The Extraordinary Kava Story

March 17, 2014 at 5:09 pm 2 comments

— with thanks to Dr. Kerry Bone

For centuries, Pacific Islanders have been using Kava to socialize, relax and relieve fatigue anxiety. It was brought to the attention of the Western world in 1768, when Captain James Cook described its use in his account of his voyage to the South Seas. After a kava party, a deep restful sleep ensues, from which the user awakens the next morning refreshed and without a hangover.

A lot of misinformation has been circulated in recent years, due to the following set of circumstances. Kava is rather unique in that the active ingredients are found in the rhizome, or rootstock; and the plant is propagated via planting the rhizomes, rather than reseeding. The time-tested and empirically tested strains are called the “noble cultivars.”

When European pharmaceutical manufacturers wanted to capitalize on kava, they did not remain true to the traditional method of screening kava rootstocks and preparing them – basically as a water-based extraction.  Instead, they abandoned the noble cultivars and sampled a variety of strains, choosing the ones that had the highest concentration of what they considered the “active ingredients.” They then forced the Islanders to grow only those strains, which made the people quite unhappy, by the way.  Then, they added insult to injury by chemically extracting and concentrating what they thought of as the “valuable” compounds. The result was inevitable. Several patients in Europe had severe liver damage and as a result, insurance companies imposed heavy premiums on any company wanting to produce and distribute kava. In essence, the insurers banned the distribution of kava.

However, in ensuing years a great deal more information on the safety and efficacy of water-extracted kava has emerged, and the insurance industry has come around.  So, high quality kava is again available from Medi-Herb. The product is called Kava Forte

Currently, the following clinical uses have been supported by clinical trials: relief of anxiety and nervous tension, restlessness or mild depression of a non-psychotic origin; menopausal symptoms and insomnia. Based upon the pharmacological studies, we may extrapolate that kava also has the following effects:

  • Improves cognitive performance;
  • Relaxation of the skeletal muscles suggests benefit in treating conditions associated with muscle spasm and tension, such as headaches;
  • Improved heart rate control in generalized anxiety disorder;
  • Assistance in withdrawal from benzodiazepine drugs (think Xanax and similar prescriptions);
  • Pain relief.

Kava has not been shown to interfere with daily activities like operating machines or driving. It does not affect performance parameters, such as stress tolerance, vigilance and motor coordination. It is also not habit forming, making it much safer than prescription drugs prescribed for similar usage.

There are some contraindications to its use, however.  Pregnant or nursing women should not use it; nor should anyone with pre-existing liver disease. In addition, anyone diagnosed with Parkinsonism, or who are taking l-dopa or other drugs prescribed for Parkinson’s disease should not take kava. Finally, there have been isolated reports of interactions with benzodiazepine drugs. Therefore, to utilize kava, which is much safer than benzodiazepines because it is not habit forming, you would need to stop the Xanax or any other drug of that class.

A typical, safe dosage of Kava Forte would be 2 tablets twice daily. You can call the office and order a trial bottle if you think it would be helpful to you.

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Dave Dittmeier  |  June 4, 2014 at 8:44 pm

    What about the reports of kava causing damage to the liver. Did not see this addressed in the article.

    • 2. Dr N Rowan Richards  |  September 4, 2015 at 5:46 pm

      The article specifically addresses the liver damage issue. It was caused by people overdosing on alcohol extracted Kava. Water extraction is perfectly safe. Medi-Herb is the only company that provides water extracted Kava. The product is called Kava Forte.


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