Kava vs. Ashwagandha: Comparing Herbal Supplements
In a world surfeited with pharmaceutical solutions, natural herbal remedies present an alluring alternative for daily wellness. Among the array of botanicals, two plant-based supplements have captured attention for centuries: kava and ashwagandha.
Originating from different corners of the globe, kava and ashwagandha hold the promise of enhancing well-being and cognitive function through their unique plant properties.
While both supplements can be useful in your daily routine, they each have their own benefits, purposes, and side effects. To help you find the best tool for your wellness needs, keep reading to learn about kava vs. ashwagandha.
What Is Kava?
Kava is a plant-based substance harvested from the roots of the Piper methysticum tree (which happens to be part of the pepper family). Historically, the people of the Pacific Islands, such as Fiji, Vanuatu, Tonga, and Samoa, would turn these roots into a magical drink.
Once harvested, dried, and pounded into a fine powder, kava became a beverage that quenched every social event, creating an environment of calmness and connection.
Currently, kava is known for its personal wellness benefits and its calming effect over its use in cultural events. You can find kava in any of the following forms:
- Drinks or tonics
What Are the Benefits of Kava?
So, what made kava such a beloved beverage for centuries? There are actually many notable benefits of drinking kava that led to its popularity. If you look closely at this root, you can begin to see the chemical compounds that give it such special powers—in particular, kavalactones.
Kavalactones are the “good” active compounds in kava. Research suggests that kavalactones interact with your brain's neurotransmitters, notably promoting the production of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). GABA acts as a natural calming agent, providing anxiety relief and promoting relaxation without a sedating effect.
When kavalactones and your neurotransmitters begin to mingle, you may feel any of the following effects:
- Stress management – Kava's reputation as a stress reliever precedes it. It's often turned to by those seeking solace from the pressures of modern living. From work-related stress to the demands of everyday life, kava serves as a natural herbal remedy for those looking to find their center and alleviate symptoms of chronic stress.
- Anxiety reduction – Beyond stress, Kava's tranquil touch extends to the realm of anxiety. Across 11 studies, kava showed promise in treating mild to moderate anxiety symptoms compared to a placebo.
- Improved sleep quality – For those wrestling with restless nights, kava's invitation to relaxation often extends to the realm of sleep. By easing the mind and promoting a state of calm, kava extract could help anxiety sufferers find an easier night's rest and improve their sleep quality.
In addition to its more soothing benefits, kava can also enhance one’s mood and social function. For Pacific Islanders, this mood-boosting effect was the main purpose of ingesting kava during cultural events. However, every unique body may have a unique reaction to kava.
What Are the Side Effects of Kava?
Like any supplement, kava comes with potential side effects. While a regular dose will likely not cause adverse reactions, it’s important to know what sensations kava can create in the body.
The side effects of kava are mostly due to only one of its molecules: flavokavains. These molecules are responsible for the least pleasant effects of kava, such as:
- Numbness or tingling in the throat
- Reduced muscle control
- Intense drowsiness
- Kava nausea
- Stomach aches
What Is Ashwagandha?
Ashwagandha, scientifically known as Withania somnifera, is a medicinal herb that holds a prominent place in Ayurveda, a traditional healing system from India. Also known as "Indian ginseng" or "winter cherry”, this herb is derived from the roots of its namesake shrub, noted for its yellow flowers and red fruit pods.
Most importantly, ashwagandha is known as an adaptogen—a group of herbs, roots, and plants that help the body manage stress and promote overall well-being.
“Ashwagandha" itself translates to "smell of horse," a nod to both the herb's odor and its abilities to invoke the strength of a stallion. Today, ashwagandha is available in many forms, from capsules to chocolates.
What Are the Benefits of Ashwagandha?
It’s hard to understate the benefits of adaptogens. In short, they’re like the superheroes of stress relief, capable of restoring balance to the body and mind while also improving cognitive function. For ashwagandha, these benefits extend far and wide.
If you consume ashwagandha regularly, you may be able to experience any of the following potential benefits:
- Stress relief – Like a skilled sailor navigating stormy seas, ashwagandha guides the body through the tumultuous waters of stress, both physical and mental. In particular, this herb can counter stress by balancing cortisol levels (the hormones responsible for the "fight or flight"stress response).
- Occasional anxiety relief – Like kava, ashwagandha can slowly melt occasional anxieties through its soothing powers. In a five-study overview, ashwagandha consistently performed better than a placebo in reducing anxiety in subjects.
- Blood health benefits – It’s possible that ashwagandha could help your overall physical health. According to research, this herb has the power to reduce both high blood sugar levels and triglyceride levels, both of which are precursors to various diseases.
- Sharper cognition – Get ready for your next test or presentation with ashwagandha by your side. Ashwagandha could improve both psychomotor and cognitive reaction times, helping you perform your best mentally.
What Are the Side Effects of Ashwagandha?
When used in moderate amounts, ashwagandha is generally considered safe for most people. However, like any herbal supplement, it may have potential side effects or interactions.
In particular, ashwagandha may irritate the lining of the digestive tract. When taken irresponsibly, this impact could lead to the following side effects:
- Upset stomach
- Allergic reactions (itching, rash, or difficulty breathing)
- Faint or dizzy sensation
Can You Take Kava and Ashwagandha Together?
It’s clear that both kava and ashwagandha offer a treasure trove of potential benefits for your wellness. So, can you double down on the supplements and take both?
With new supplements and herbal remedies, it’s crucial to do your research, start slow, and consult with your healthcare provider. Currently, there is no established fatal or dangerous medical interaction between kava and ashwagandha. For many people, regular doses of these two supplements will not lead to adverse reactions.
However, that does not mean kava and ashwagandha don’t intermingle at all within the body. These two supplements have similar effects on the body and mind. When taken together, their shared sedative or sleep-inducing effects may be amplified. Furthermore, certain health conditions can make you more susceptible to mixing kava and ashwagandha.
To be safe, always consult your healthcare provider before trying either of these supplements, especially if you have any of the following conditions:[5,14]
- Pregnancy or postpartum
- Liver disease
- Parkinson's disease
- Thyroid disorders
- High blood pressure medication use
- Diabetes medication use
- Immunosuppressant use
- Sedatives use
- Prostate cancer
What Is the Recommended Dosage for Kava and Ashwagandha?
Like any modern medicine, kava and ashwagandha both have recommended dosages. However, the right dosage range will depend on a number of factors, from age to individual sensitivity.
For the average person, the recommended kava dose is 50 to 250 mg and ashwagandha is 250 to 500 mg.[15,16] If starting out, it’s best to begin at the lower ranges for either of these supplements. Once comfortable, you can start to adjust your dosage to find the best balance for your body, which can vary based on:
- Weight and height
- Health status and conditions
- Individual sensitivity
- Past tolerance
- Current medications
What Are the Main Differences Between Kava vs. Ashwagandha?
On the surface, kava and ashwagandha have a lot in common. They both offer stress relief, they both come from plant roots, and they both can be consumed as teas or capsules. However, these two root-based supplements also have distinct differences and purposes.
If choosing between these herbs, consider the main differences between kava vs. ashwagandha:
- Mental and emotional effects – In general, kava leans toward relaxation and reducing anxiety (often enjoyed in social contexts), while ashwagandha is an herbal remedy that focuses on stress adaptation, mental performance, and holistic wellness. However, these are very general rules—every individual may have a different experience.
- Physical effects – For kava, there’s very little research on the physical health benefits of the supplement (although that doesn’t rule any out). On the flip side, ashwagandha has been shown in studies to produce physical health effects like lower blood sugar levels and improved oxygen usage with exercise.
- Timing – When taking kava, you can expect any effects to peak at two hours. However, ashwagandha does not work immediately. Instead, you’ll need to build up the ashwagandha in your system for at least four weeks to experience its full effects.
- Side effects – Depending on your health history, the side effects of either of these supplements may impact your body more. For those with hormonal or gastrointestinal issues, ashwagandha may be more risky. For those with liver issues, kava may be a riskier supplement.
Botanic Tonics: A Natural Solution for Well-Being
When entering the world of natural wellness, it’s important to remember that your journey is a unique composition shaped by your needs and experiences. Whether choosing ashwagandha or kava, choosing safe and high-quality solutions should come first. That’s where Botanic Tonics can lend a guiding hand.
When you choose Botanic Tonics, you're not picking a random supplement off the shelf. You're embracing ancient traditions, scientific rigor, and holistic well-being. We make sure our entire production process holds the finest quality and ethics, from souring adaptogens and kava from the Pacific Islands to using an FDA-regulated lab.
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- UCLA Health. What are adaptogens and should you be taking them? https://www.uclahealth.org/news/what-are-adaptogens-and-should-you-be-taking-them
- NIH. An investigation into the stress-relieving and pharmacological actions of an ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) extract. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6750292/
- NIH. An Alternative Treatment for Anxiety: A Systematic Review of Human Trial Results Reported for the Ayurvedic Herb Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4270108/
- Forbes. 7 Science-Backed Benefits Of Ashwagandha. https://www.forbes.com/health/body/ashwagandha-benefits/
- NIH. Effect of standardized aqueous extract of Withania somnifera on tests of cognitive and psychomotor performance in healthy human participants. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24497737/
- WebMD. Ashwagandha: Herbal Information. https://www.webmd.com/diet/supplement-guide-ashwagandha
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- Health News. What Is Kava: Benefits, Dosage, and Dangers. https://healthnews.com/longevity/biohacking/what-is-kava-benefits-dosage-and-dangers/
- Healthline. Ashwagandha Dosage: How Much Should You Take per Day? https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/ashwagandha-dosage
- NSW Government. Kava: The Facts. https://yourroom.health.nsw.gov.au/resources/publications/Pages/kava-drug-fact-sheet-A4.aspx