Did you know that an herb that grows on the islands of the South Pacific is a remarkable remedy for stress, anxiety and insomnia—just as effective as prescription drugs—and is also an excellent sleep aid?
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), a shocking two-thirds of all doctor’s visits are prompted by stress-related ailments, including high blood pressure, arthritis and cancer. In the past, stress management was limited to prescription medications, such as Valium and Xanax, but today stress can be treated safely with natural herbs.
Kava Kava, botanically known as Piper Methysticum, is an excellent stress-reducing herb touted for its ability to calm anxious nerves and relax overworked minds and muscles. Pacific Islanders have been using the kava root for thousands of years as a ceremonial drink, social beverage and anti-anxiety medicine.
Parents in Hawaii give kava root to crying babies to hush up tears and soothe sobs. Preliminary evidence also indicates kava’s ability to not only reduce the amount of time it takes to drift off to dreamland, but to also promote sounder, deeper sleep.
Research studies prove kava effectively treats:
- Bladder issues
- Infections, stings and inflammations
- Convulsions and palpitations
According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, a review of 7 scientific studies shows that kava reduced anxiety-related symptoms much more effectively than the placebo drug. One such study published in Herbal Gram, the journal of the American Botanical Council, measured how well kava treated anxiety in 58 participants.
After one week of receiving 100 mg of kava root daily, participants showed a significant decrease in anxiety and experienced no side effects.
Other research studies indicate that kava is just as successful in healing stress as anti-anxiety prescription drugs. A 1993 study compared kava root to the anxiety-reducing prescription medication oxazepam (Serax). Researchers measured word recognition, specifically testing accuracy, reaction time and EEG responses.
The participants given oxazepam showed slower processing speed, decreased word recognition, less activity, and drowsiness. Those given kava demonstrated no slowness, and increased reaction time and word recognition.
One of the main complaints about prescription medications is their sedative quality. Not only is kava root not a sedative, but it has also been shown to enhance memory and concentration. A 2004 study found that volunteers receiving 300 mg of kava showed an overall improvement in mood and cognitive function.
Kava Calms Your Body…But Keeps Your Mind Alert
Dr. Hyla Cass, author of “Kava: Nature’s Answer to Stress, Anxiety, and Insomnia” attributes kava’s efficacy to its active ingredients: kavalactones, which communicate with the central nervous system to soothe anxious nerves. Rather than interacting with the brain, kava root interacts with the spine, so the body is calmed while the mind stays alert.
Kava’s ability to calm without making the mind drowsy is also what makes it such an outstanding sleep aid. Its effects are gradual and users wake up feeling alert and rested, rather than drowsy and rundown.
There have been warnings against kava root that must be taken into account. In March of 2002 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued the consumer advisory warning that kava carries the “rare” but potential risk of liver failure. This warning followed Europe’s decision to remove kava from the market due to a possible link to liver damage.
It is important to note that reported cases attributing liver disease to kava usage followed Europe’s importation of kava stems and leaves. Traditional kava treatments are prepared using the kava root, which contains no toxic compound. The stems and leaves of the herb should be avoided.
Further investigation by Professor of Pharmacology and Toxicology at the University of Illinois, Donald Waller Ph.D, indicates no link between the kava root and liver failure. Dr. Waller concluded that the association is more likely attributed to increased hypersensitivity caused by kava’s interaction with alcohol or other drugs.
Health practitioners warn against using kava if you are currently taking an anti-depressant, anti-anxiety or antipsychotic drug. It is not to be mixed with alcohol or any medicines that are metabolized in the liver, such as cholesterol medications or diuretics. Pregnant or nursing women, as well as those with Parkinson’s disease, are warned against using kava.
Kava is widely available in the United States as a tea, tincture or capsule. A dosage not exceeding 300 mg daily is recommended, and it is advisable to only use root preparations. A kava treatment is easy to make and administer; the root is sundried and ground into a powder—and then mixed with cold water. Kava should be used for no more than 24 weeks without a 2-week rest period.