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

 

Allergic Reaction to Kava?

Dear Kava Guru,

I’ve been using Kava for over a year but just had an allergic reaction. Is this permanent?

Best Regards,
Marc

Another great question; thank you Marc! It’s actually very rare that we hear about allergic reactions to Kava. Most of the allergic reactions to Kava occur after long-time usage, and in amounts that are far far more than the casual Kava drinker. I’ve been enjoying Kava for over 20 years now, and consume, nearly daily, up to 1000mg of Kavalactones (that’s about 4-6 shells of Kava per day). After bi-annual blood tests, and exhaustive self-observation, I haven’t noticed any allergic-type effects to Kava. But, everyone is quite different.

I bring that short snippet up because after looking through all available research on allergic reactions to Kava, it seems that the only documented allergic reactions occur after extensive use, like you, but also with heavy use. You didn’t tell me how much you were consuming per day, but I’m guessing that’s it’s far under the amounts that typically cause allergic reactions. Having said that, though, my best guess as someone who is not a doctor, is that if you discontinue use for a couple of weeks, and then try it again, that you will not have an allergic reaction. There are often a lot of factors that go into allergic reactions, and the only time I’ve seen allergic reactions to Kava in small quantities, is when it’s combined with alcohol.

For me, I can’t consume anything more than a shot a spirits if I am imbibing in Kava, and in all honesty, I can’t really mix the two ever. I get nauseated, and I get itchy skin when I combine the two. The moment I don’t combine the two, I’m fine. And, I know of at least 4-5 friends who regularly combine Kava with alcohol, and they suffer no ill effects whatsoever. It’s really because everyone is different, and different bodies will react to different conditions, and it becomes very hard to predict individual cases.

Just be smart about it, and take a break. When you finish you r break, just try to slowly ramp up your usage and observe carefully. I’m extremely interested to hear how you fare, as stories of allergic reactions are so rare. I’d be happy to share your experience with readers or keep it private; whatever you choose.

Mahalo,

Keith @ Kava.Guru

Why I Love Kava

Hawaiian Kava LeavesINTRODUCTION
This is very broad question that I bring up because I’m curious to see what kind of responses I get.  I know why I love Kava; not only has it helped reduce my anxiety at times in my life when nothing else helped, it just makes me feel good because of the effects of the plant, as well as the ritual itself, and it has enhanced my enjoyment of my life in general.  Also, the effects that Kava has on me haven’t diminished in the least despite more than 2 decades of nearly daily Kava use, which has allowed Kava to help fuel my passions and desires for self-expression.
Part of my personal research and experimentation is with a watchful eye on my health.  One of the things that I feel is a key factor in my ability to try so many different plant teachers and plant medicines is because of the attention I give to treating my body like the temple it is.  I exercise every day, track it with Fitbit, and eat a healthy, semi-vegetarian diet with as much raw food as I can comfortably consume (including raw fish).  I’m a pilot and have to get an in-depth medical exam every 2 years.  Part of this exam is blood work, which I’m interested in because of my Kava use.  With so much false information regarding potential liver damage from consuming Kava, as a near-daily drinker of Kava, I don’t even have raised enzyme levels in my liver, which translates into my liver being as healthy as a scan of my blood can determine.
MY FIRST KAVA EXPERIENCE
So, Kava for me is a very personal journey that went very public.  When I get excited about something, I can’t help wanting to share it with as many people as possible. Kava is no exception.  When I was first working with teacher plants, I voraciously inhaled, literally, every psychoactive plant I could find.  I researched any and every plant that had an effect on consciousness or was considered a “Teacher Plant” in the literature.  One of the plants I encountered was Kava.  So, one random day, when I was sitting at home, queuing up a movie on DVD (The movie was “My Dinner With Andre”), I decided I was going to try some of the Kava that I had purchased from Kona Kava Farm.
I followed the instructions carefully; I purchased their “84% Kavalactone Paste” (which doesn’t exist anymore due to stricter FDA regulation of Kava).  It said to make a pea-sized amount, and to simply eat it.  I thought that such a small amount of this plant couldn’t really do that much, but, I always start small and work my way up.  I also know that the FDA errs on the side of caution, and tend to double any dosage that is recommended by the FDA.  Having a doctor in the family only confirms that; there are many medications that are “over the counter” in smaller doses, and by prescription only in larger doses.  It can be the exact same medication, but it’s believed that only doctors are knowledgable enough to dole out larger doses of medication.
Today, though, I only went with the instructions, measured out my pea-sized serving (1/8th teaspoon), placed it under my tongue, sat down, and started my movie.
I wasn’t 5 minutes into the movie when I started to notice a few things: My tongue was numb.  I hadn’t done a lot of research on Kava or Kavalactone Paste, so I didn’t know that part of knowing if you’ve got good Kava is that it will numb your mouth.  Besides that, though, I was alone, the movie wasn’t a comedy, but I started to giggle.  I never giggle.  Sure, I like to laugh, I’ve been known to let out a guffaw or two, but giggle?
As the Kava set in, the giggles didn’t cease, and in my excitement that I had discovered something amazing, I only got more giggly.  I stopped the movie, sat back and simply enjoyed the moment, I enjoyed being alive, and I was giddy for the next 45 minutes.
After that 45 minutes was up, I was already hooked.  I went into the kitchen, tried another pea-sized amount, and sure enough, within minutes I was giddy again.  That day began an amazing journey into meeting the mind behind Kona Kava Farm, buying her farm as she moved to Fiji to start a resort, and learning absolutely everything I could about Kava and the Kava biz.
KAVA AS A TEACHER PLANT
Teacher Plants demand one very specific thing from us; they demand patience.  With today’s instant gratification just a tap or click away, I fear that the lessons of Teacher Plants are in danger of getting lost with us.  We’re all racing around with our faces in screens, and if we don’t get punched in the face or knocked on our ass with something we ingest, it’s not good enough.
But Kava — Kava is far more subtle than that.  Kava demands attention. It asks that you pay attention to it, that you take the time to understand the effects, to simply FEEL what it has to show you.  And this, for me, is why I love Kava.  It may sound odd and eccentric to modern ears, but in ancient times, shaman developed relationships with the plants that thy worked with.  They took the time to get to know them.  They would find “plant allies”; plants that they found useful effects with over time.
Kava is certainly one of those. And because of the very nature of Kava, it demands that you slow down to notice it’s powerfully subtle effects that can have a profound impact on one’s life…really!
When I took my initial 3 months to explore every facet of Kava, I was amazed at how little information I could find about its use ritualistically.  I found some speculation about its use in Easter Island as a visionary plant, but it was only speculation.  On an experiential level, though, working with Kava literally transformed my life in ways I am still grateful for today.  I worked with it every 3 days, to give any tolerance a chance to reset itself.  And, I purchased every form of Kava I could find at the time, following the instructions very carefully with each form I purchased.
Recently, I spent some time in Hawaii, working with a cultivar of Kava called “Hiwa”.  It is supposed to be the most spiritual of the Kava’s, with the ability to open chakras and clear energy. So, I spent some time with Hiwa Kava when the opportunity arose.  You can read about that in “Kava Experience – Hawaiian Kava” over at ENTHEOLOGY.
My favorite was the Kavalactone Paste, mixed with Powdered Kava Root.  I found that if I doubled all of the recommended dosages, that the effects were far more noticeable, and much more to my liking. I worked with small amounts, up to amounts that were 8x the recommended dosage.  When I am working with a Teacher Plant, there can be profound effects that occur at larger doses.  One example is tobacco.  On Machu Picchu, there are two man Teacher Plants; tobacco and Angel Trumpets.  Both are powerful psychoactives, and tobacco was used as a Teacher Plant that, because in high doses, became very psychoactive.  One of the rites of passage for boys becoming men, was to send them off into the mountains with a large amount of tobacco.  They would consume the tobacco, which would produce visions at high enough doses.  I wanted to know if Kava had the same effect, and with utmost respect, I began my journey.
EFFECTS OF KAVA
Something I found is that Kava is very dose-dependent, at least for me:
  • LOW DOSES: At lower doses, Kava can be a sleep aid.  It can also help induce dreams as it makes one far more open to a dream state with its relaxing properties.  I don’t get much of the inhibition-lowering aspects of Kava at lower doses, but I do get the sleepiness, relaxation, and some of the pain reduction effects.  Especially for lower back pain, Kava can be extremely effective for me.
  • MIDDLE DOSES: at double the recommended dose, I could really see Kava starting to shine.  The sleepiness waned, and a more profound sense of relaxation ensued.  The pain-relieving properties were definitely there, but I got giddy, sociable, and wanted to immediately call up friends to share this experience.  Also, and I don’t think it’s because it was reducing inhibitions, it was definitely making my creative process awaken, and move front and center.  I wanted to make something, draw or paint something, or pick up my guitar and make some music.  It was a very subtle, but exciting sensation.
  • LARGE DOES: When I worked with Kava over an evening, where I would take 4-6 “shells” of Kava, that’s when things get really interesting.  With Kava bars becoming more and more popular, it’s not uncommon to have a night of Kava drinking, much like people enjoy a night of drinking alcohol.  This, for me, is where Kava reaches its peak effects.  I feel a sense of peace with the world.  All of my aches and pains recede way into the distance.  I no longer feel sleepy at all, but feel excited, social, and feel like “emotionally sharing” in a way that alcohol tends to do for people.  I didn’t have any inkling of visions, but 4-6 shells of Kava over the course of a few hours is an entirely pleasant experience for me, whether I’m at home focused on making art of music, or out in a social setting with friends.
  • HIGH DOSES: If I don’t feel a “spiritual” side of a plant, I don’t take it in large doses.  When I was first deciding whether or not to bring Kratom into the country, I went through the same process as I did with Kava; I started small, and worked my way up to a very large dose.  That became very coldly psychedelic [DO I HAE AN ARTICLE ON THIS?], without any spiritual aspect of it whatsoever.  It was devoid; I had very “cold” visions of cement and viaducts and icy cold water.  It was not pleasant, and I decided never to venture there again.  So, for these kinds of explorations, I always have someone qualified to sit with me, as I began my journey into a high dose of Kava.  What happened to me was difficult to describe, even years later when I try to find ways to share the experience.  Imagine being really excited and really relaxed at the same time.  I felt energized, but not in a caffeine kind of way, simultaneously to feeling very relaxed.  I felt great anticipation, but couldn’t say why or for what..  It was not entirely unpleasant, and I felt a very spiritual side of this sacred plant, but any visual effects weren’t anything like the ayahuasca I had worked with in the Peruvian Amazon.  When I’d close my eyes, my thoughts became very visual, very colorful, but not with any added intensity.  I thought that if I spent a lot of time working with this plant at higher doses, I would likely be able to “sift through” all of these mental images and hone in on something specific, but I was uncomfortable enough that I simply put it aside and moved on to other aspects of Kava.  I may yet revisit this side of Kava, but I was hoping to find some research somewhere, that spoke of using Kava in higher doses as a Teacher Plant for ritualistic purposes.
I’m very interested to hear from anyone else regarding their Kava experiences, or why they love Kava.
WHY I LOVE KAVA
In the end, Kava has become a very subtle part of my life on many levels.  It can lift my spirits when I’m feeling a little down.  It can help with my writer’s block when I’m writing.  It can give me a kick in the pants when I am painting or working with photos.  In small doses, and after a stressful da at work, it can really be a catalyst to help me relax, even for the simple fact that I have to slow down, extract the Kava, knead it carefully, and spend some time making my drink.  I don’t have a lot of physical pain in my life at the moment, but I could see where Kava could be very effective for some in helping with pain.
Perhaps equally as important though, is the people I have met because of Kava.  I’ve traveled to Vanuatu, Fiji, and Hawaii in search of Kava and stories about Kava.  I realized the plight of Hawaii as the Kingdom of Hawaii was overthrown as they were forcefully annexed to the United States.  I started to spend a lot more time in Hawaii, and found myself going to conferences with other Kava lovers.  Getting to meet Uncle Jerry, Vince Lebot, and other luminaries was an absolute delight for me.  I’ve had my hands in the ground at Kava camp, where I got to work with Kava plants taller than me, and root bundles that weighed more than my fully-loaded backpack during a research project.  I’ve had the opportunity to share Kava with so many, and continue to be an avid supporter of Kava, despite having to give up both Kona Kava Farm and Kava.com in late 2013 due to a devastatingly unfair move by MasterCard as they took away my ability to process credit cards for 7 years over something I was 1000% innocent of.
Kava truly does bring people together, it helps lower inhibitions and increase a sense of well-being and love.  It doesn’t connect me to nature as many plants do, what it does is connect me to people.  I tend to be buried in writing most of the time, and Kava makes me want to leave my cave for a minute to take a look around, to share thoughts with friends, to get outside and enjoy the sunshine or the rain or the ocean that’s just outside my door.  I have infinite respect for this plant, and know t will be an integral part of my world throughout my life.  I am still exited to learn even more about this plant, its history, and have started growing my favorite strain; a Mahakea 4-2-6 plant with about 9% Kavalactone content.  In 2017, there will be enough to sell to a few key online retailers.
Lastly, I’ve long been an avid fan of Lucid Dreaming.  I have written about it a great deal on ENTHEOLOGY and DREAMHERBS.  Recently, I have been experimenting with using Kava to help with dream recall, and the results are more than promising.  I’m working on a Dreaming Blend to see if I can increase the effects that I get from another favorite teacher plant; Calea zacatechichi.  As I’m writing this article, I just wrote one on Harvesting Calea Seeds over on DreamHerbs.com.
I just posted an sister article to this one called “Does Kava Have a Spiritual Side?” where I would be more than interested in any input.  And, If you have personal experiences with Kava and dreaming, I’d love to hear more.
Peace & Aloha,
Keith

Pacific Islanders Accused of Trading “Black Market” Kava in Australia

Pacific Islanders Accused of Trading "Black Market" Kava in AustraliaAloha, kava lovers, Kava Guru here! As you all know, I will always champion making kava freely available to all who wish to access her many benefits to health and happiness. However, a recent news article made me ponder just how important it is to establish firm cultural guidelines governing the use of kava kava, just as have been set down in the South Pacific for countless millennia. Although the story I am about to relate pertains to the state of kava in Australia, I believe it has many lessons for how we view kava and its uses in the West.

A recent Radio Australia program highlighted remarks by Australia’s Minister of Indigenous Affairs, Nigel Scullion, about the use of kava in Australia’s remote northern Arnhem Land. Scullion stated there is currently a problem with illegal diversion of large amounts of kava into Arnhem Land—as much as 35 tons of powdered kava root—specifically targeted to the market of some 3000 regular kava users in the region. The amounts of kava being smuggled (his words) into Australia far exceed the legal limit of two kilos of dried kava root that visitors are allowed to bring through customs in their luggage. This small amount, suitable for personal use, is allowed under Australia’s laws so that Pacific Islanders entering the country can still pursue their traditions involving kava while in Australia.

However, Scullion also attributed the kava smuggling to South Pacific visitors (specifically Tongans), whom he believes are the main group responsible for diverting commercial amounts of kava into Arnhem Land for illicit sale. Scullion promised a “crackdown” by Australian authorities on large-scale diversions of kava intended for sale in Arnhem Land. There was also a recent motion to ban kava in Arnhem Land in response to this issue.

Watching the story unfold from the United States, all this uproar around kava in Australia struck me as faintly absurd. Why would Australia protest the increasing availability of a beneficial herb like kava into Arnhem Land when the Australian government already approved kava’s sale there in the early 1980s? However, appended to the news story was an interview with Alan Clough, a researcher with the Australian Institute of Tropical Medicine in Queensland, who made the valuable point that indigenous people in Arnhem Land are using kava much differently than populations in the South Pacific. While Tonga, Vanuatu and other South Pacific countries have centuries of cultural regulations and protocols governing the way kava can be used, these regulations don’t exist in Arnhem Land; Clough said there is more potential for people to overuse kava out of boredom, or as a way to escape from the reality of low employment opportunities and lack of other activities in Arnhem Land.

Waterfall at Kakadu Park, Northern Territory of Australia

He noted that since the indigenous people of Arnhem Land have only been exposed to kava for about thirty years, there is greater potential for its abuse because it lacks a cultural context. Relatedly, indigenous peoples exposed to alcohol after European contact often experienced higher rates of alcoholism and damage to their social structures (in addition to the more direct damage European colonists did to the indigenous cultures they encountered). Of course, when used in the doses common to the South Pacific or in Western medicine, kava does not carry the health risks of alcohol. Yet Clough stated that kava does begin to have health effects when taken frequently at heavy doses, which is often how it’s used by regular kava users in Arnhem Land. Clough suggested that kava begins to manifest negative health effects at doses of about 350 grams of dried root power per week. These effects include reddened eyes; elevated blood platelet count; kava dermatopathy (a reversible kava-induced skin rash); shortness of breath; and changes in the levels of the liver enzyme gamma-glutamyl-transferase (GGT), although these changes did not indicate liver inflammation in the people he examined (Clough 2003). Clough also mentioned the possibility of malnutrition due to kava becoming the staple item of heavy users’ diet.

Equally troubling, other studies discovered that Arnhem Land residents often used kava in combination with alcohol. Experiments with mice have shown that administering kava and alcohol in combination may potentiate greater hypnotic and toxic effects than either substance taken alone (D’Abbs 1997). Additionally, while kava by itself has been proven experimentally not to impair cognitive function, kava and alcohol combined do have a deleterious effect on both subjective and measured cognitive performance in humans (D’Abbs 1997, 9). Ironically, kava was originally introduced to Arnhem Land in the 1980s as a alternative to alcohol, whose high usage rates were causing negative health and social outcomes in the community. Both frequent drinking and petrol sniffing were two risky behaviors engaged in by people in these communities who faced a real or perceived lack of options.

Arnhem Land’s rocky history suggests to me that simply taking away kava is not a solution to the region’s problems. In fact, this could lead to more problems as residents turn to much worse alternatives such as alcohol. Dr. Clough’s comments on the situation got me thinking—what if, instead of just banning kava, Australia turned the focus toward educating people about the best practices for using kava? What if they could create a stable cultural context around kava, just as there has been for dozens of generations in the South Pacific? My guru instincts suggest that creating such a context of safe and positive uses for kava could only improve the situation in Arnhem Land!

Another key leg of the effort to improve things in Arnhem Land would be development—putting some effort and dollars into creating infrastructure and opportunities for employment and prosperity that don’t currently exist in the region. Sitting around drinking kava (or anything) all day is likely more a result of apathy, of feeling like they have no future and nothing better to do, than of the availability of kava. One suggestion for economic improvement that got me especially excited was a proposal made by community leaders for the development of a “yolgnu”, or indigenous, kava trade: basically, instead of their only source of kava being controlled from the outside (by legal or illicit channels), Arnhem Land communities would take control of the import, sale and distribution of kava with the approval of the Australian government. A control board assembled of appointees from each kava-using community could regularly convene to negotiate on matters of trade and see that the profits from the wholesaling of kava go back to the communities of Arnhem Land.

Readers, I don’t know about you, but my excitement is palpable at this idea. What a wonderful proposal to put the control of kava back into the hands of Arnhemlanders! I sincerely hope that this proposal gains traction so that the people of Arnhem Land can enjoy all the benefits of kava within a well-defined cultural context that puts their future in their own hands again!

Mahalo,

Kava Guru

REFERENCES

Clough, A.R., C.B. Burns, and N. Mununggurr. 2000. “Kava in Arnhem Land: a review of consumption and its social correlates.” Drug and Alcohol Review 19: 319-28.

Clough A.R., R.S. Bailie, B. Currie.  “Liver function test abnormalities in users of aqueous kava extracts”.  Journal of Toxicology. 2003. 41(6):821-9.)

D’Abbs, Peter and Chris Burn. September 1997. “Draft report on inquiry into the issue of kava regulation”. Sessional Committee on the Use and Abuse of Alcohol by the Community. http://www.nt.gov.au/lant/parliamentary-business/committees/kava.pdf.

Hill, Bruce. “Pacific Islanders accused of Australian black market kava trade”. Radio Australia. Last modified November 25th, 2014. http://www.radioaustralia.net.au/international/radio/program/pacific-beat/pacific-islanders-accused-of-australian-black-market-kava-trade/1393031.

Kava is on the uprise yet again!!

Kava upriseAlthough kava has been consumed by South Pacific islanders for centuries upon centuries, there have been some misguided attempts to reduce kava consumption. As a sad result there have been occasional dips in the amount of kava that is being consumed within the South Pacific and abroad.

We’re now on to a more pleasing time within kava history – Fijian reports are in and it’s official, kava consumption is on the rise in Fiji!!

With what could perhaps be considered one of the more tragic points within kava history (the series of bans resulting from the BfArM’s inconclusive studies regarding kava and liver toxicity), there was a severe decline in the consumption of kava worldwide. Unfortunately, this too had negative results in the South Pacific – as the global market for kava decreased, so did the kava-growing plantations on the islands, and with that many jobs were lost as well.

And it wasn’t too long ago that the Fijian government had attempted to ban kava drinking on certain days within some of its very own villages! As Commissioner Eastern Natani Riki explained, kava was being blamed for some of the social and economic development issues within iTaukei island populations.

However, bright and better days are upon us! It seems as though that ban never went through and the councils involved seem to have come to their good senses and realized that kava is actually very beneficial and helps the people to cope with their social and economic struggles. After all, without so many kava farms many of the iTaukei people would be left unemployed and a huge market for trade capital would be diminished.

The Fiji Times Online has just published an article outlining official statistics with regard to kava consumption in Fiji and it is my hope that these statistics reflect the global kava-drinking market as well.

However, due to a few conflicting points it is unclear how recent these particular statistics are.  The article reports, 1. a rise in kava consumption from 1993-2004, 2. that the survey is conducted every ten years, and 3. that the survey was launched just this last Friday – none of these points seem to coincide. If these statistics are conducted every 10 years, then how come the years listed are already ten years past?  What I think is meant, is that the last survey of 1993-2004 indicated an uprise of kava drinking and that the survey launched on Friday also reported positive feedback.

Either way, here are some quick and beautiful statistics as reported in the survey conducted by the Health Ministries’ National Food and Nutrition Centre:

  • The male drinking population is up by just about 10% and the female drinking population is up by just over 15%. Woo hoo! Although kava is traditionally only consumed by men – those traditional standards seem to be dissipating, allowing more and more women to share in the joys of kava on the islands.
  • About 70% of the Fijian population drinks kava at least two times a week.
  • A whopping 90% of Fiji adolescents reportedly drink kava at least twice a week. This could suggest just how much of a healthy opportunity kava could provide as an alternative to drinking alcohol in the United States and elsewhere that alcohol consumption is heavy amongst adolescents. All the more reason to keep those kava bars coming!

With the nearly global legal status of kava, I would wager a bet that there has been a fairly stark increase in kava-drinking populations all around the world and that the love of the South Pacific is well on its way to becoming a global icon of bliss and well being.

Cheers to kava and prospering joy!

Mahalo,

Kava Guru

Sources:

Sauvakacolo, Siteri. “Kava on the Up”.  The Fiji Times Online: http://www.fijitimes.com/story.aspx?id=283640.

 

Can Kava Be Used as a Herbal Sleep Aid?

Can Kava Help You Sleep? Kava Guru

A recent article in Hampton Roads titled “Over-the-Counter Sleep Aids May Impact Overall Health” shone some light on the drawbacks of many of the non-prescription sleep aids people in our overstressed, overworked society use to help them get to sleep at night [1]. Besides the short-term risks of delayed awakening and daytime drowsiness—no small consideration if you have to get behind the wheel of a car every morning!—the article pointed up long-term risks of habitual sleep aid use, including worsening sleep apnea, increased risk of heart disease and even cancer.

As the Kava Guru, I could only say, “Really? And all while a totally natural herbal sleep aid has been used in the South Pacific for millennia with no issues?” While the article did mention briefly that some people use kava kava (Piper methysticum) as a sleep aid, as well as other popular calming herbs like valerian, lavender essential oil, and chamomile, it was quick to label these remedies as lacking in scientific evidence. And of course, it also repeated the long-discredited information that use of kava may be linked to liver damage, which anyone who has read the new studies defending kava’s superior safety record knows was based on studies that were flawed at best, sensational at worst. But uneven as it was, the article got me thinking: can kava help you sleep?

Dr. Michael Breus, a sleep specialist writing on WebMD, stated that kava kava has been used a sleep aid in the South Pacific for its sedating and calming qualities [2]. However, at the time he was writing in 2011, there was much more uncertainty as to why some people experienced idiosyncratic reactions to kava kava, so he still recommended avoiding its use. However, as recently as last year, new evidence has emerged suggesting the culprit in the mid-2000s liver toxicity cases might be flavokavain B, a non-kavalactone compound found only in ignoble (or “Tudei”) kava strains that are now banned from export [3].

Diagnose Me, an online diagnosis website similar to WebMD, suggests that kava kava may encourage sleep by reducing the anxiety and stress that is a common cause of sleeplessness for many people [4]. Makes sense to me! Everyday stress, especially the inability to settle one’s thoughts before bedtime, is a huge factor in sleeplessness. The less sleep you get, the harder it is to get a handle on projects and tasks the next day, the more stressed you become, and the harder it is to get to sleep…you see the pattern developing here? Kava could very well offer harried Westerners a giant “reset” button by helping them achieve a state of relaxed calm, making it that much easier to drift into restful sleep. Other studies have suggested that kava has mild analgesic and muscle relaxant properties [4], so it might reduce mild aches and pains that can interefere with rest and help the body unwind physically before bed.

The site also references a very intriguing study on kava’s effects on brainwaves that was done by Saletu et al in 1989 [5]. The double-blind placebo-controlled study found that doses of synthetic kavain between 200 and 600 mg “enhances brain activity that favors restorative sleep… EEG [electroencephalogram] activity showed that kavain increased the alpha-1, theta, and delta waves that are associated with sleep while decreasing beta waves, which are a sign of wakefulness” [5]. As if that wasn’t enough evidence, these effects also increased as the dose of kavain was increased, so that “600mg of kavain produced sedation comparable to 30mg of clobazapam”, a benzodiazepine drug used as a control.

Well readers, I think it’s pretty clear that kava kava does have some scientifically backed evidence of effectiveness as a herbal sleep aid, especially in cases where anxiety or stress is a root cause of sleeplessness. Other methods for getting to sleep naturally include limiting your intake of caffeine, alcohol and sugar (especially right before bed); reducing the amount of ambient light and noise in your bedroom; and developing other healthy sleep routines such as ceasing the use of electronics 2 hours before sleep and making sure to eat your last meal about 3 hours before sleep. One creative strategy even suggested eating foods high in magnesium (which is a natural sedative) before you go to sleep. Some magnesium-rich foods include dark leafy greens, cashews, almonds, legumes, whole grains, brewer’s yeast, and blackstrap molasses.

However, many health sites still identify mental stress as the number one cause of difficulty sleeping. Perhaps the best way to ensure you get a great night’s sleep is to combine the above strategies with a high-quality kava supplement to round out your healthy sleep toolkit!

REFERENCES

1. Ferguson, Pat. ‘Over-the-counter Sleep Aids May Impact Overall Health, According to Study”. Hampton Roads. August 3rd, 2014. http://hamptonroads.com/2014/08/overthecounter-sleep-aids-may-impact-overall-health-according-study.

2. Breus, Michael J. “Kava For Sleep? Why It Continues to Be a Mystery”. Huffington Post. August 20th, 2011. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-michael-j-breus/kava-sleep_b_924318.html.

3. Teschke, Rolf. March 2011. “Special Report: Kava and the Risk of Liver Toxicity: Past, Current, and Future”. American Herbal Products Association Report 26 (3): 9-17.

4. “Treatment: Kava”. Diagnose Me. Accessed September 23rd, 2014. http://www.diagnose-me.com/treatment/kava.html.

5. 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.

Melo Melo Kava Bar Opening in Berkeley!

Melo Melo Kava Bar Opening in Berkeley!Aloha, kava connoisseurs, Kava Guru here! In a wonderful piece of news, what’s shaping up to be an awesome kava bar is set to open in Berkeley! First mentioned on September 9th in online magazine Nosh, a new “alcohol-free” bar will shortly be opening right on University Avenue in Berkeley, California. Featuring a menu that will serve tea, kombucha (fermented fruit tea), and kava kava, the new establishment will reportedly be called the Melo Melo Kava Bar after the famous (and particularly yummy) Vanuatu kava strain of the same name.

The new bar is already projected to be a “wild success”, probably due to its location in the heart of the university district, which caters to a young, thirsty student population in a city known for seeking out healthy alternatives. The finished 1200-square foot space is anticipated to have seating for 27 customers and be open from noon to midnight seven days a week.

Rumored to be co-owned by Andrew Procyk, founder of the Vanuatu Kava Bar in Asheville and the recently opened Noble Kava Bar in Boone (both in North Carolina), Melo Melo Kava Bar is the project of Nicolas Rivard, a seasoned restaurant entrepreneur who got his start in the kava industry managing Procyk’s Vanuatu Kava Bar. According to their promotional material, the Melo Melo Kava Bar not only won’t be serving any alcohol, but it will not serve coffee products of any kind either. Instead, their menu is based around kava drinks, tea, and kombucha. While tea does have some caffeine, it has much less than coffee and contains other polyphenols such as theanine and theophylline that are actually purported to be relaxing. Kombucha is a kind of fermented caffeine-free herbal tea, or tisane, that’s becoming popular for its purported benefits to health, especially for balancing gut flora and acting as a gastrointestinal tonic. According to Melo Melo’s proprietors, “[We want to] provide an alternative to coffee houses and alcohol bars. We aspire to nothing less than changing the way Americans work and how they spend their leisure hours in more productive and healthy ways.”

Wow, I know I’m interested! And the owners at Melo Melo clearly know their stuff about relaxation, as they’re making kava a big part of their offerings as well as their name. In their own words, “Melo Melo revolves around kava, a medicinal herb with experimentally proven capabilities of inducing relaxation and equilibrium”. I couldn’t have said it better myself, and I am truly excited to place yet another flag on our national map of kava bars and be one of the first to give a hearty “Aloha” to the Melo Melo Kava Bar!

Sources:

“New Alcohol-Free Bar Set for Berkeley (Say What?)” Nosh. September 5th, 2014.  http://www.berkeleyside.com/2014/09/05/bites-capones-speakeasy-open-ramen-shop-grows/comment-page-1/.

What Are Some Non-Kavalactone Compounds in Kava?

Dear Kava Guru,

What are some compounds in kava root besides kavalactones?

George,

Reno, NV

By now, you’ve probably heard me gush enough about kavalactones to know that these relaxing, anxiolytic compounds are a big part of what makes kava such a joy to consume. Yet as it turns out, there is actually quite a diverse range of chemical constituents in kava root: beside the six main kavalactones—kavain, dihydrokavain, yangonin, desmethyoxyyangonin, methysticin, and dihydromethysticin—there are many subsidiary kavalactones that occur in much smaller amounts, as well as a totally different class of compounds called chalconoids [1]. Chalconoids are probably the most interesting compounds in kava, besides kavalactones of course. Otherwise known as flavokavains or flavokawains, scientists are starting to realize that the chalconoid compounds in kava have biological actions in the body, and have started to study their effects. There’s even a possibility that the kava market could see a resurgence in demand specifically for flavokavain A, which has been demonstrated to target some types of cancerous cells [2]!

Fresh kava root is about 80% water. Once dried, kava root contains a hefty amount of starch (43%), along with 20% dietary fiber, 12% water, 3.2% sugars, and 3.6% protein [3]. Kavalactones contribute about 15% of the weight of the root. As you can tell from the name, kavalactones are a kind of lactone, a compound widely found in edible food plants, including leafy green vegetables. Without getting too deep into organic chemistry, a lactone compound is classified as an ester formed from the condensation of an alcohol group (-OH) and a carboxylic acid group (-COOH) on the same molecule [4]. The letters in the abbreviations above stand for oxygen, hydrogen and carbon. Don’t worry too much about these terms; I’ve just included them to give you an idea of what chemical class kavalactones belong to.

Some lactones, especially the sesquiterpene lactones found in lettuce and other edible plants in the daisy family Asteraceae, have recognized health benefits. Sesquiterpene lactones are antioxidants and anti-inflammatories that may help protect cells from oxidant damage [5]. In other words, your mother was right when she told you to eat your vegetables—a diet rich in dark pigmented veggies is key to a healthier life!

Kavalactones are not sesquiterpene lactones; they are their own unique class of lactones found almost exclusively in kava kava (Piper methysticum) root. Kava kava’s benefits to health come from kavalactones’ sedative, anticonvulsant, muscle relaxant, nootropic, and anxiolytic effects on the central nervous system [6]. Although pretty much everyone knowledgeable about the kava world knows about the six major kavalactones responsible for these effects, it turns out kava kava may have as many as 14 kavalactone compounds, as well as the chalconoids I mentioned above and other trace compounds. Alexander Shulgin’s 1973 paper lays out a very detailed breakdown of the compounds in kava according to level of concentration, which I’ve reproduced below:

Compounds detectable in kava root at 1% concentration or more: kavain, dihydrokavain, methysticin.

Compounds detectable in kava root at 0.1-1% concentration: yangonin, dihydromethysticin, desmethoxyyangonin, flavokavain A, pinostrobinchalcone, dihydrotectochrysin, alpinetinchalcone, alpinetin, amd dihydrooroxylin A.

Compounds detectable in kava root at 0.01 – 0.1% concentration: methoxy-nor-yangonin, flavokavain B, and methoxyyangonin [7].

The takeaway from this is that while kava contains a range of interesting compounds, most of them are not present in any amount significant enough to suggest that they have biological activity in the body…

…except the chalconoid flavokavains A, B, and C. These compounds are an interesting exception I’ve been wanting to examine in more detail. Chalconoids are intermediary compounds in the biosynthesis of flavonoids—the compounds in plants responsible for pigments [1]. I find this interesting because flavonoids have been found to have a few notable health benefits: researcher are already thinking the flavokavains in kava kava may have antibacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, and anti-tumor properties [1]. All this despite the fact that in 1973 when Shulgin wrote his paper, flavokavains were not considered biologically active compounds [7]!

However, there may be a downside to the flavokavains’ activity. In 2013, flavokavain B started causing some controversy in the kava world as evidence came to light that it might be harmful to liver cells [8]. Now, before you start to worry about your own kava use, let me make it clear that a) these results were based on lab tests of liver cells in vitro, not in human subjects; and b) flavokavain B only occurs in significant degree in so-called ignoble or tudei kava strains such as Isa and Palisi. I personally think the jury’s still out as to whether consumption of tudei kava prepared the traditional way poses a threat to health—but even if it does, it seems more like a reason to avoid tudei kava strains specifically. Kava researcher Vincent Lebot, who first brought the concerns about tudei kava to public light, has stated that noble kava strains are still unequivocally safe [1].

More encouragingly, flavokavain A may actually be beneficial to health: research by Dr Xiaolin Zhi at the University of California Irvine found that flavokavain A destroyed precancerous bladder cells in mice given the compound as a supplement to their diets [2]. Dr Zhi speculated that the flavokavain A specifically targets and destroys these cancer cells [2]. What’s even better about Zhi’s study is that the mice seemed to tolerate the flavokavain A well and did not experience any liver damage or other adverse effects [2]. Furthermore, a recent University of Minnesota study suggested flavokavain A might have similar preventive effects on lung cancers caused by tobacco smoking [9]. It’s clear we have a lot more to learn about the healing potential not only of kavalactones but of the full range of compounds in kava kava!

Mahalo,

Kava Guru

REFERENCES

1. “Simple Test for Checking If Your Kava Is Tudei”. Kava Forums: Connecting Kava Lovers Around the World. Accessed July 30th, 2014. http://www.kavaforums.com/forum/threads/simple-test-for-checking-if-your-kava-is-tudei-please-read-if-youre-new-to-kava.2451/.

2. Vasich, Tom. “Can Kava Cure Cancer?” UC Irvine News, Accessed April 9th, 2014. http://news.uci.edu/features/can-kava-cure-cancer/.

3. “Kava | Composition”. Wikipedia. Last modified July 27th, 2014. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kava#Composition.

4. “Lactone”. Wikipedia. Last modified June 11th, 2014. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lactone.

5. Chadwick, Martin, Harriet Trewin, Frances Gawthrop, and Carol Wagstaff. June 2013. “Sesquiterpenoid Lactones: Benefits to plants and people”. International Journal of Molecular Science 14 (6): 12780-12805.

6. “Kavalactone”. Wikipedia. Last modified June 30th, 2014. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kavalactone.

7. Shulgin, Alexander T. 1973. “The narcotic pepper- the chemistry and pharmacology of Piper methysticum and related species”. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Bulletin on Narcotics 2: 59-74.

8. Ping Zhou, Shimon Gross, Ji-Hua Liu, Bo-Yang Yu, Ling-Ling Feng, Jan Nolta, Vijay Sharma, David Piwnica-Worms, and Samuel X. Qiu. December 2010. “Flavokawain B, the hepatotoxic constituent from kava root, induces GSH-sensitive oxidative stress through modulation of IKK/NF-kB and MAPK signaling pathways”. Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology Journal 24 (12): 4722-4732.

9. “Preliminary study in mice suggests possible lung cancer preventative effect of South Pacific herb.” January 8th, 2014. PR Newswire. http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/kava-may-help-prevent-lung-cancer-in-smokers-say-university-researchers-239200161.html.

Yet Another Kava Endorsement!

Rugby Teams and KavaThe conversation about Kava as an alternative to alcohol has been an ongoing one with stable positive feedback. As far as I know there isn’t really any prominent source declaring that alcohol is better than Kava – and everyone knows how terrible drinking alcohol can be on your system! Well, today as I was sipping my Kava I came across a lovely bit of news: Eric Smith – an independent life insurance agent and founder of yourlifesolution.com – has publically endorsed Kava as a safe and worthy alternative to alcohol consumption [4].

As many people know alcohol can damage your liver over time or even in just one heavy drinking session. The liver filters alcohol and breaks it down and if you overpower its ability to do this then – like with anything that is overpowered – it will break down and function incorrectly. But, what many people don’t know is that excessive alcohol consumption can actually lead to a bleeding from the esophagus – the tube that trails from your throat to your belly. Evidently this can make eating pretty painful and daily life tasks a little more than uncomfortable. Swelling and damage of the pancreas can also occur as well as the development of cancer in various parts of the body that alcohol is in contact with [2].

One thing that is a little bit obscure with relation to the negative side effects of drinking alcohol is how it leads to poor nutrition. As many sources indicate drinking a lot of alcohol over a long period of time leads to poor nutrition and just generally poor health, but what often is overlooked is just exactly how that happens. Well, I’ll help you out by clearing up that obscurity! Basically, alcohol inhibits the enzymes in your pancreas that are secreted to aid with digestion and it also inhibits the liver from proper nutrient absorption. So, even if you’re eating all the right foods – but drinking alcohol excessively – you may still encounter nutritional deficiencies [3].

According to the Street Insiders article on Eric Smith and his endorsement of Kava, The Lancet – a medical journal – states that “…alcohol is in the top ten most dangerous common drugs in existence”. Smith believes that Kava can help many people tame their alcohol consumption and even provide an alternative altogether [4].

What a lot of people also don’t realize is that the consumption of alcohol can greatly affect life insurance rates – due to the health problems and complications it can cause. Although alcohol consumption is fairly subjective, insurance companies actually have ways of determining whether or not the consumption is excessive; some things they might look at to make this determination is, medical examination results, driving records or simply asking you some questions [1].

So, insurance companies can actually increase your insurance rates based on your alcohol-drinking habits and this makes it all the more impressive that Smith endorses Kava so greatly! He’s not out there just to brand insurance companies and promote various insurance products – rather, he is also concerned with helping clients promote their own healthy living. The Street Insider also quotes The Lancet medical journal, with regard to alcohol, as suggesting that people should “…look to less harmful sedatives to unwind”. I’m just so happy that people like Eric Smith are starting to realize that Kava is the perfect alternative to make use of in taking The Lancet medical journal’s advice!

Sources:

1. Inweb.  http://www.insweb.com/life-insurance/alcohol-affects-life-insurance.html.

2. Medline Plus. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/patientinstructions/000494.htm.

3. National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/aa22.htm.

4. Street Insider. http://www.streetinsider.com

From Myth to Medicine

KG-where did kava originate? 211X300While I’ve discussed the origin of Kava and the mythological accounts of Kava a bit – I’ve not really given a thorough account of the movement of Kava through the South Pacific ancestral myths to the Western world’s medicine cabinets. So, now I will reveal the all-inclusive article on the origin of Kava. I will do this in hope of divulging a more detailed and rigorous account of the origin of Kava – from when it arrived on earth from the Kava gods to its growth by South Pacific locals, to its  Western acquisition, and finally to the actual medicine cabinets of Europe and the rest of the Western world.   It’s a lot, but I think it’s just about time I sit down with a cup of Kava and trace the history of this dear plant – fully.

Myth and the Origin of Kava:

To find the origin of Kava, we first need to take a look at the origin of the people who have Kava (or ‘awa as most throughout Oceania call it) deeply entwined within their culture and mythology – the Polynesians. Although historical references are unfortunately scarce and often recorded by “outsiders” such as the European missionaries, the Polynesians nonetheless offer many clues as to how deeply important Kava was to their daily existence and their sacred rituals. Many of these clues can be found trailed through their myths and oral traditions.

The oral traditions, or mythological accounts of the Polynesian people are considered to recount history or ancient happenings through non-written form.   Oral tradition is a flexible method of relaying a particular story and is filled with dramatic story enhancers like metaphors and the personification of animals or gods. In oral traditions there isn’t a concrete structure to the stories being told and as a result the same story might vary from orator to orator. While the essential principles or message might remain the same, the setting or character names might change to suit the needs of the person telling the story [12].

While the Western conception of history is based in constructing a set knowledge about the past, Polynesian oral traditions are intended more to gain an understanding or legitimacy for the present way that things are [12]. Given the very different method of constructing the past as non-written, varying stories – it is needless to say quite difficult to determine any kind of  factuality about Polynesian history, including the use of Kava.

The true origin of Kava essentially must be left to an account of the myths and legends of South Pacific localities and details of its arrival in the islands and use by the people are essentially left to the gods and deities that flow through Polynesian oral tradition.

From Myth to Cultivar:

While our exact knowledge basis of Kava and its use by the Polynesian people is quite limited — because of the nature of the historical records – we can nonetheless construct a semi-thorough understanding of the ancient use of Kava through an analysis of bits and pieces collected from research papers, myths, and other texts. One thing that many ethnobotanists seem to consistently agree upon is that Piper methysticum – the kava kava plant – came from Piper wichmannii, a wild plant that scientists say is in the direct botanical lineage of Piper methysticum. Given that Piper methysticum is a cultivar, it essentially cannot propagate or adapt without human interaction and as a result it is believed that it was adapted from a wild plant of the same species [7].   Vincent Lebot, along with several other authors on Kava, stated that essentially all of the worthwhile evidence on the topic indicates that the plant Piper methysticum is a cultivar of Piper wichmannii. Piper wichmannii is a fertile plant that is morphologically similar to Piper methysticum. Furthermore, Piper wichmannii is the only known varietal in the wild to carry a high quantity of kavalactones like Piper methysticum, and it has an almost identical chemotype as some Piper methysticum cultivars [1].

The points highlighted above only touch the surface of evidence indicating that Piper methysticum is the direct result of Piper wichmannii cultivation, but they nonetheless serve to illustrate just how vastly detailed the body of evidence is. Over the centuries each South Pacific region has established a unique cultivar with its own chemical profile [5].

Although New Guinea has the most varied population of Piper wichmannii, and is thus a contender for the origin of its cultivar Piper methysticum, there isn’t enough concrete evidence or historical data to determine just where Piper wichmannii came from or how it evolved. Where Piper wichmannii came from is perhaps a story that must be left to the gods of South Pacific mythology. One myth tells of a godly and heroic entity named Mwatiktiki, who comes from some far off place to Tanna – an island in Vanuatu. This being places the original kava kava plant between rocks by the shore. Two local women happen upon the plant and have pleasurable experiences with it. They then bring it back to their localities and cultivate it, eventually sharing its joys with their fellow villagers [10]. Presumably, this mythological story is speaking of the discovery of Piper wichmannii, which was then farmed and cultivated by the people of Vanuatu.

European Acquisition, Captain Cook and the Missionaries:

While many history texts construct Captain Cook as a hero of sorts, a person of great determination and one to be thanked for many things – the account of locals from the places he landed during his adventures tells of quite a different character. Even the historical references recorded by “outsiders”, such as the European missionaries and Captain Cook himself, offer many clues as to how deeply important Kava was to the South Pacific Islanders’ daily existence and their sacred rituals and how this divine root made its way to Europe and other continents.

The sources are inconsistent with regard to Captain Cook and his involvement with Kava and the culture surrounding it. Some sources depict his adventure to the South Pacific Islands as one of great immersion and enjoyment in Kava culture, while other sources emphasize his and his crew’s disdain for the drink and their especial disgust with the process of making it: “Kava is made in the most disgustful manner that can be imagined…they swallow this nauseous stuff as fast as possible…” [13].

One source that highlights Cook’s disapproval of the drink states the following as coming from Cook’s own texts:

“The Excess with which the Chief[s] drink the Kava, destroys their Strength & makes them sad objects of Debauchery, they far outdo in the use of this pernicious root all the other Indians we have vist’d; the more Scaly their bodies are, the more honourable it is with them. . . . Many before they are forty are miserable Objects, their whole frame trembles, their Eyes are so sore & reddened, that they seem in Constant pain; yet I believe in a short time by disusing this liq- uor the soreness of the Eyes goes away; at least we made some of our friends refrain & they re- covered amazingly”[5].

Yet, Gananath Obeyesekere – the author of The Apotheosis of Captain Cook: European Mythmaking in the Pacific – illuminates another side to the story:

“Sociability and decorum drew Cook into the Kava circle of Tongan chiefly life. They were repelled by the way that it was brewed, but Cook was impressed by the sociability it fostered. Cook was invited to a Kava circle by Paulaho the “king” on 7 June, only four days after landing in Nomuka. Soon Cook was fully ensconced in the Kava circle, so that Lieutenant Williamson noted on 17 July that ‘Captain Cook often drank of it, holding it as an argument that seamen should eat and drink everything…’” [8]

While it’s unclear whether or not Captain Cook actually favored the Kava drink, given that the sources on the matter are inconsistent – it can be said for certain that the missionaries loathed the entire concept of Kava and Kava culture and its religious underpinnings. Unfortunately, even from a purely objective viewpoint, these European missionaries, according to their own recorded documents, went to great lengths to obliterate the culture of the Polynesians in order to overlay Christianity onto various peoples with a brutality that I will do my best to only touch upon as necessary to illustrate key points on this particular journey of discovery. As part of this, the missionaries made it their Christian duty to obliterate Kava and its consumption.

First, it appears that Polynesians were so intricately connected with nature, that they had no concept of the “supernatural” or “spiritual” as defined by modern or “book” religions as I call them.  To the Polynesians, everything belonged to nature, whether it was their own existence, the plants and animals they coexisted with and often consumed, the living gods among them as chiefs (we would call them demigods), or the gods who ruled the plants, the land, the seas, the skies, and the stars that guided their daily lives and controlled the forces of nature.

The Polynesians revere their gods as “departed ancestors” who lived among them long ago. The Polynesian reverence for their elders thus makes complete sense, as their elders are the closest living connection to their gods.  Chiefs were typically chosen because of their physical prowess, their robustness in size and stature, and were trained in warfare from the time they were boys. Chiefs were also on the front lines in battles, and weren’t just warriors, but were also decision makers in every aspect of Polynesian life.

There are several “venerated spirits” in Polynesian culture that stand out from the rest.  These gods were the most distant ancestors, and the greatest providers of “mana” (spiritual power).  These gods are “Tu” (Ku in Hawaiian), “Tane” (Kane in Hawaiian), “Kongo” (Lono in Hawaiian), and “Tangaroa” (Kanaloa in Hawaiian).  All were children of the sky father and earth mother.  Kava is often mentioned in Hawaiian culture along with Kane and Kanaloa; Kane is a god of good and Kanaloa is a mischievous, rebellious god often associated with the Christian devil.

One example is a standard prayer of offerings in exchange for health for individuals and their families; “O Kane, O Kanaloa, here is the taro, the bananas, here is the sugar-cane, the ‘awa.”

According to Hawaiian Mythology, “Kane and Kanaloa are described in legend as cultivators, ‘awa drinkers, and water finders, who migrated from Kahiki and traveled about the islands.  It is as ‘awa drinkers that the water-finding activities of these gods are employed in some stories, because ‘awa is their principal food and they must have fresh water with which to mix it.”

‘Kahiki’ is the Hawaiian, somewhat out of use, name for Tahiti – a region in the South Pacific. The Hawaiian people revere Kahiki as the ancestral land from which the Hawaiian people came from and from where their ‘akua’ or supernatural being originated [3]. This understanding of Kahiki, as an ancestral land, probably also sheds some light on the question of how Kava came to Hawaii.   As mentioned above the Polynesians believed their gods to be born from their ancestral lineage. Furthermore, much of Kava mythology explains that Kava came from the gods or a god [10], thus providing the link between Hawaiian ancestry – as understood by them – and the acquisition of Kava.

However, given this indigenous religion of the South Pacific island communities, Christian missionaries found it fit to invoke a dogmatic cleansing of the culture – a cleansing that included banning and destroying Kava. In Hawaii during the 1820’s, Queen Ka’ahumanu declared that neither chiefs nor anyone else were permitted to drink ‘awa and that it was also not to be planted; this happened just a few years after the missionaries arrived and were implementing Christianity. However, one missionary – John S. Emerson – wrote of how these prohibitions were being greatly violated.   As a result of further pressures and dogmatic action, ‘awa was thrown into the legal books and laws surrounding its use were enacted – its permitted use was solely medicinal.   Sadly, there are far fewer cultivars now in Hawaii as a direct result of this ‘purity cleansing’ – some estimate that there may have been up to 35 various cultivars prior to missionary involvement [5].

Yadhu Singh explains how when the evangelical missionaries arrived in various places within the Polynesian islands, there was a “disruption of the traditional way of life”, and that alcohol and other more pharmacological substances began to be introduced and replaced Kava.

Despite the missionaries’ attempted indoctrination of the Polynesian communities, Kava survived and has made a come back and is actually very much still popular in most South Pacific island communities. Singh suggests that the resurgence might have been due in part to the development of the John Frum cargo cult, which was an uprising directly in repudiation of Christian teachings. Carlton Gadjusek – a noble Laureate – noted that the Kava-drinking tradition of Tongariki was more like that of the Kava-drinking tradition of the Frum cult out of Tanna, given its lack of formality and restraint [10].

Transition into Western Medicinal World:

There was however one beneficial result of the missionaries’ circulation throughout the islands. It’s quite likely that many of the nations neighboring the Polynesian Kava-growing communities learned about Kava from the missionaries who had traveled through those islands. Singh tells us how the Australian Aborigines were unaware of Kava until the early 1980’s when missionaries came from islands like Fiji and Tonga [10]. Although, other island nations like Hawaii, probably received ‘awa from neighboring island communities, as their mythology suggests [5].

While there is no direct documentation of how Kava first arrived in Europe and other continents outside of the Polynesian regions, it’s fairly safe to assume it was brought over by the missionaries and crew of the Captain Cook voyages. However, until the mid 1990’s the major demand for Kava remained within the South Pacific islands – after 1996, import into Europe and elsewhere began to increase dramatically, with a decrease during the reign of Kava bans [10]. While there was a growing interest in Kava – throughout Europe and elsewhere – with an especially keen interest in its anxiolytic qualities, there was a ban in the early 2000’s that reverberated throughout many North American and European countries, nearly wiping out the export of Kava from the South Pacific islands. I speculate and draw out the details of this ban in other articles and so I won’t go into much detail here. But, essentially the ban was initiated by the German  Bundesinstitut für Arzneimittel und Medizinprodukte (in English, Federal Institute for Drugs and Medicinal Devices) and was later (fairly recently) declared to be unfounded and the ban was lifted in Germany; the ban was lifted in North America and other places prior to the recent developments in Germany [9].

Today, some places such as Australia still have restrictions on the import of Kava [2] – however, the restrictions are minimal and Kava is generally accepted worldwide now, slowly recovering from the bans placed throughout the 1990’s and early 2000’s. For example, in Canada, Kava is no longer banned and the sale of Kava to individuals for personal consumption is permitted – although it’s unclear what the exact status is on commercial sales within Canada [6].

Outside of the South Pacific, Kava is predominantly used as a social beverage for personal relaxation and anxiety relief. For example, in the States there is a growing number of Kava bars – a social place where people can go to hang out with friends, relax and drink Kava beverages. However, probably its most widespread notoriety outside of the South Pacific islands is the use of Kava as an anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) substance in alternative medicine [5]. Many studies have been conducted that conclude that the use of Kava to treat anxiety is effective, and even better than pharmaceutical options, given that it is non-addictive and actually improves cognitive function rather than impairing it as other options do [11].

Ahhh, well I’m now through several shells of Kava and ready for a lovely snooze. I hope this somewhat historical document outlining the route of Kava, from myth to alternative medicine, has been helpful. Kava certainly has had quite the journey, from its divine origin, to its mainstream island culture, to its Christian prohibition and finally to its more recent debut in Europe and North America. I sure am grateful that the missionaries didn’t have complete success in their dogmatic infiltration and I’m also glad that Captain Cook didn’t totally hate Kava (as some sources might suggest) – as was noted above, even Captain Cook couldn’t resist the lure of the mystifying Piper methysticum.

Mahalo,

Kava Guru

Sources:

1. Applequist, and Lebot, Vincent. “Validation of Piper methysticum var. wichmannii (Piperaceae)”. Novon, Vol. 16 (1): April 2006, pp. 3-4

2. Australian Government – Department of Health. “Frequently Asked Questions on the Importation of Kava”. Online: http://www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/importation-of-kava

3. Cook, R. Kealani.“Kahiki: Native Hawaiian Relationships with Other Pacific Islanders”. Dissertation, University of Michigan: 2011.

4. Herbal Legacy, online: http://www.herballegacy.com/Wolsey_History.html

5. Johnston and Helen Rogers. Hawaiian ‘Awa: Views of an Ethnobotanical Treasure. Association for Hawaiian ‘Awa, 2006.

6. Kona Kava Farm. “Kava (not) banned in Canada”. Online: http://www.konakavafarm.com/kava-canada-banned.htm

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

8. Obeyesekere, Gananath. The Apotheosis of Captain Cook: European Mythmaking in the Pacific. Princeton University Press, Princeton New Jersey, 1992: p. 33.

9. Radio New Zealand: “German Court Overturns Kava Ban. Online: http://www.radionz.co.nz/international/pacific-news/246963/german-court-overturns-kava-ban

10. Singh, Yadhu N. Kava: From Ethnology to Pharmacology. Taylor and Francis LTD: 2004.

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

12. Wikipedia. “Polynesian Myth”. Last modified, February 27, 2014: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polynesian_mythology

13. Wolsey, Lindsay. “The Benefits of the use of kava kava in Herbal Preparations: History of kava kava.” Dr. Christopher’s

 

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.

Can I Combine Kava Root?

Dear Kava Guru,

What can and can’t I combine Kava with?

Dan, Reno, NV

This is a question I get asked so often, and it’s a wonder at how much literature there is on the topic. Well, if you think about it, ‘Kava combinations’ is quite a broad topic, since the combinations of interest can range from herbal to pharmaceutical and everything in between! So, there’s a lot of information here – and I’ve done my best to break it down and pick out the most important Kava combinations from the masses of research that there are on various combinations with Kava and their interactions. If you don’t see your combinations of interest here – go ahead and summon my guru wisdom. How can you summon my wisdom? By simply asking!

Herbal Combinations:

Naturally, many people instinctively combine other medicinal herbs with kava kava, thinking something along the lines of “Hey it’s all natural – why not throw it all together and reap multiple benefits!”   But, it’s important to realize that- as with Kava – many medicinal herbs have biochemical interactions with the body that could alter the functioning of enzymes, hormones, or other biochemical components of the body. For example, Kava inhibits the CYP 450 enzymatic pathway, and as a result any herbal treatment that is metabolized by these enzymes cannot be properly metabolized and there may be resultant health risks [5]. It’s possible then that certain chemical reactions or states might not mix well with each other. As a result – it’s always wise to err on the side of caution and do a bit of research before combining Kava with other herbs or plants. So, to help you out I’ve put together some of my own research with regard to combining Kava and other popular herbal remedies.

Sedatives: (lavender, passionflower, valerian, chamomile, hops)

The general consensus within the field of herbal interactions is that you will experience a heightened sedative effect when combining any other herbal sedative with Kava; this is an effect that may or may not be desirable [1, 3, 6].   Since Kava is in some way also a sedative and acts on the same enzymatic pathways – the two naturally coincide. In terms of safety there isn’t really any information with regard to Kava and herbal mixture health concerns or precautions. But, nonetheless you should always research your combination of interest or ask a health practitioner.

Passiflora (Passionflower): One study directly monitored the effect of passionflower and Kava alone and in combination.   The results indicated that there was a doubling effect, meaning that the combination of the two increased the effect of each individually by 50%.  The study demonstrated that in terms of sedative effects, there was a 91.6% prolongation of sleep duration when the combination of kava kava and passionflower was administered [3].

Valerian: There was an extensive study conducted on the effects of Kava and Valerian independently and combined with each other. The results indicated heightened levels of stress reduction and anxiety alleviation in three categories: social, personal and life events. Also, there was a significant improvement with subjects experiencing insomnia – ie. insomnia was decreased. One of the most common effects indicated by the subjects who took the combination of Kava and Valerian was vivid dreaming [8].

Stimulants: (coffee, kola nut, máte, guaraná)

Unfortunately, there isn’t too much information available with regard to the safety of combining Kava with herbal stimulants or their interactions. But, generally speaking, it’s unwise to combine kava kava with any herbal stimulant, and probably any synthetic stimulant as well. Quite generally – it’s unwise and counterproductive to combine stimulants and sedatives, because of their counteractions on the same or relatively similar biochemical compounds [6]. If you’re looking for something to calm you down, you take a sedative — you don’t want to then take a stimulant and undo what you’re trying to accomplish.

For example, coffee and Kava probably interfere with each other and their relative performance. It’s quite possible that Kava aggravates dopamine or dopamine receptors, meaning that it interferes with its release [2]. If this is the case, then something like coffee – a natural substance that stimulates the release of dopamine [7] – will naturally compete with Kava because each is trying to do a different thing to your biochemical system.

Combination with Alcohol:

Ahhh, now to discuss the single most commonly searched Kava combination – alcohol and Kava. I won’t go into too much detail here, as I’ve unloaded much of my wisdom on another post with regard to combining alcohol and Kava; I’ve posted the link below.

But, I will say very generally that although people often combine Kava and alcohol and have remained alive to tell the story – it isn’t necessarily very safe or wise to do so. There are several studies on the combination of Kava and alcohol and the general consensus of all of these studies is that you should never combine Kava and alcohol, as the combination of the two greatly increases your chance of hepatotoxicity (toxicity of the liver).

Besides, why not just drink Kava instead of alcohol altogether? Many people actually prefer to drink Kava over alcohol – given that it has very similar effects, and is generally considered to be a nonaddicting and healthy alternative to drinking alcohol.

More Information on Combining Alcohol and Kava

Pharmaceutical Drug Interactions:

In the case of Kava combinations with pharmaceutical drugs – it is imperative that you seek medical advice from a practitioner or at least do some research on the interaction of the two substances. Yadhu N. Singh suggests that pharmaceutical interactions could be the most significant of the Kava combinations. Kavalactones – the beneficial compounds in Kava – inhibit cytochrome P 450 (CYP 450) [5]. CYP 450 is an enzyme that acts as a catalyst in the process of oxidizing organic substances. However, most importantly, it is a major enzyme category used by the body for the metabolization of drugs [8].   Given that these enzymes are inhibited by Kava, Kava may then prevent the body from properly metabolizing pharmaceutical drugs [5]. As a result it is extremely important that you do your research before combining Kava with any pharmaceutical drug. I’ve put together some information on the most common Kava and pharmaceutical interactions – hopefully you’ll find your answers!

Central Nervous System Agents (Benzodiazepines): Given that Kava and Benzodiazepines act on the same CNS receptors, it is likely that the combination adds to the effects caused individually by each and/or has at least a synergistic pairing with each other (ie. increases the effects of each substance). Also, Kava will add to the drowsiness that is stereotypically experienced by those who use benzodiazepines [2].

Anesthetic Agents: Kava is actually considered to be an anesthetic itself and has been reported to have muscle relaxant effects as well as inducing numbness. Since anesthetics are intended to essentially do exactly the same thing – relax and numb muscles/tissues – there will inevitably be synergistic effects and Kava will prolong and intensify the effects of the anesthetic [2]. It’s actually recommended to not ingest Kava before going in for surgery for precisely the reason mentioned above – that there will be an interference with the functioning of the pharmaceutical anesthetics that you will be given [1].

Analgesics or Painkillers (Acetaminophen, ibuprofen, aspirin, Percocet): There is an increased chance of liver damage or hepatotoxicity and kidney damage when Kava and pharmaceutical painkillers are taken simultaneously.   As a result it is simply wise to avoid this combination [2].

Diuretics (acetazolamide, amiloride, furosemide and ACE inhibitors such as benazepril, captopril, lisinopril, quinapril and ramipril): Kava is a diuretic itself and also does cause dehydration, so if Kava is combined with pharmaceutical or herbal diuretics it will likely add to the effects and increase dehydration [10, 1].

Psychoactive Drugs (Xanax): While there is one reported case of coma induction, which is possibly linked to the combination of Kava with Xanax [4], it is nonetheless unclear what the exact biochemical interaction is like.

Dopamine agonists/antagonists (Xanax, prozac, droperidol, haloperidol, risperidol, metoclopramide, and other antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications): As was mentioned above in relation to coffee – Kava is reported to be an antagonist of dopamine; meaning, Kava inhibits dopamine receptors and transmitters. As a result Kava can either act as an additive to the effects of pharmaceutical dopamine antagonists or an inhibitor in the case of the combination with dopamine agonists [1].

As you can see there are a TON of possible interactions that Kava may have with herbal and plant-based remedies or pharmaceutical medications. If your health is as important to you as it is to us – then hopefully you have read this article and are doing further research on the particular Kava combination you have in mind. If you don’t see information on the Kava combination you seek to gain knowledge about, please do ask me! My guru wisdom is pretty much endless when it comes to many topics and I would love to share as much as possible with my readers – but of course sometimes it’s not possible to cover everything. That’s where you come in! I love to get some direction from my readers telling me what it is exactly they want to know about. In the meantime, I hope that this has helped!

A few quick tips to remember:

 – It is unwise to combine Kava with alcohol – rather, use Kava as a healthy alternative!

– Always consult a physician when wanting to combine Kava with a pharmaceutical drug.

–  Kava acts on CYP 450 enzymes, as do many herbal and pharmaceutical remedies – so, be careful when combining them! These enzymes metabolize some herbs and medicines, so Kava could interfere with the metabolization process or have other undesirable biochemical interactions.

Mahalo,

Kava Guru

 Sources:

1. Basch, Bent, Boon, Ernst, Hammerness, Sollars, Tsourounis, Ulbricht, Jen Woods. “Safety review of kava (Piper methysticum) by the Natural Standard Research Collaboration”. Natural Standard Research Collaboration, 2005. Vol. 4 (4), p. 779-794.

2. Bressler, Rubin. “Herb-drug interactions: interactions between Kava and prescription medications”. Advanstar Communications, INC, September 2005. Vol. 60 (9), p. 24.

3. Capasso, A and Sorrentio, L. “Pharmacological studies on the sedative and hypnotic effect of Kava kava and Passiflora extracts combination”. Phytomedicine, 2005. Vol 12, p. 39-45.

4. Graedon, Joe and Graedon Teresa. “Herb Interaction Could Lead to Coma”. Tribune Publishing Company LLC, February 21, 1999.

5. Singh, N. Yadhu. “Potential for interaction of kava and St. John’s wort with drugs”. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, May 18, 2005. Vol. 100, p. 108-113.

6. Stuart, Armando Ph. D. “Kava Kava”. 2005. Online: http://www.herbalsafety.utep.edu/herbs-pdfs/kava.pdf

7. Wenk, Gary Ph. D. “Why Does Coffee Make us Feel so Good?” Psychology Today – Your Brain on Food, October 28, 2011. Online: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/your-brain-food/201110/why-does-coffee-make-us-feel-so-good

8. Wheatley, David. “Stress-induced insomnia treated with kava and valerian: singly and in combination”. Human Psychopharmacology, 2001. Vol. 16, p. 353-356.

9. Wikipedia. “Cytochrome p450”. Last updated, April 28, 2014. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cytochrome_P450

10. Wong, Cathy ND. “Kava Kava”. About.com – Alternative Medicine. Last Updated, April 08, 2014. Online: http://altmedicine.about.com/od/kava/p/kava.htm

 

Kava Bar Now in Boone

Kava Recipe - Coconut Milk Kava

Kava bars made a landing in the United States of America back in 2002 with the opening of Nakava, located in Boca Raton, Florida [2]. These Kava bars are places where people can go to relax with friends while enjoying a Kava beverage or one of the many other Kava supplement options offered. People who have been invested in Kava culture and want to share the love with others tend to be the people that open and run these bars. And I am pleased to announce that the joys of Kava are spreading!

The proud owners of Vanuatu Kava Bar in Asheville, North Carolina are once again in the mood for sharing Kava love and culture. They’re opening a second Kava bar in Boone, North Carolina! The bar is to be called “Noble Kava” – certainly a very appropriate title for such a noble business [1].

The owner Andrew Procyk testifies to the benefit of Kava over alcohol and explains that he’s on a mission to offer a Kava alternative to students in North Carolina college towns.

“Our target area is 18 to 21 year olds who are adults, but unable to do most of what there is to do in a college town…The community benefits through this swiping out of alcohol, and it gives you a happy, friendly and relaxing feeling,” says Procyk in an interview with Mountain Times [1].

Procyk explains how back when he first got the idea of opening a Kava bar in North Carolina – his idea was triggered by a conversation he had with a college campus security guard. The security guard told him how all of the cases of rape, break-ins and assaults almost always involved alcohol. Procyk realized something had to change and that the students needed a healthy alternative to alcohol [1].

While the bar’s primary focus is of course Kava beverages, it will be offering Gatorade, coconut water and other hydrating options – to balance out the dehydrating effects of drinking Kava. The bar will also offer other Kava options and water-based soluble extracts that are intended  to add to the overall experience [1].

Procyk has been a dedicated advocate of Kava culture for quite some time. He is so dedicated to the spreading of Kava appreciation that he was the sole vendor at an international symposium on the subject in Fiji, and was mentioned in several Fijian publications for his wealth of knowledge on the subject [1].

We can only pray to the Kava spirits that the opening of Noble Kava is the continuation of an ongoing process of Kava love and growth!

Sources:

1. Campbell, Jesse. “Noble Kava Establishes Roots in Boone”. Last updated, March 27, 2014: http://mountaintimes.com/watauga-news/articles/Noble-Kava-establishes-roots-in-Boone-id-025151

2. Nakava. “A Real Kava Bar has arrived in North America”. Online: http://www.nakava.com

Rugby Teams Love Kava

Rugby Teams and KavaKava’s healing charm is picking up speed and working its way out of South Pacific islands and into other nations as rugby teams love Kava:  Members of New Zealand professional rugby teams, such as the Warriors, Kiwis, and the Chiefs, swear by the beneficial and healing powers of Kava.

As the legalities surrounding the consumption of alcohol and other mind-altering substances are tightened for professional sport teams, some members of these teams are turning to  alternatives.  Prior to discovering Kava, some team members had turned to mixing pharmaceuticals with energy drinks to induce a similar effect to alcohol.  But many of those who have found or been introduced to kava – have discovered how it makes for such a wonderful and healthy alternative to all of those toxic and harmful substances.

Some team members actually prefer kava kava to alcohol and other substances altogether – stating that it doesn’t have the same negative effects as alcohol.

I’m so happy people have been given the opportunity to experience how Kava is such a wonderful alternative to drinking alcohol – nothing brings me more joy than blooming interest in the wonder of Kava.  Did you know that Kava is so highly valued over alcohol in some parts of the world that it is actually being used in therapy to help alcoholics heal from alcoholism!? So, people aren’t just using Kava as an alternative to alcohol, but are actually using it to heal from the damage that alcohol can cause.

“It’s a better choice to alcohol.  If you drink alcohol it’s going to take three days to recover and you’re dehydrated…” says Ruban Wiki, one of the Kiwi’s very successful players.

Wiki is thankful that he had been introduced to Kava by Fijian teammates earlier on in his rugby career: “I’ve been associated with kava for a long time and it has done me wonders”.  Ruban Wiki swears by the benefits and long term healing powers of Kava, and speaks of how he accredits Kava for his long and successful career; Wiki has had 55 tests and 312 first-grade games as a player for the Kiwi’s.

Other players, such as Manu Vatuvei, also testify to the healing benefits that Kava bestows upon its receivers: “it’s very relaxing and gives me a good nights sleep.  If you have a few aches and pains, they go away”.

And to make the story even better, many teams that use Kava have even created mandatory “Kava sessions” which members of these teams are required to attend.  I cannot tell you how pleased I am to hear this – not only is Kava being experienced, but its warm and social tradition is also being maintained! Traditionally Kava is used as a social and ceremonial substance to honour achievements and create relaxing and joyful social gatherings, much like the “Kava sessions” these teams have created. As Matt Elliott of the New Zealand Warriors says, “we sit around in a chilled environment… a controlled and family environment”.

Just about the only thing the team members have to say about Kava that isn’t about how in love they are with it – is just plainly that it tastes bad, as Simon Mannering of the Warriors suggests.   I would personally tell Mannering about all of the wonderful Kava recipes there are to concoct his favourite flavours with Kava, so that he doesn’t have to miss out on all the wonderful things his fellow team mates are experiencing with Kava!

Source:

The New Zealand Herald – League: Kava Sessions Liquid Gold for Warriors

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

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