Brain, Environment, Stress

Kava and the Key to Reducing Anxiety

October 9, 2017, Author: Boomer Anderson

Finances, career, relationships, and health all add to anxiety and life stress. You get a deadline at work. This adds to the anxiety. Work causes you to miss your hour-long gym session. Oh no! You feel the body fat building on your body. This adds to the anxiety. You read this and think stress/kava is bad for you. You stress about stress (we are getting pretty Meta here).

When life gives you lemons, Chelsea Handler makes vodka. When life gives you anxiety, search out ways to downregulate the nervous system. Stress destroys your body. It activates the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight response). Prolonged stress equals prolonged sympathetic nervous system activity. This can lead to burnout, fatigue, adrenal dysfunction, and a host of other issues. You need to keep stress in check. Eliminating stress is not realistic. For a high performer, walking away is not an option. Life outside of work brings stresses too.

Instead of alcohol this evening, reach for Kava. No, this is not the same as the Spanish sparkling white wine. Silly man. Kava, also known as Kava Kava and about 10 other names, comes from the piper methysticum plant. It exists in the Western Pacific Islands (picture ladies in Hawaiian skirts and the Hakka). In those cultures, Kava gets served as a social drink. Happy hour special in Vanuatu? Kava.

Reach for Kava instead of booze.           Photo Credit: Ohana Kava

Kava came to the West over 100 years ago, appearing in the 1900 Sears Roebuck catalog as an alternative to booze. Buy kava, get a free tea set! Until 1950, kava was used in the United States to treat gonorrhea and nervousness. Until 1999, Kava is used an effective as an anti-anxiety supplement.

The Benefits of Kava:

  • Anxiety – In studies, use of Kava results in decreased anxiety well above placebo. Kava was able to compete with low-dose benzodiazepines (Xanax and Valium). Many of the knock-on benefits of Kava link to this reduction in general anxiety.
  • Well-Being – Feeling a little down? Pour yourself a glass of Kava tea. In one 20 participants medical study, Kava improved subjective cheerfulness more than placebo.
  • Sleep Quality – how well do you sleep knowing you there’s a flight first thing in the morning? Or a big presentation the next day? A mind racing through scenarios is not a mind at rest. Take your kava chill pill and sleep better.
  • Cognitive Performance – Do you think clearer when you are more relaxed? Take kava for the stress reduction, think clearer and solve your problems.

Kava’s Cautionary Tales:

In 1999 and 2000, Kava became the king of controversy when it was linked to instances of liver toxicity. This caused the FDA to issue a warning on Kava in 2002. In January 2013, the substance was banned in the European Union and Canada.

At first, this may seem like the exact reason that someone should avoid Kava. Like most things rushed, decisions are being reversed and evidence is being revisited.

Kava has been served in the Pacific Islands for several thousand years. It is prepared by soaking the root in water and serving as a tea. Many supplement companies in the 1990s were purchasing other parts of the kava plant. Production varied from traditional extraction methods. This produced an inferior product. Also, many of the patients who may have kava-related liver toxicity were on other prescription drugs. While Germany lifted its ban on Kava in 2015, Poland maintains a harsh stance. You can be arrested for trying to make Kava tea.

The National Institute of Health remarked the chances of getting liver toxicity from Kava is 1 in 1,000,000. Yes, that number is low. The odds of a lightning strike are 1 and 700,000.

Kava is a relaxing beverage
Kava is a relaxing drink. It is also less risky than some of your other hobbies.

Getting Out of Harm’s Way (safety for Kava drinking)

If you have an existing liver issue, avoid kava.

If you have too much alcohol, avoid kava.

In the above situations, your liver is already compromised. If you worry about toxicity, avoid drinking Kava when you are compromising your liver.

Some medical literature suggests avoiding taking kava for more than four weeks straight.

Kava Preparation and Amounts

The traditional brewing method is to use the ground Kava powder and create a tea. In modern times, you can buy the tea bags or take a pill. If you are looking for a way to decrease your drinking, pour a cup of kava and socialize. Make sure the manufacturer is reputable and has good practices. Aim to take no more than 250mg of kavalactones (the active ingredient in Kava) per day.

Kava Conclusions:

Over stimulating the sympathetic nervous system leads to many health problems. Life should be long and careers should not burst into a “huge firey comet” as Jim Morrison would say. Kava will help manage anxiety allowing you to enjoy the finer times in life… outside the office.

Are you interested in learning new ways to build stress resiliency and deal with life’s stresses? Schedule a 30-minute discovery call here.

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Alban, Dean. The Ban On Kava And The Bogus Liver Damage Scare. August 13, 2015.

American Chemical Society. The unsolved mystery of kava toxicity. July 13, 2011. ACS Newservice Weekly.

Centers for Disease Control. Hepatic toxicity possibly associated with kava-containing products–United States, Germany, and Switzerland, 1999-2002. November 29, 2002. PubMed

Cloutare, Dallas. Kava kava: examining new reports of toxicity. April 15, 2005. Science Direct.

Kilham, Chris. Kava: The Anti-anxiety Herb is Making a Comeback. May 2012. Medicine Hunter.

Kutcha, K.German Kava Ban Lifted by Court: The Alleged Hepatotoxicity of Kava (Piper methysticum) as a Case of Ill-Defined Herbal Drug Identity, Lacking Quality Control, and Misguided Regulatory Politics. Planta Med. December 2015. PubMed.

National Institute of Health. Drug Record: Kava Kava. February 26, 2014. Liver Toxicity NIH.

Starris, J. Kava in the treatment of generalized anxiety disorder: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study. October 2013. PubMed.

University of Maryland Medical Center. Kava Kava. Accessed: 2016. University of Maryland Medical Center.



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