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Kava Kava Root:
Anti-Anxiety Herb
by Eva Urbaniak, N.D.
Please note:
This article was written before the German Commission E decided that kava was a dangerous herb, so although what is written here is the truth about the herb, please use your own judgment as to whether or not you should take it. If you think or know you have a liver condition, do not use Kava without authorization from an accredited health professional.

Kava kava root is a traditional beverage among Indonesian/Melanesian peoples, used widely on an everyday basis, and as a ritual drink, this herb is being prescribed more frequently by naturopathic doctors. Even the allopathic/psychiatric profession is taking a closer look at Kava Kava and the herb has now been studied and tested as a potential real alternative to pharmaceutical drugs in the treatment of anxiety and anxiety-related disorders such as panic attacks, insomnia, and even depression.

Kava Kava, or Piper Methysticum, a member of the pepper family and native to the Fiji islands and other South Pacific islands, is known for its calming properties. The effect is quite immediate and profound but interestingly it is totally non-habit forming, and does not alter alertness or attention.

Kava Kava is classified as an analgesic, anti-rheumatic, anti-spasmodic, anti-convulsive, anti-septic, sedative, diuretic, and tonic, but seems to have a specific action on the human limbic system (fight or flight), and has been used successfully in the treatment of anxiety disorders (panic attacks), nervousness, and insomnia as a result of anxiety or chronic pain.

Yes, Kava Kava root could very well be the cure for many of our modern day stresses and anxieties. Although many of Kava's active constituents have been analyzed, it is still a mystery how this herb can have such near-intoxicating effects, yet maintain alertness, and be totally non-habit-forming and non-addictive.
Some of the active constituents of Kava are resin (often found in roots and bark), starch, glycosides, lactones, and pyrones.

Kava produces a definite neutralizing effect on the anxiety state specifically, relief of pain of a physical and emotional nature, reduction of nervousness, and induction of sleep and dreams. One very important research study just concluded in Germany by Dr. Hans-Peter-Vol states that four of the six kavapyrones (potent chemical compounds) found in Kava Kava have central nervous muscle relaxing and anti-convulsive effects. Another experiment has shown a diminished electrical excitability of the limbic system after ingestion of two other constituents of Kava, kavaine and methysticin. Double-blind placebo studies have shown significant improvements in the emotional well being and a stabilization of emotional states in subjects diagnosed with non-psychotic anxiety. Additional uses for Kava are in the treatment of irritable bladder syndrome and some gastric disturbances because it anesthetizes gastric and bladder mucosa. There is also the effect of anesthetizing oral mucosa which can be helpful in the treatment of sore throat. Extremities are also influenced this way, so Kava can be of great help in the treatment of arthritis pain.

Doctors are now realizing that Kava Kava could potentially replace antidepressants that are being widely prescribed for anxiety disorders, which have multiple negative side effects, are habit-forming and require a withdrawal period to be cleared from the body. What is most exciting is that Kava has no known toxicity, no addictive properties or dependency liability, and is non-narcotic. In the case of anxiety, Kava addresses the primary cause, because of its specific anti-anxiety property. With anxiety, the fear and fight-or-flight mechanism is triggered but the fear is usually non-specific, meaning there is no visible threat. However, the brain cannot distinguish this, and the limbic system is activated. Recalling Kava's specific action on quieting the limbic system, it seems to be the perfect solution.

Because stress and anxiety have such a profound effect on human behavior and health, associated with alcoholism and drug addiction, heart attacks, strokes, psychological/psychiatric problems and their manifestations such as psychotic breaks, panic attacks, violent behavior, etc., an herb like Kava could very well decrease the incidence of these conditions and change the way such problems are treated.

I have had great success in my practice prescribing this herb as an adjunct therapy for problems such as panic attacks; chronic pain associated with fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and arthritis; bladder irritability, depression in the elderly, and depression associated with grief. Remember that emotional states can cause real physical pain and physical manifestation of "dis-ease".

Although the herb can be taken as a tea, in capsules, in combination with other sedative herbs, or as a tincture, my favorite way to dispense this wonder herb is in the tincture or glycerite form. The reason for this is that when anxiety strikes, the patient needs something "right now," and since tincture or glycerite is very rapidly absorbed into the system and the effect of Kava is instantaneous, I recommend that patients carry the tincture with them throughout the day. Dosage may be pulsed throughout the day as a preventive for on-going anxiety attacks.

In the German study, 90-110 mg of dry extract three times a day showed benefit. I have seen positive results with much lower doses, but note that those chosen for the study were diagnosed with anxiety of non-psychotic origin.

Of course, there are many other herbs that treat the nervous system, but this jewel of the South Sea Islands offers real and tangible immediate results, so the next time you're late for an appointment, stuck on the freeway, feeling your heart pound in your chest, give your body a break. Take a vacation without ever leaving home with Kava Kava.

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