Is Kava Healthy? Explained
With kava drink bars popping up everywhere from South Florida to the San Francisco Bay Area, there’s no doubt that the ancient herbal remedy is exploding in popularity. And while it’s credited with promoting a more kicked-back mood, one must ask: Is kava healthy?
The quick answer: For the most part, yes, but it depends on your circumstances. The quality of the kava plant supplement you consume and the presence of an underlying medical condition are just two factors that can influence its effects on your health and wellness.
The long answer? That you will find below.
Keep reading as we investigate the basics of kava extract, the potential kava supplement benefits, and how to ensure you choose the right kava products when you want to harness an aloha state of mind.
What is Kava?
Kava is an herbal extract derived from Piper methysticum, a shrub in the pepper family that’s native to regions of the South Pacific. Places ranging from Hawaii and Vanuatu to Papua New Guinea and Tonga have used kava for centuries, primarily in:[3,4,5]
- Religious ceremonies
- Welcoming events
- Before battles
- Celebrations of a new leader or chief
Kava use has also been traditionally based in the South Pacific for medicinal purposes. Historically, the root was crushed, either by mouth or hand, and mixed with water or coconut milk—and in some parts, this is how it’s still consumed.
The South Pacific tradition has migrated across the ocean and onto the U.S. mainland and beyond, but today, people are learning how to prepare kava for kava tea, capsules, tinctures, and drinks. Today, it’s estimated that there are more than 100 kava bars across the country, while the kava market as a whole is expected to expand to a $3.41 billion industry in the next handful of years.[6,7]
What’s the Appeal of Kava?
The chill, relaxed feeling that drinking kava may prompt is one of the biggest reasons it’s had such a stronghold in social settings in Pacific Island nations—and why it’s become the libation du jour in the United States. Others applaud all types of kava for helping them get in the flow of whatever task is at hand.
Because of this, kava has become an increasingly trendy alternative to alcohol. It’s deemed a “self-enhancer,” depending on the context, only without the boozy hangover.
Is Kava Good for You?
Kava can be good for you, with an emphasis on can. We’re only now beginning to get a comprehensive picture of kava’s potential. What we know so far, however, is that kava contains:
While research on kava is still in its adolescence—so to speak—it has been leveraged by several European countries, who use it to help people manage menopause and urinary tract infections, among other issues. That said, we don’t have a large enough body of evidence pointing to its efficacy on medical conditions (and natural life changes) to make any sort of definitive claims.
Still, what we do know is that kava can make you feel a little freer while also providing some other positives. Let’s look at them in a bit more depth.
What are the Health Benefits of Kava?
Whether you choose to take kava in a capsule form or host a kava party in your backyard, you might quickly understand why kava is booming in popularity among other natural health products. Kava may encourage the following:
#1 A relaxed frame of mind and an elevated mood
Allow us to reiterate here that proponents of kava generally point to the lighter, breezier mood it may evoke. This is thanks to the effect that kavalactones have on GABA, a key neurotransmitter that generates feelings of well-being and “hey, it’s cool” vibes. This isn’t to say that it causes intoxication; rather, kava might just take the edge off. It may also:
- Soothe feelings of discomfort and uneasiness
- Give you a boost of social fuel and self-assurance
This can be especially helpful for those who have chosen not to imbibe in alcohol (or simply can’t). Remember where most of kava consumption in the South Pacific takes place? That’s right—in social situations. In this way, kava can act as a social lubricant, only without the tummy woes, parched mouth, and headaches that tend to arrive with a hangover.
Additionally, kavalactones decrease the uptake of two other major neurotransmitters, dopamine and noradrenaline. This may help settle the occasional bout of anxiety.
#2 Enhanced concentration
Thus far, there isn’t much of a proven correlation between the use of kava and improved cognitive performance, but some research points to a slight increase in focus. Anecdotally, the relaxing impact of kava is thought to clear the mind just enough to enrich the ability to zero in on mental and physical tasks.
#3 Neuroprotective properties
Preliminary research indicates that the use of kava may have neuroprotective properties that could potentially help with nervous system conditions and cognitive wellness. That said, a great deal more research needs to be performed on this as well.
#4 Help with inflammation
Research demonstrates that those kavalactones in kava have anti-inflammatory properties. These anti-inflammatory effects might be minimal, but anything that helps us beat back oxidative stress is a winner in our book.
Is Kava Healthy? A Word of Caution
The quality of the kava you choose can be a huge determining factor on whether it’s beneficial for you—or hazardous.
The Cleveland Clinic asserts that one of the biggest risks in using kava—or any other herbal extract for that matter—is opting for an unregulated product. There are 200 kinds of kava plants, and some might produce more exaggerated effects than others. Aim to purchase and use only kava that’s, well, pure kava, and from a reputable retailer who puts its products through third party testing to boot.
What Impacts Kava’s Physical and Mental Effects?
Kava might do wonders for your best friend’s uneasiness at parties, but it might spur another to curl up on the sofa for a long nap. This is another way of saying that kava may have different effects on different people.  This is influenced by your:
- Physical frame and body weight
- The strength of the kava—and the amount consumed
- Whether you have a tolerance to kava (e.g., you’ve taken it before)
How you feel on kava is also influenced by the presence of other substances which, all in all, are discouraged by medical professionals.
How Can You Use Kava Wisely?
The World Health Organization (WHO) states that kava, in its unadulterated, traditional form, presents only a low level of health risks. And while kava may be derived from nature, you should nonetheless exercise a few precautions before consuming it. In addition to always selecting quality kava from an esteemed, trusted manufacturer, consider tackling the following before you pour yourself a kava-infused, alcohol-free concoction:
- Certain anti-anxiety medications, including benzos, barbiturates, and Xanax
- MAOIs and SSRIs
- Parkinson’s medications
- Medications that affect the liver
Further, if you’re pregnant, breastfeeding, or planning on becoming pregnant, you should avoid kava completely.
The same goes for those with underlying health problems and medical conditions like depression, Parkinson’s disease, blood disorders, kidney disease, and liver disease. Your best bet? Stick to the recommended dosage and monitor how you feel safely.
Bask in a Brighter Mood with Botanic Tonics
Asking the question—is kava safe and healthy—is important whether you’re heading to a kava bar for the first time or thinking about weaving kava into your self-care routine. Kava has some promising benefits for the right candidates and may just be the alternative to caffeine or alcohol you’ve been eager to find.
If you decide to give kava a try—or want to level up your private kava bar at home—give Botanic Tonics a spin. We take the necessary precautions to ensure we provide our customers with only the highest quality products. To this end, we put our feel free kava capsules and feel free wellness tonic, made with kava kava extract, through rigorous testing so that what you receive is clean and effective.
No contaminants. No heavy metals. Just plant-based ingredients and a dedication to exceptionalism. Check out Botanic Tonics today.
1, National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Kava. https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/kava
2,18, Cleveland Clinic. When it comes to kava, ‘natural’ doesn’t mean safe. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/what-is-kava/
3, University of Hawaii at Manoa Library. Traditional Pacific Island crops: kava. https://guides.library.manoa.hawaii.edu/paccrops/kava
4, Encyclopedia Britannica. Kava. https://www.britannica.com/topic/kava
5, The University of Texas at El Paso. Kava.
6, The Guardian. The great kava boom: how Fiji’s beloved psychoactive brew is going global. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/feb/05/the-great-kava-boom-how-fijis-beloved-psychoactive-brew-is-going-global
7, Fortune Business Insights. Kava root extract market size. https://www.fortunebusinessinsights.com/kava-root-extract-market-103694
8, Nature Plants. The biosynthetic origin of psychoactive kavalactones in kava.
9,11, UCLA Health. Ask the doctors-what are the risks and benefits of kava?
10, Journal of Pharmacological Sciences. Hypnotic and sleep quality-enhancing properties of kavain in sleep-disturbed rats. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19881224/
12, Science Direct. The impact of traditional kava (piper methysticum) use on cognition: implications for driver fitness.
13, Neural Regeneration Research. Neuroprotective properties of kavalactones.
14, Practical Pain Management. Can kava supplements kill your pain?
15, Alcohol and Drug Foundation. What is kava? https://adf.org.au/drug-facts/kava/
16, World Health Organization. Kava: a review of the safety of traditional and recreational beverage consumption.
17,19 Mount Sinai. Kava kava. https://www.mountsinai.org/health-library/herb/kava-kava
20, Healthline. Kava kava: benefits, side effects and dosage. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/kava-kava#TOC_TITLE_HDR_5