Kava—or kava kava—is a root found
on South Pacific islands. Islanders have used kava as medicine and in
ceremonies for centuries.
Kava has a calming effect, producing
brain wave changes similar to changes that occur with calming medicines such as
diazepam (Valium, for example). Kava also can prevent convulsions and relax
muscles. Although kava is not addictive, its effect may decrease with
Traditionally prepared as a tea, kava root is also available
as a dietary supplement in powder and tincture (extract in alcohol)
Research has shown that
kava's calming effect relieves anxiety, restlessness, sleeplessness, and
stress-related symptoms such as muscle tension or spasm. You can also use kava
as a pain medicine (analgesic).1
taken for anxiety or stress, kava does not interfere with mental sharpness.
When taken for sleep problems, kava promotes deep sleep without affecting
restful REM sleep.
Kava may be used instead of prescription
antianxiety drugs, such as benzodiazepines and tricyclic antidepressants. Kava
should never be taken with these prescription drugs. Avoid using alcohol when
Kava may have severe side effects
and should not be used by everyone. Kava has caused liver failure in previously
healthy people. You should not use kava for longer than 3 months without
consulting your doctor.
Before you use kava, consider that
Long-term kava use may result in:
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has
investigated whether using dietary supplements containing kava is associated
with liver illness. Reports from Germany and Switzerland about kava causing
serious liver problems have led to the recent removal of these products from
shelves in Britain. Other countries have advised consumers to avoid using kava
until further information is available.
In the United States, the
FDA advises people who have liver disease or liver problems, or people who are
taking medicines that can affect the liver, to consult a doctor or pharmacist
before using products that contain kava. People who use a dietary supplement
that contains kava and experience signs of illness should consult a doctor.
Symptoms of serious liver disease include brown urine as well as yellowing of
the skin or of the whites of the eyes. Other symptoms of liver disease may
include nausea, vomiting, light-colored stools, unusual tiredness, weakness,
stomach or abdominal pain, and loss of appetite.
The FDA does not
regulate dietary supplements in the same way it regulates medicine. A dietary
supplement can be sold with limited or no research on how well it works.
Always tell your doctor if you are using a dietary supplement or if you
are thinking about combining a dietary supplement with your conventional
medical treatment. It may not be safe to forgo your conventional medical
treatment and rely only on a dietary supplement. This is especially important
for women who are pregnant or breast-feeding.
When using dietary
supplements, keep in mind the following:
CitationsPittler MH, et al. (2003). Kava extract versus placebo
for treating anxiety. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (1).Other Works Consulted Kava (2009). In A DerMarderosian et al., eds., Review of Natural Products. St. Louis: Wolters Kluwer Health. Murray MT, Pizzorno JE Jr (2006). Piper methysticum
(kava). In JE Pizzorno Jr, MT Murray, eds., Textbook of Natural Medicine, 3rd ed., pp. 1167–1172. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone.
Connor KM, et al. (2006). Kava in generalized anxiety
disorder: Three placebo-controlled trials. International Clinical Psychopharmacology, 21(5): 249.Jacobs BP, et al. (2005). An Internet-based,
randomized, placebo-controlled trial of kava and valerian for anxiety and
insomnia. Medicine, 84(4): 197.Pittler MH, Ernst E (2000). Efficacy of kava extract
for treating anxiety: Systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology, 20(1): 84.
June 29, 2011
Adam Husney, MD, MD - Family Medicine & Marc S. Micozzi, MD, PhD - Complementary and Alternative Medicine
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