals used in their preparation and these cases have been lumped in along with other information regarding kava – and it’s not even kava! Inevitably these types of cases end up in skewed and misinformed data regarding kava.

According to LiverTox and the World Journal of Gastroenterology, there are some documented cases indicating that some individuals have had liver damage and in a few cases required liver transplants after using kava kava [2,3].   However, several other sources, including the American Association of Family Pharmacists (AAFP) and the Journal of Toxicology have indicated that there is no evidence of permanent liver damage [5].  Additionally, Yadhu Singh – an author that writes extensively on the subject of Kava – states that these problems were not encountered with the traditionally prepared beverage, which was prepared as a water infusion.  Commercialized Kava extracts, that are extracted with organic solvents, are the source of Kava used in the potential cases of liver toxicity [4].  Further yet, a professor out of  Menzies University – Medical School has studied aboriginal populations of Australian Northern Territories, who were first introduced to kava kava as an alternative to drinking alcohol in the 1980’s, and there were no records of hepatotoxicity related to kava kava during  those studies.   And interestingly enough, the subjects of these particular cases ingested a substantially larger amount of kava kava (10-50 times) than what is recommended by European standards [9].

However, the same studies do address a temporary change in liver functionality.   This change in liver function – namely, fluctuations in the liver enzymes gamma-glutamyl transferase and alkaline phosphatase [2] – may allow for some understanding about the misrepresentation of kava kava with regard to liver damage.  Furthermore, it is important to note that changes that do occur from using kava kava, are temporary – that is, liver functions become normal after a short period of time after using kava kava. Additionally, there is some indication that kava kava ingestion could disable certain enzymes, such as cytochrome P450 and  cyclooxygenase [10]. It is possible that due to the change in liver function, enzymes normally used in the metabolizing of ethanol and other substances may not properly function during the short period of time that kava kava is in the system.  As a result, consumption of alcohol or drugs while taking kava kava could result in liver toxicity.  It is possible that the subjects of documented liver damage cases had a history of alcohol or drug abuse, and that they either had damaged livers prior to the case studies or that they were actively using other substances during the studies.  This toxicity then is not necessarily due to kava kava itself, but is more likely due to the misuse of kava kava with other substances.   It would be wise then to not use kava kava with other substances, and this recommendation does not differ from the solo-usage requirements of other medicinal remedies [6,7].

There is also a body of evidence indicating that cases of kava kava liver damage or toxicity, if any, are due to an improper usage of the plant itself.  The AAFP suggests that cases of liver damage may arise from use of parts of the plant other than the root.   The leaves, stem and other aerial parts of kava kava that are not directly derived from the root, do come up in some bodies of evidence as poisonous or toxic.  Additionally, there is evidence to suggest that the kava extracts, used by the subjects in many of the cases of liver damage, could have been impure (tainted with other substances). Many commercial kava kava extracts contain as much as %60 ethanol, and are labeled as “standardized” simply on the basis that they contain a prerequisite amount of a given substance (in this case, kava kava) [9]. This suggests poor-quality and/or contaminated kava kava raw material, as a possible explanation for toxicity – not pure kava kava derived only from the plant’s roots [5,6,7].

In his discussion of prospective considerations with regard to hepatotoxicity (liver toxicity) due to kava kava, Rolf Teschke thoroughly addresses all of the above reasons for the misinformation surrounding kava kava.  Teschke indicates that in the cases where liver damage has been linked to kava kava, there was evidence of co-medication and improper adherence to dosage recommendations.  He furthermore addresses the possibility that the incorrect, and toxic, parts of the plant were used in those studies.  “By improving kava quality [purity] and adherence to therapy recommendation under avoidance of co-medication, liver injury by kava should be a preventable disease…” (Teschke, p. 1270).

Furthermore, the Journal of Toxicology not only indicates that there have been no cases of liver damage directly and undeniably linked to kava kava, but also that there is no evidence of liver toxicity or damage in Pacific Island populations – populations that have traditionally and properly been using kava kava for centuries [2].

Also, like with pretty much anything, overly high dosages are likely to play a factor in cases of toxicity.  If you take too much kava kava, no matter the source – there are likely to be negative consequences.  It’s probably similar to how a glass of red wine a day has been proven to alleviate stress and be beneficial in other ways – and yet, as we all know, too much alcohol can be quite damaging to our livers!

Kava Guru thinks it breaks down to this: anything in large quantities, or used incorrectly, is going to reap unhealthy results.  Sources suggest that small to moderate dosages of pure kava kava root – not the stem or leaf – do have benefits and are a solid alternative to pharmaceutical methods for alleviation of anxiety, insomnia, pain and other neurological problems.

And if you take nothing else away from reading this, do remember the following three bits of wisdom:

1)   Do not combine kava kava with drugs or alcohol.  Like with most – if not all – other medicinal substances this can not only interfere with the benefit of kava kava, but could also cause liver damage (as stated in more detail above).

2)   Moderate and monitor your use!  If your intended use is for a longer duration of time – such as for medicinal purposes – then do ensure that you seek out a physician specialized in medicinal plants for advice on dosage amounts and duration.

3)  And, as any guru of any product would remind you – always do your research on the vendor! Only buy kava kava from those companies that give you a guarantee that their product is pure kava kava made strictly from the root of the plant.  If they cannot vouch for their purity, that’s probably an assurance that the product is not pure.

If you follow those three points of wisdom, you will be sure to revel in the benefits of kava kava – a comfort that has been quietly enjoyed by the traditional people of the South Pacific islands for many upon many blissfully peaceful centuries.

Mahalo,

Keith @ Kava Guru

REFERENCES:

1. Cassileth, Barrie, PHD.  “Oncology”. United Business Media LLC, San Francisco: April 15, 2011. Vol. 25-4 p. 384-385.

2. Clough AR, Bailie RS, Currie B.  “Liver function test abnormalities in users of aqueous kava extracts”.  Journal of Toxicology. 2003. 41(6):821-9. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14677792

3. Fu S, Korkmaz E, Braet F, Ngo Q, Ramzan I. “Influence of Kavain on Hepatic Ultrastructure”. World Journal of Gastroenterol. January 28, 2008: 14(4): 541-546. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/02/080222111446.htm

4. Singh, N. Yadhu. “Potential for Interaction of Kava and St. John’s Wort with Drugs”. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 2005.  Vol 100, p. 108-113.

5. Saeed, Bloch, and Diana Antonocci.  “Herbal and Dietary Supplements for Treatment of Anxiety Disorders”.  Association of American Family Physicians, Aug 15, 2007: 76(4) p. 549-556.  http://www.aafp.org/afp/2007/0815/p549.html

6. Teschke, Rolf, MD. “Kava Hepatotoxicity: pathogenetic aspects and prospective considerations”. Liver International: October, 2010. Vol. 30-9, p. 1270-1279.

7. University of Maryland Medical Center. “Kava Kava”. Last modified: May 07, 2013. http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/kava-kava

8. U.S. National Library of Medicine. “Kava Kava – Piper Methysticum”.  Last modified: March 03, 2014. www.livertox.nlm.nih.gov/KavaKava.htm

9. Whitton, Lau, Salisbury, Whitehouse and Christine S. Evans. “Kava Lactones and the Kava-Kava Controversy”. Pergamon: June 5, 2003. Phytochemistry (64) p. 673-679.

10. Wikipedia. “Kava-Toxicity and Safety”. Last modified: February 21, 2014. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kava#Toxicity_and_safety

Can I Combine Alcohol And Kava?

Can I Combine Alcohol and Kava?There isn’t an affirmative “yes” or “no” answer to this question.   Will it kill you to combine alcohol and kava kava? No – unless of course you ingest more than you should of either kava or alcohol.  However, there is a body of scientifically backed information that would suggest that you should never combine alcohol and kava.  Furthermore, many people prefer kava kava to alcohol, and it is used quite widely as a complete alternative to drinking alcohol.

Now for some lengthier Kava Guru wisdom on the topic of combining alcohol and kava kava (Piper Methysticum):

Many people enjoy drinking alcohol and kava at the same time because of the heightened effect of each and the quicker onset of their sought-after effects. Of course quantity is of key importance here – it would never be recommended that one drink either kava kava or alcohol in high quantities, either alone or in combination with each other.  It would be no different than the recommendation not to combine anything else that is mind-altering or medicinal with each other, or specifically with alcohol.

Additionally, some traditional ceremonial procedures involving kava kava actually include the ingestion of alcoholic beverages before or after the process.   There has also been a recent development of  “kava bars” in the Western world and some of these kava bars serve alcohol along with kava kava drinks.  For example, some people enjoy sipping on kava kava beverages while taking a shot of alcohol at various points in between [4].  Furthermore, ethanol is used in the process of commercial kava kava extraction at percentages upwards of 60% and Western herbal medicine traditionally uses 25% ethanol to 75% water as the solvent base for tinctures [6, p.674].  However, just because many people choose to combine alcohol and kava kava does not mean that it is the wisest thing to do.

True to my Guru nature, I would like to bring to your attention all relevant bits of knowledge I am privy to, and would like to tell you a bit about the evidence that suggests the combination of alcohol with kava kava could increase the risk of liver damage or toxicity.

Many of the cases that have surfaced regarding kava kava and liver damage have been proven to be unsubstantiated, strictly because it was proven that alcohol could have played a role.  The kava kava used in these studies was commercially extracted and, as noted above, commercial extracts often carry ethanol in their solvent bases.   Whereas studies conducted with the use of pure kava kava (with no alcohol) have not surfaced any evidence of liver toxicity. Although there is some indication to suggest that the addition of glutathione (an organic chemical that helps with the metabolization of kavalactones) may have a levelling effect that prevents hepatotoxicity [6, p. 676]. This could then suggest that the alcohol may have been the variable responsible for liver damage, or that the combination of kava kava and alcohol was responsible.

This brings us to a discussion of what actually happens to the liver when kava kava and alcohol are used in combination.  The liver makes use of the enzyme CYP 2E1 for the metabolizing of alcohol.   There have been studies that suggest CYP 2E1 is also used in the metabolizing of kavalactones (kava kava compounds) [3, p.476].   If both substances are metabolized by the same enzyme or altogether have a similar enzymatic pathway – then it is quite possible that when used in combination, the metabolic pathways become stressed and hepatotoxicity (toxic liver damage) may be more likely to occur.

Furthermore, kavalactones do temporarily alter the functioning of various liver enzymes, including gamma-glutamyl transferase and alkaline phosphatase [7].  Some of the affected enzymes may be used during the metabolic processes of breaking down ethanol (alcohol) [3, p. 475-477].  As a result, it is possible that enzymes used in the metabolization of alcohol are temporarily affected while the liver processes kava kava.  If this is the case, then it is likely that when kava kava is in the system, the liver may not be able to properly metabolize alcohol and could then experience hepatotoxicity if the substances are combined.

In an entirely different vein of discussion with regard to the combination of alcohol and kava kava – kava kava is actually widely used as a preferred alternative to drinking alcohol and has been recommended by physicians to patients with alcoholic substance abuse problems [6]. Given the many similar side effects that kava kava and alcohol share – relaxation, mood elevation, release of inhibition, anesthesia, muscle relaxation, and more – many people enjoy kava kava as a valuable alternative to drinking alcohol [1].   Kava kava is not a central nervous system depressant, and in this way varies from alcohol.  Furthermore, kava kava is not physically addictive, like alcohol [2] – which would explain its use in the therapeutic treatment of alcoholism [6].

Kava Guru thinks it breaks down to this: no, it won’t kill you to combine alcohol with kava kava, nor will your system be greatly damaged with small doses of the combined substances.  However, given the studies discussed above – it is perhaps best to avoid the combination as much as possible.  Additionally, kava kava provides all of the pleasant effects of alcohol consumption with the added benefit of nonaddiction. So really, it’s no wonder that kava kava is growing in popularity as a complete alternative to alcohol!

Mahalo,

Kava Guru

REFERENCES

1. Cassileth, Barrie, PHD.  “Oncology”. United Business Media LLC, San Francisco: April 15, 2011. Vol. 25-4 p. 384-385.

2. Craig, Winston J.  “Kava kava: Antidote for Anxiety”. Vibrant Life, Hagerstown: January, 2002. Vol. 18-1 p. 42-43.

3. Li and I. Ramzan. “Role of Ethanol in Kava Hepatotoxicity”.  University of Sydney – Faculty of Pharmacy, Sydney: November 26, 2009.  Phytotherapy Research 24: p. 475-480.

4. Makaira. “Do Kava and Alcohol Combine?”  Makaira’s Kava Kava Blog: January 1, 2010. http://www.konakavafarm.com/blog/?p=231

5. Mcdonald, Jim. “Kava kava – Piper Methysticum”.  http://www.herbcraft.org/kava.html

6. Whitton, Lau, Salisbury, Whitehouse and Christine S. Evans. “Kava Lactones and the Kava-Kava Controversy”. Pergamon: June 5, 2003. Phytochemistry 64: p. 673-679.

7. Wikipedia. “Kava-Toxicity and Safety”. Last modified: February 21, 2014. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kava#Toxicity_and_safety

 

Is Kava a Food or Dietary Supplement?

Is Kava a Food or Dietary Supplement?This is quite a complicated question depending on whom you speak with.  The Kava Guru has done his research, and has arrived at several conclusions regarding the current status of kava kava in the United States and throughout the world.

In as short an answer as I can provide:  kava kava is currently sold in the United States as a dietary supplement, and is not currently accepted as a food ingredient.  This isn’t to say that several very food-like products are coming out that are based on kava kava.  For example, over at the Kava Marketplace, there is Kava chocolate from Kava King.  Now, chocolate bars are typically thought of as a food, but the folks over at Kava King insist that their product is a dietary supplement and have the data and research to back it up.

The same is true of a Kava Gum that has recently (2013) appeared on the market.  I have spoken with the owner of that company, and he stated that he has a 29-page legal document that justifies the gum part of the kava gum as being nothing more than a delivery method for the kava.  I am not an expert, but I don’t see any reason why that kind of use cannot be justified, and would think that the FDA would have a difficult time taking issue with the kava gum product.

As far as kava chocolate and the Kava Candy that has also appeared, in my discussion with an FDA consultant, just because someone calls something a rose, doesn’t make it a rose.  So, just because someone is calling these kava products “dietary supplements” doesn’t necessarily mean that’s what they are.  It’s all a whole lot of gray area, but the Kava Guru is here to help you through the gray!

The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) of 1994 defines a dietary supplement as “a product (other than tobacco) that is intended to supplement the diet and that bears or contains one of the following ingredients: a vitamin, a mineral, an herb or other botanical, an amino acid, a dietary substance for use by man to supplement the diet by increasing the total daily intake, or a concentrate, metabolite, constituent, extract, or combination of these ingredients” [1]. In other words, dietary supplements are substances meant to be taken in addition to a balanced, healthy diet; they are not intended to make up a large portion of a meal or of someone’s daily caloric intake [1]. The Food and Drug Administration’s definition of a dietary supplement also notes that these are often taken in the form of pills, capsules, tablets, powders or liquids [4].

One helpful way to determine if kava is a dietary supplement or a food is to look at its intended use. Foods such as fruits, vegetables, grains and nuts contain macronutrients (healthy fats, carbohydrates, and proteins) and micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, etc.) that contribute to overall health. In contrast, a dietary supplement is often taken to generate a very specific effect [1]. For instance, people take a kava kava supplement to relax, relieve anxiety, and treat insomnia. Kavalactones are a very specific class of compounds that give kava these physiological effects. In other words, many dietary supplements are targeted to address specific ailments or generate specific effects that contribute to wellness. In contrast, healthy foods keep you healthy by giving your body a broad range of the nutrients it needs to maintain wellness.

Is Kava Part of a Healthy Diet?

Let’s briefly look at what’s in kava besides kavalactones: by weight, fresh kava root is about 80% water, 43% starch, 3.2% sugars, 3.6% protein, and 3.2% minerals. Kavalactones make up about 15% of the root by weight [2]. Though kava is usually prepared as a beverage, if you were to eat kava root it would provide about 20% of your daily fiber needs [2]. Not bad!

However, contrast that with maca root, a relative of the turnip frequently called a superfood for its rich array of nutrients: maca root contains high levels of many health-essential macro- and micronutrients, including polysaccharides; complex carbohydrates; essential fatty acids; glucosinates; proteins; several minerals such as calcium and potassium; and trace elements including magnesium, selenium, iron, manganese, and zinc [3]. Maca contains a range of chemical constituents that our bodies require to maintain bodily health, making it by definition a “functional food” rather than a dietary supplement [1]. In contrast, even though kavalactones have demonstrable benefits for health, our bodies do not require them as they do micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals, or macronutrients such as carbohydrates and proteins.

Is Kava a Food or Dietary Supplement?

Maca root (Lepidium meyenii) is a nutrient-rich Andean superfood from western South America.

Of course, just because the FDA does not consider kava a food doesn’t mean you can’t mix it with foods in any recipe you choose! The Kava Guru is passionate about finding new ways to cook with kava, and we add our favorites to our Kava Recipes page as often as we can. And as always, we welcome comments below about your favorite kava recipes and creative ways to enjoy this dietary supplement!

Sources

1. Halsted, Charles H. 2003. “Dietary Supplements and Functional Foods – 2 Sides of a Coin?” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 77 (supplement): 1001-1007.

2. “Kava – Composition” Wikipedia. Accessed March 12th, 2014. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kava#Composition

3. “Lepidium meyenii – Constituents.” Wikipedia. Accessed March 12th, 2014. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lepidium_meyenii#Constituents

4. “What is a Dietary Supplement?” About FDA. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Last Modified December 30th, 2009.http://www.fda.gov/aboutfda/transparency/basics/ucm195635.htm

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