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Medicinal uses of Kava

Depression, Sleep Disorders, Stress | July 10, 2019 | Author: Naturopath

depression, sleep disorders, work stress

Medicinal uses of Kava

Many people would recognise Kava as a powerful drink often experienced when visiting pacific islands. It has been used socially and as a ceremonial drink thousands of years as part of cultural life. But you may not realise kava is also used as a pharmacological herb which has been widely studied for its beneficial actions. In some countries it is listed as an official medicine

Kava-Kava (Piper methysticum) is an evergreen shrub native to the Polynesian Islands and Northern Australia. The medicinal parts used are the root and rhizomes which are harvested after 4 years of growth. Active ingredients are known as Kavalactones or pyrones, chalcones and alkaloids. The kavalactones act on the brain resulting in feelings of relaxation, calmness, contentment and sedation. They can have a numbing effect on pain and has a relaxation action on muscle tension and spasms. 

Therapeutic properties of KavaTherapeutic properties of Kava

  • Anxiolytic (relieves anxiety)
  • Sedative (aids sleep)
  • Anticonvulsive
  • Carminative (relieves cramps and expels gas - digestive)
  • Diuretic (increases production of urine)
  • Analgesic (pain relieving)
  • Anaesthetic (deadening pain)
  • Spasmolytic (suppresses muscle spasms)
  • Antimicrobial (kills microorganisms)
  • Rubefacient (increases blood circulation) used topically

Conditions supported by Kava 


Anxiety related disorders are described often as  - 

a chronic functionally disabling condition with high psychological stress, characterised by excess worry, difficulty with focus, muscle tension and insomnia.

Kava modulates Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), an inhibitory neurotransmitter located in the central nervous system to help with the debilitation symptoms of anxiety. Kava has been approved by German Commission E for the use in anxiety, stress and restlessness. It is a popular choice in these conditions as it avoids the side-effects often experienced with pharmaceutical medicine such as dependency, cognitive impairment (memory problems), sedation (drowsiness) and withdrawal symptoms (when trying to discontinue). In vivo studies have shown kava beneficial in conditions of anxiety in pre and menopause; non-psychotic patients for generalized anxiety disorder; adjustment mood disorder and phobias; and reducing symptoms of withdrawal

Note: The German Commission E is a scientific advisory board which gives scientific validation for the approval of substances and products previously used in traditional, folk and herbal medicine.


Insufficient sleep, poor sleep quality and insomnia are frustrating, but may also contribute to other health concerns. Improving the quality of sleep will often see an improvement with over-all health and support conditions of anxiety and stress. Kava contains actives which can enhance sleep quality.

Well-being and Happiness

Well-being and HappinessThe structure of isolated compounds found in Piper methysticum contain a compound moiety which is related to the neurotransmitter, serotonin. Serotonin is implicated in brain cognitive function as a endogenous receptor agonist. An imbalance of serotonin levels can lead to low mood. 

Kava may help with depression, agitation, phobias and low mood.

Muscle relaxant

Kava can help anxiety related muscle tension by having a postitive effect on skeletal muscle relaxation. This can also be of benefit with muscle twitches or spasms. 

Infections of the genital/urinal tract

Kava is British Herbal pharmacopoeia (BHP) specific for infections involving the genitourinary tract such as cystitis, urethritis and prostatitis. Kava can also be beneficial in condition of neurogenic bladder (nervous bladder) and dysuria (painful of difficult urination) and benign prostate hyperplasia.

Note: British Herbal pharmacopoeia is a regulatory agency providing official standards for medicines

Anaesthetic and Analgesic

The kava lactones have potencies similar to cocaine and procaine as local anaesthetics and have shown analgesic activity in several experimental models. Pain deadening and pain-relieving action make it useful for back pain, muscle or joint pain, headaches and neuralgia for example.


The constituents of Kava show an anti-inflammatory potential, anti-thrombotic and antioxidant activity.

Suggestions for Use

  • Anxiety, nervous tension and stress
  • Mild depression/low mood
  • Insomnia/restless sleep
  • Menopausal anxiety
  • Muscle spasm, twitches or tension
  • Pain of muscular or nervous source 
  • Improving cognitive performance

Standardized ingredients

When choosing a product for medicinal purposes, the most important consideration is that it lists the standardized contents per dose. Kavalactones are the active constituents.

Precautions and Safety

Precautions and SafetyKava is a drink often consumed instead of alcohol. If it is taken as a drink, or as a medicine in tablet or extract, it is still important to follow guidelines and cautions.

Kava is considered a drug due to its depressant activity and as no drug is safe, it is important to consider how and when it is used and its effect on the body.

People can react differently depending on: their size, weight and health; how much is consumed; new to the drug; time taken; amount taken; and strength of drug. It is important to follow directions for use.

Kava is a herbal medicine for short-term use.

Some minor side effects have been noted. These include dizziness, headache, drowsiness and gastric discomfort.

Hepatoxicity – there has been reported links to the possibility that Kava can cause irreversible liver damage. Despite the fact that several experimental studies have been published, the mechanisms of hepatotoxicity of kava are still not fully elucidated in humans. According to studies the occurrence is rare. Advisable cautions include:

  • Do not use kava with alcohol
  • Do not use kava with other central nervous system depressant medication/drugs. Consult your health care provider for other possible medincinal interactions.
  • Kava should not be used in people with liver disease/disorders

To Summarize

Kava can support the body short term by:

  • Relieving symptoms of stress and anxiety
  • Helping sleep
  • Muscle relaxation  Australia’s best online discount chemist


Fisher, Carole; 2009, MATERIA MEDICA OF WESTERN HERBS, pg 190, Vitex Medica, New Zealand.

GABA-modulating phytomedicines for anxiety: A systematic review of preclinical and clinical evidence.

Kava in the treatment of generalized anxiety disorder: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study.

Muscle cramp as the result of impaired GABA function--an electrophysiological and pharmacological observation.

Updates on Nutraceutical Sleep Therapeutics and Investigational Research

Hepatotoxicity Induced by “the 3Ks”: Kava, Kratom and Khat

Indole Alkaloids from Plants as Potential Leads for Antidepressant Drugs: A Mini Review.

Enhanced efficacy and reduced side effects of diazepam by kava combination.

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