Kava kava's therapeutic effects are due to at least fifteen different biological compounds, collectively known as kavapyrones or kavalactones. All are physiologically active, and six are psychoactive. Most of these produce physical and mental relaxation without causing addiction or harmful side effects.
The first kavapyrone was isolated in 1889. Since then, much research has been devoted to identifying the effects of the herb are other kavapyrones. It is now well documented that kavapyrones can alter brain activity without causing sedation, and work as general relaxants, muscle relaxants, local aesthetics, and anti-convulsive.
In 1990, Commission E, Germany's equivalent of our FDA, approved kava kava for treating anxiety, stress, and restlessness. Several well-designed Studies conducted in the past ten yearo support its effectiveness. For example, in 1997, 101 patients suffering from anxiety were given kava kava over the course of a 25-week double-blind study. By the eighth week, anxiety symptoms in those taking kava kava had subsided considerably, compared with those given a placebo. The researchers noted that kava kava is an effective, well-tolerated alternative to drugs commonly used to treat anxiety and depression.
There are times, however, when prescription drugs are necessary, and chances are, your physician or psychiatrist will prescribe them. But before you swallow another drug with side effects that could harm you, understand what it does and how it might affect you. Of course, some of these drugs are less than ideal. Many can dull your senses and be addictive. Other side effects include nausea, bloating, abdominal cramping, and dizziness. By contrast, kava kava leaves your mental sharpness intact, is not habit-forming, and imparts a sense of tranquility without the worrisome side effects of prescription medications.
Kava kava helps you manage stress in two important ways. First, it counteracts the physical symptoms of stress, such as pounding heartbeat or tensed muscles. Second, it works on brain chemicals to produce a calming effect, as well as on regions of the brain responsible for emotion.
Kava kava is fast-acting, too, providing relief within about half an hour to two hours. Although known best for its tranquilizing ability, kava kava also contains two pain-relieving chemicals (dihydrokavain, and dihydrom-ethysticin) that are as effective as aspirin.
Worth noting, too, is that kava kava is believed to be thermogenic; that is, it may increase body temperature and thus burn additional calories. The herb has been used in some parts of the world as a weight-loss agent.
In many cases of stress and emotional disorders, kava kava should be the first choice in treatment because it works with your body rather than against it.
Kava kava is available in several forms: capsules, liquids, bulk, teas, standardized extracts, single-herb, and multiherb. As for supplementation, a good rule of thumb is to abide by the manufacturer's recommended dosage or by Commission E's recommendations of daily dosages of 60 to 120 mg of kavapyrones or kavalactones. Make sure to purchase a product that is standardized to contain kavapyrones or kavalactones.
Side effects from taking kava kava arc generally mild: stomach upset and allergic skin reactions. Both clear up after supplementation is discontinued. Long-term use may cause yellow discoloration of the skin, allergic reactions, visual disturbances, inflammation of the eyes, and balance problems. That being so, Commission E recommends that kava kava be taken no longer than three months. If you want to stay on it for a longer period of time, you should be under medical supervision. Never exceed recommended dosages. Also, taking too much kava kava produces the same effects as alcohol intoxication. High doses may impair your ability to drive or to operate heavy equipment, and thus lead to serious, even fatal, accidents.
The German Commission E warns against using kava kava with alcohol, barbiturates, antidepressants, and other agents that act on the central nervous system.
Additionally, kava kava should not be taken if you are pregnant or nursing, or suffer from Parkinson's disease (kava kava may worsen the condition).