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Herbs & Supplements «Kava Kava Root and Extract Information»

Kava kava root comes from a tall shrub that grows in tropical climates such as Hawaii. The kava kava plant produces large heart-shaped leaves that cover the branches. The flowers of the kava kava plant grow from the point where the stems and branches connect.

One of the main uses of kava root is to reduce stress-related anxiety and for combating the effects of anxiety disorders. When taken in small doses, kava helps increase awareness and activity without increasing tension. If higher doses of kava are taken, the chemicals in kava root induce sleep and may cause drowsiness. Physicians and health specialists have been known to prescribe kava for pain, anxiety, insomnia, uncontrolled epilepsy, stiffness, and jet lag.

Kava kava root has shown in animal studies to possess chemicals called kavapyrones that are effective in reducing convulsions and relaxing muscles. The kavalactones also produce the same reactions on the brain as pharmaceutical drugs used for depression and anxiety. Placing liquid kava directly in your mouth or on your gums will cause a strong numbing sensation induced by the kavalactones found in the kava.

Many of the chemical properties in kava kava seem to offer a soothing or calming effect on the central nervous system. Fortunately, in comparison to alternative anti-anxiety and or sedative prescriptions, the chemicals in kava do not appear to affect the blood pressure, breathing, heart rate, or one's ability to think clearly. Kava lactones do however affect the number of specific neurotransmitters (chemicals carrying messages from nerve cells to other cells) found in the blood. Consumption of the kava root may prevent re-absorption of one particular neurotransmitter called norepinephrine; consequently, increased blood levels of norepinephrine may be connected with lower anxiety levels and relaxation or a calm mood. The lactones contained in kava may also stimulate the production of more attachment sites in the body for a different neurotransmitter, gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA). Having more GABA sites could plausibly lead to more GABA activity, which increases sedation. Another possible explanation for kava's positive results may be that the chemicals at work block the action of the enzyme monoamine oxidase-B (MAO-B), affecting the levels of dopamine, a fourth neurotransmitter. However, this is done by unpredictable methods. Although both MAO-B and dopamine have distinct roles in the emotional stability of the human body, the exact effects of kava kava on them are still not entirely understood.

Dosage and Administration

When taking Kava supplements make sure that they are standardized to the kavalactone content. Usually, 70 mg of standardized kava extract is taken three times daily, for a total dose of 210 mg. A single 210 mg dose may be useful for insomnia. To help reduce anxiety and insomnia, and to reduce stress, a suggested kava dose is 2 to 4 grams as decoction up to three times daily. A kava decoction is created by boiling the herb in water.

Precautions and Side Effects

In March 2002, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a warning that taking kava has been associated with cases of liver damage. The FDA said that individuals, especially those with liver diseases or those taking medications that might impair liver function, should discuss the use of kava with a doctor before they taking it.