More Evidence Suggests Kava Does not Cause Liver Problems When Used Correctly

KG-Kava Studies 211X300We have all heard of and are plagued by the infamous “German Study”, and others studies, that indicate that kava kava might cause liver problems (hepatotoxicity) – but, I am pleased to yet again offer some new insight into the fallible nature of those studies. Recently, at an Oxford annual conference on the ‘science of botanicals’, a presentation was given on new research findings about Kava that offer further evidence to suggest that pure kava kava, used correctly, does not cause liver damage! And furthermore, that Kava is actually a healthy and desirable dietary supplement, when used correctly.

At the annual Oxford conference – the International Conference on the Science and Regulation of Botanicals (ICSB), hosted by the National Center for Natural Product Research (NCNPR) – Chris Xing, Ph.D, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota, gave a presentation on recent research findings with regard to Kava that outlined just how the German studies could have been wrong [4].

In an interview with Steve Myers – Senior Editor of Natural Products INSIDER – Dr. Xing discusses the highlights of the presentation at some length. According to Dr. Xing, it’s possible that those studies used a strain or cultivar called “Tudai Kava”. This particular strand carries a high amount of a chemical that “compromises liver function or detoxification function that may contribute to the observed hepatotoxicity among kava users” [4].

Dr. Xing and his associates, believe that the hepatotoxic cultivar “… got into the market mainly because it grows faster and offered a higher yield” [4], which stands as a warning to all of us to always do research about a product before using it! It is important to realize that, like with anything, companies will always find ways to make money faster and sometimes the ways companies choose to do this might not always be beneficial to the consumer, and can sometimes even be damaging!

According to Dr. Xing the hepatotoxicity reports then, which were very few as it is, are “probably due to a wrong cultivar, not recommended for traditional use” [4].   This information is consistent with other studies and findings on Kava that indicate the failings of the German studies. For example, an article in the Journal of Toxicology – “Liver function test abnormalities in users of aqueous Kava extracts” – discusses how island populations that have been using kava kava for centuries have no reports of problems with liver function directly related to kava use [2].

We are all very fortunate that these findings are surfacing and the reputation of Kava is being rectified, as it does provide many benefits to people, such as relaxation and anxiety relief. As Dr. Xing says, “We believe that Kava, with proper standardization, removing its hepatotoxic species…will benefit humans as an anxiolytic and dietary supplement”.

“Kava kava had a rise and a fall, and right now it looks like it’s coming back”, says Dr. Xing in his interview with Myers of INSIDER [4]. And this is wonderful news for everyone, because kava kava provides a wonderful alternative to harmful pharmaceuticals used to combat anxiety and stress-related symptoms.

Some sources, such as statisticbrain.com and the American Psychology Association (APA), indicate a rise in stress, anxiety and other related symptoms, as well as that over 70% of the United States of America’s population suffers from such symptoms [1]. Many people turn to medicinal means to combat the pain and suffering they experience as a result of mental health problems – like stress, anxiety and related symptoms. In the Western world these medicinal means have traditionally been pharmaceutical or at the very least synthesized chemical solutions. But, these solutions are damaging people’s bodies and minds! There have been reports of pharmaceuticals, like Prozac, causing brain damage that results in the development of tics and other neurological disorders [3]. Yuck, how terrible!

Fortunately, the scientific and medical community is coming to terms with the real problems that pharmaceutical and chemical solutions can cause, and more and more people are turning to natural alternatives like kava kava as an answer to their problems. I am so grateful that a better understanding of Kava is being brought to the forefront of the scientific community by Dr. Xing and others like him, so that people can see and experience just how wonderful Kava is as a healthy supplement option!

Sources:

1. American Psychological Association – American Institute of Stress, NY.  July 28, 2013. Online: http://www.statisticbrain.com/stress-statistics/

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. Lamvert, Craig. “The Downsides of Prozac”. Harvard Magazine, June 2000. Online: http://harvardmagazine.com/2000/05/the-downsides-of-prozac-html

4. INSIDER T.V. “New Science May Boost Kava Market”. Online: http://www.naturalproductsinsider.com/videos/2014/05/insider-tv-new-science-may-boost-kava-market.aspx

Is Kava Better Fresh?

Dear Kava Guru,

Is Kava better fresh?

Karen,

Wichita, KS

This is a question for the true kava aficionado—one who has deeply explored all the facets of kava, the many tasty and enjoyable varieties, and is now wondering what more can be done to maximize the kava experience. Is kava better fresh is certainly a question the Guru has also pondered, and when given the chance, I would say the experience of fresh kava is not to be missed!

In the South Pacific, kava brews made from fresh roots are often the norm. Though kava roots are usually dried before being sold at market or given away as gifts, in informal village get-togethers the root is often prepared fresh. This means that more effort must be put into processing the kava: while dried roots can be easily pounded into a powder using a mortar and pestle, due to their moisture content the fresh roots are more resilient and must be shredded or chewed—still a common practice in some South Pacific regions—before being steeped in cool water [1]. However, this effort may well be worth it!

There are three main reasons why kava may be even better fresh than dried: higher strength, sweeter flavor, and the certainty that you’re getting a single strain of kava. Read on as I share my guru wisdom about the points in favor of fresh kava root!

Strength: First on the list is that all-important factor when choosing kava—strength! Fresh kava root often has the reputation of being stronger than the dried root [2], and there are two very simple reasons why this is probably so. First of all, fresh kava root is, well, fresh! When you buy fresh you know for certain that the kava root was harvested from the plant only a few days ago and the kavalactones have had little time to degrade [3]. Though dried kava root or root powder lasts longer if properly stored, if it has been stored in suboptimal conditions it can lose a great deal of its strength.

The second reason fresh kava may be stronger is because it is sold whole rather than pre-ground. This has to do with surface area: once the root has been peeled, the kavalactones in kava (being somewhat volatile) can escape when exposed to the air over time. When kava root is ground into a fine powder, it creates LOTS of surface area for compounds to escape from, because each granule of kava root is exposed to air [4]. In contrast, the whole fresh root has a smaller overall surface area, which seals in most of the root matter and its constituents from the air. For a useful analogy, think about coffee beans: baristas and coffee gurus everywhere always tell us that whole bean coffee is better than ground for the same reason—whole beans lose fewer constituents to the air and thus retain their full flavor for much longer.

Single Strain: Perhaps more important to the kava connoisseur, but certainly worth noting as well, is that when you buy fresh kava root you know you’re getting a single strain of kava. Powdered kava root, as well as products like instant kava and kava capsules, may often be a blend of different kava strains rather than a single-origin cultivar. Again, this is totally fine if you simply want to use kava to relax and unwind; all kava strains have their merits and I would be overstepping my bounds by declaring one strain to be better than the others (though the Kava Guru has his favorites, heh heh). Yet if you’re interested in getting to know kava’s various strains and their individual effects, perhaps to employ them for a specific medicinal use…then obtaining whole kava root, fresh or dried, is absolutely the way to go!

Flavor: Another reason for the buzz around fresh kava root is simply that it may taste sweeter than the dried version. There’s reason to think the drying process may affect the ratio of chemical constituents in kava root (especially the older, vertical roots), resulting in a bitterer brew than that made from fresh kava root [2]. Now, kava is quite a chemically complex plant, so it makes sense that even a simple heat treatment such as sun drying could affect its overall flavor. If you’re someone who finds the taste of dried kava less than agreeable, it might be worthwhile to seek out the fresh variety.

However, don’t despair if you can’t order fresh kava where you are; there are ways to get the most out of dried kava for an experience approaching the fresh variety. Check out strains of kava known to be sweeter even when dried, such as Tongan kava or Hawaiian Mahakea kava. You can also look for kava powders with a high lateral to vertical root ratio, as the young lateral roots of kava tend to be sweeter (and may be stronger as well). To prevent your dried kava from losing strength, try buying the whole dried kava root or kava root chips and shred or grind them as needed to prepare your kava. Store dried kava powder in an airtight bag away from extremes of heat or moisture, and it should last about 3-6 months. Even better, if stored in a vacuum bag in the freezer, dried kava powder can last indefinitely!

Mahalo,

Kava Guru

REFERENCES

1. “I was so drunk on kava last night I…” The Traveling Editor Blog. Accessed May 14th, 2014. http://www.thetravellingeditor.com/i-was-so-drunk-on-kava-last-night-i/.

2. “How to Use Kava”. Kona Kava Farm. Accessed May 14th, 2014. http://www.konakavafarm.com/kava-how-to-use.html.

3. “Fresh Kava Root.” Buy Kava Direct. Last modified August 3rd, 2012. http://buykavadirect.com/fresh-kava-root/.

4. Kealoha, Makaira. “How Do I Use the Whole Kava Root and Kava Root Chips?” Makaira’s Kava Blog. Last modified August 7th, 2012. http://www.konakavafarm.com/blog/ask-makaira/how-do-i-use-whole-kava-root-and-kava-root-chips/.

Kava kava on the Uprise!

Buy Kava Lately there’s been a lot of very wonderful news circulating the web about kava kava. Overall it seems to be the case that the many wonders of Kava are spreading through North America and are continuing to be a healthy socioeconomic presence in the South Pacific and elsewhere around the world.

In terms of Western Kava bliss, and spreading Kava excitement – the owners of Square Rüt, a Kava bar in Austin, Texas – are proud to announce that they are opening another bar! Scott Pingel – a co-owner of Square Rüt – has announced that they will be opening another Square Rüt location at 51st and Burnet Rd. in Austin. There is some talk that the owners may even consider opening a third Kava bar in the very near future [1]! This exciting announcement is coming just over a month after the news of a Kava bar opening in Boone, North Carolina. What does this tell us!? Kava and kava kava bars are spreading through North America and North Americans are enjoying the many healthy benefits of Kava more and more!!

“It’s going to totally relax every muscle in your body, but keeps your mind alert and focused, so there’s no buzz nor type of impairment, total relaxation”, said Scott Pingel in an interview with Kvue [1].

In terms of Kava news out of the South Pacific, there’s a Vanuatu update that helps to offset the foul taste left in our mouths after receiving the bad news out of Fiji last month. There was a bit of a scare when it was announced that Fijian authorities are attempting to put restrictions on Kava use in the island communities. This is a restriction that will greatly affect the Fijian agricultural population. The Fijian Times recently posted a story about a woman, Katarina Naviri, whose sole income is in Kava farming. Katarina and her family have had great success in Kava farming and should the ban go through it will likely greatly affect Katrina’s family as well as many other Fijian families in a similar situation [3]. It’s still unclear if this Fijian government restriction will be going through, but fortunately there has recently been some good news out of Vanuatu to offset this Fijian scare.

The following quote headlined a broadcast by Radio New Zealand International: “The Vanuatu Government is re-structuring the Vanuatu Commodities Marketing Board into a more farmer-focused, innovative and transparent institution [2].”

The broadcast goes on to tell us that the Vanuatu Digest – a news platform out of Vanuatu – informs the public that these policy changes are being made in an attempt to totally wipe out agricultural poverty in the island by 2016 [2].

While this is only a couple of years away, it’s not impossible given the incredibly high density of Vanuatu Kava farmers and farmers of other commodities with a high international demand; commodities like cocoa beans and copra [2]. Vanuatu is actually one of the top sources of Kava trade throughout the South Pacific and internationally, so it’s an incredible relief to know that at least some of the South Pacific islands are making an attempt to retain Kava farming tradition and socioeconomic stability.

While I’m still nervously awaiting an update on the Fijian policy recommendations with regard to Kava consumption in the islands, I am nonetheless overjoyed to get wind of the most recent international Kava news. Kava kava is clearly on an uprise around the world, with Kava bars spreading throughout the United States, and the South Pacific islands continuing to traditionally farm and trade the Piper methysticum root – or, the Kava root of happiness.

REFERENCES:

1. Green, Shelton. “Kava Bar Seeing Major Success in South Austin”. Kvue.com, April 30, 2014. Online:http://www.kvue.com/news/editors-pick/257445851.html

2. Radio New Zealand International. “PGN Govt says SDP Board Removal of Govt Representation Illegal”. Last Updated: April 30, 2014. Online:http://www.radionz.co.nz/international/pacific-news/242975/png-govt-says-sdp-board-removal-of-govt-representation-illegal

3.Sauvakacolo, Siteri. “Katarina’s Kava Success”. The Fiji Times, Friday May 02, 2014. Online:http://www.fijitimes.com/story.aspx?id=267287

Does Kava Affect Reaction Time?

Dear Kava Guru,
Does Kava affect reaction time?
Andrew, Seattle, WA

There have actually been quite a number of studies regarding reaction times with Kava on its own, when combined with benzodiazepines, and even alcohol.  The results are quite interesting, and definitely score another clear victory for Kava.

First, in 1993, a group of researchers investigated the effects of kava extract, a benzodiazepine (a general group of anti-anxiety drugs), and a placebo on behavior and event-related potentials in a word-recognition memory task.  The task was structured as a memory task designed as a double-blind crossover study in 12 healthy volunteers.  In the word-recognition test, oxazepam elicited “a pronounced slowing of reaction time and a reduction in the number of correct responses… observed.”  Wow.  They go on to further state, “The behavioral indices indicated a greatly impaired performance after oxazepam and an enhanced memory performance following kava.”[1]  Wow again!

Across the board, kava not only did not decrease reaction time, it was shown to improve reaction time in word-recognition tasks.

Also in 1993, a group of researchers assigned 24 subjects (11 male, 13 female) to receive a drink consisting of kava and fruit juice.  The drink containted 500 mL of 0.2 g/mL kavalactone, blended with 500 mL of fruit juice.  The test group was subjected to a wider range of tests that included cognitive performance, physiological functions, and mood.  No differences were found between the kava drinkers and the control group in measurements of various psychological parameters, including respiration, heart rate, blood pressure, and stress levels.  Although what was not measured is what was most interesting, the researchers did conclude that kava, at least at the above dose, does not impair one’s cognitive functioning[2].

As a third example to present you with, there was a study conducted in 1989 by Saletu and co-workers.  The purpose of their study was to measure the physiological effects of kavain, a main kavalactone in kava, on brain activity compared to the benzodiazepine drug clobazapam [3]. In this placebo-controlled double-blind study, 15 healthy volunteers received single oral doses of either an inactive placebo, 30mg of clobazapam, or synthetic kavain at either 200, 400, or 600mg [3].

The researchers recorded the subjects’ EEG (electroencephalogram, a measure of brain wave activity) and other psychophysiological measures every 2 hours for 8 hours during each study session. The EEGs showed that, though kavain exerted a significant effect on brain waves, it modulated this activity differently than the clobazapam; specifically, the kavain increased delta, theta and alpha waves while decreasing beta waves (the clobazapam showed the opposite effect)[3].

Even more encouragingly, the psychophysiological tests given by the researchers determined that subjects who had taken the kavain showed behavioral improvements in attention, reaction time, motor reflex, and intellectual performance. The people in the kavain group also noted improvements in mood, alertness and feelings of well-being after taking 200mg of kavain. The 600mg dose produced greater sedation, but still less than the clobazapam [3].

The last example I’ll offer is a study in 1987 by a team of researchers led by Russell [4].  The purpose of their study was to assess the effects of a low dose of kava on alertness, as well as the speed of accessing information from long-term memory. Posner’s letter-recognition task was used to measure the speed and accuracy of long-term memory access: subjects have to press a button within a time limit to indicate whether a pair of letters appearing on a screen is identical to a previous pair, the same sequence in a different font, or a different letter pair [4].

Russell’s study involved two rounds of testing. In the first, 9 healthy subjects (5 male, 4 female) were given 250ml of water infused with 30g of kava root and tested against a control group given no kava. the Posner test was then repeated a few days later with the same experimental group, this time given 500ml of water infused with kava at a rate of 1g/kg of body weight [4].

And surprise, surprise… the researchers reported no differences in speed of long-term memory access or error rate between the control group and the people who had taken kava! In their conclusion, they wrote the result demonstrated that kava acts to induce relaxation without impairing memory, reaction time or mental focus–indeed, [3] and [1] show mental focus actually improves with kava. So you can imbibe your kava with confidence, knowing that not only will kava not impair reaction time, it can actually benefit it!

Mahalo,

Kava Guru

REFERENCES:

1. Münte, T.F. Heinze, H.J., Matzke, M. and Steitz, J. (1993). “Effects of oxazepam and an extract of kava roots (Piper methysticum) on event-related potentials in a word-recognition task. Neuropsychobiology 27: 46-53.

2. Prescott, J., Jamieson, D., Emdur, N., and Duffield, P. (1993). Acute effects of kava on measures of cognitive performance, physiological function, and mood. Drug and Alcohol Review 12: 49-58.

3. Saletu, B., Grünberger, J., and Linzmayer, L. (1989). EEG-brain mapping, psychometric and psychophysiological studies on central effects of kavain–A kava plant derivative. Human Psychopharmacology 4: 169-190.

4. Russell, P.N., Bakker, D., and Singh, N.N. (1987). The effects of kava on alerting and speed of access of information from long-term memory.  Bulletin of Psychonomic Society 25: 236-237.

What Are Leis For?

What Are Leis For?Most people know leis as those fragrant chains of fresh flowers that get placed around one’s neck at Hawaiian resorts. Yet, you may be wondering, what are leis for in Hawaiian and South Pacific culture beyond promoting tourism? Because it turns out leis are a lot more than a gimmick invented to bolster the tourist industry—in fact, leis have long been used in Polynesia, and later Hawaii, as a way of bestowing love, respect and honor on someone [1].

Though in the popular imagination leis usually take the form of a garland of fresh flowers, my research has uncovered that leis can be made out of all sorts of objects. The only requirement for something to be a lei is that it be a collection of objects woven or strung together into a garland that is typically worn around the neck [2]. Hawaiian and Polynesian leis are frequently made from flowers, with the most common being plumeria, orchids, tuberose and carnations [1]. They may also be made from vines, leaves, seed pods, bone or shell, feathers, even paper money! The only constant is that leis are intended to be worn, and that they function as a sign of affection, honor or respect bestowed on the recipient [2, 3].

The cultural tradition of the lei spread from an origin in Polynesia to Hawaii with the first human immigrants to the islands. People are often given leis at occasions where they are the guest of honor: birthdays, weddings, graduations, retirement parties and the like [3]. With the introduction of Lei Day on May 1st, 1927—the same day as May Day in the rest of the United States—the lei has also become a symbol of cultural solidarity for indigenous Hawaiians. The concept of Lei Day was first proposed in 1927 by Don Blanding, a poet and writer for the Honolulu Star Bulletin. Each island in the Hawaiian archipelago now marks Lei Day with its own color and style of lei woven from native flowers [1].

Even though leis orginated in Polynesia, today they represent a uniquely Hawaiian experience for many tourists, who are often given leis upon their arrival at resorts and other attractions. The type of lei most visitors are familiar with is the plumeria lei, made from fragrant fresh plumeria flowers strung on a cord or string. However, there are many other kinds of lei that are even more significant in indigenous Hawaiian culture. For instance, the maile leaf lei made from the maile vine was once used to cement peace agreements between warring chiefs: the two leaders would meet in a heiau, or temple, to intertwine their maile leaf leis in a symbolic expression of renewed harmony and peace [3].

Fortunately, lei etiquette is pretty casual these days: despite the garland’s ceremonial contexts, it’s also fine for anyone to wear a lei outside of a formal occasion, or even buy one at an airport giftshop [2]. Basically, there are only three rules of lei etiquette you need to follow [3]:

1. Always accept a lei that is given to you. If someone gives you a lei, it is a sign of their respect, affection or esteem for you, so refusing it–or removing it in their presence–is considered rude.

2. If you cannot wear a lei someone gives you (due to allergy, for example), display the lei in a prominent place close to you.

3. Never discard a lei into the trash. A lei is a symbol of respect and love, so throwing it away is like symbolically throwing away the love of that person. Alternatives are to return the lei to the place where the flowers and vines that make it up were collected—or if you don’t have that option, return the lei to a natural spot such as a wooded area where it can return to the earth.

You can also leave your lei to dry in the sun over a few days; dried leis make a great decoration and will also perfume your house with a wonderful tropical fragrance. It’s hard to think of a better way to bring a little piece of the South Pacific back home… except perhaps bringing back a nice bundle of dried kava root!

Mahalo,

Kava Guru

REFERENCES

1. “Lei (Garland)”. Wikipedia. Accessed April 30th, 2014. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lei_(garland).

2. “What Are Leis?” WiseGEEK: Clear Answers for Common Questions. Accessed April 22nd, 2014. http://www.wisegeek.com/what-are-leis.htm.

3. “The Hawaiian Lei Tradition”. Hawaiian Flower Lei. Accessed April 24th, 2014. https://www.hawaiiflowerlei.com/leitradition.aspx.