Kava (Piper methysticum) is an excellent herbal remedy for inducing relaxation, reducing anxiety, and assisting in sleep.
Growing in the dappled shade of exotic tropic paradises can be found a plain leafy green shrub that, in spite of it of its unassuming nature, has played a role in soothing the rattled nerves of a number of peoples throughout the western Pacific for hundreds of years. This plant is the kava plant, also known as the kava-kava plant, or Piper methysticum (Latin nomenclature). Its roots have been used to combat anxiety in such locales as Fiji, Hawaii, Samoa, and the notoriously wet island of Pohnpei.
Throughout its world-spanning reach there are many strains of this humble plant, but all are recognized by the natives of the lands they call home as a way to ease a hard day. The root itself can be chewed, brewed into tea, or ground into a paste and quickly consumed, but whatever the method, the result is the same. A growing sense of ease and relaxation will permeate the imbiber.
When steeped into a strong brew, kava-kava has been known to induce deep, restful, dreamless sleep within half an hour. The stronger it’s brewed, the faster this onset time of drowsiness, and the deep sleep that follows.
There are at least 15 different compounds within the plant known as “kavalactones.” It is likely, as with most things in nature, that no one component is solely responsible for the powers of the kava plant. Instead, it is likely that it is a synergistic effect caused by the interaction of some or all of them.
This, of course, can be a wonderful effect for those who regularly suffer from anxiety, as it means its effect will not only produce a much needed night’s sleep, but those relaxing properties will carry through to the next day. On the other hand, it can induce a sort of lingering grogginess in the patient.
Kava is an excellent plant for inducing relaxation, reducing anxiety, and assisting in sleep. As in all things, including stress and relaxation, kava root is a treatment best taken in moderation. With that in mind however, there are few better natural treatments for stress and anxiety available, and fewer still with such an respected and varied history throughout the world.
It is important, due to some of the behaviors of the kavalactones, to consult a physician if you are taking any kind of medication before using kava root to treat your symptoms. It is also important to take care of how frequently and how much kava root you ingest, as it is capable of causing liver damage if consumed in too great of quantities. Finally, care should be taken after consuming kava in activities requiring precise hand-eye coordination.
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Superiority of kava extract over placebo was suggested by all seven reviewed trials. The meta-analysis of three trials suggests a significant difference in the reduction of the total score on the Hamilton Rating Scale for Anxiety in favor of kava extract (weighted mean difference, 9.69; 95% confidence interval, 3.54-15.83). These data imply that kava extract is superior to placebo as a symptomatic treatment for anxiety. Therefore, kava extract is an herbal treatment option for anxiety that is worthy of consideration.
Unlike other substances used for these purposes, kava-kava has been shown to have minimal negative effects, and possibly positive effects, on reaction time and cognitive processing. Furthermore, it decreases anxiety without the loss of mental acuity. Although kava-kava has been found to be very effective, well tolerated, and non-addictive at therapeutic dosages, potential side effects can occur when very high doses are taken for extended periods. In addition, in the last two years unexpected high liver toxicity has been reported in two patients. Until now no studies support the liver toxicity of kavalactones and it is unknown which compound could have provoked the liver disease. On the other hand, it should be possible that unknown or unexpected constituents are the responsible or contributed to the liver toxicity.
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