Kava – Medicinal Properties and Side Effects.
Kava is a shrub, a member of the pepper family, native to the Pacific Islands (Polynesia, Micronesia, Melanesia, Hawaii) where the natives cultivate this plant because of the medicinal virtues of its roots.
Origin of Kava
For thousands of years, natives of the Pacific islands derive a beverage from the roots of the kava plant that improves mood and is used for socialization. Captain James Cook was the first to relate this traditional use in his travelogue about his journey to these islands in 1768-1771. Despite the efforts of Christian missionaries to eradicate the consumption of kava drink, still there are “kava bars” on some of the Pacific islands. These places often host foreign dignitaries by organizing a ceremony during which the ritual consumption of kava promotes harmonious social relations.
Medicinal Effects and Preparations
Since ages, kava has been used throughout the Pacific islands to calm the nerves, induce relaxation and sleep and to fight fatigue. Kava root extract formed by grinding the roots and mixing the pulp with water, is drunk to purify urinary tracts, to lose weight and to alleviate the asthma and rheumatism. Kava is known to cure headaches, spasms and to calm syphilis and gonorrhoea. Even today, many islanders believe that Kava is an aphrodisiac that restores physical strength and soothe stomach pains. Besides being used as a drink, kava is also used to purify the environment in order to drive away the diseases.
Macerated Kava is used for external use as plasters and sometimes the roots are simply chewed in order to get medicinal benefits of the plant. Its sedative and anxiolitique activity is particularly useful in patients with state of anxiety and emotional tension, insomnia, tremors, hyper excitability, tension, muscle twitching, etc. Another effect of Kava, carried out at the level of the central nervous system is to relax the muscles.
The strength of a kava product is measured based on its kavalactone or kavapyrone content which is the active substance of the root and can vary from 30% to 70% in a standard kava extract. Taking 100 mg to 230 mg ofa standard kava extract thrice a day can show optimal results.
Kava extract, if taken in appropriate doses causes little or no side effects. Excessive use of kava over a long period may cause skin disorders, mild gastrointestinal and skin allergies, but they disappear quickly after discontinuation of the drug. It may increase the effect of almost all psychiatric drugs and enhance the effects of alcohol on the body. It is not recommended to take kava supplements during pregnancy, lactation period and by people who suffer from liver problems.
- Consult a health care professional before taking kava if you have a history of liver problems.
- Stop kava intake immediately if symptoms of jaundice like dark urine, yellow skin and eyes occur.
- The duration of kava intake should not exceed three months without the supervision of a physician.
- It is recommended to avoid driving when mixing kava with alcohol.
- It is advisable to stop taking kava two to three weeks before surgery as this plant can prolong the effects of the anaesthesia.
Kava is a medicinal plant that if used with a little caution can have multiple health benefits and can also help you in losing weight.