Kava, also known as piper methysticum, kava kava, and ‘awa, is a small shrub native to the islands in the South Pacific. The root and stems are made into a non-alcoholic, psychoactive beverage that has been used socially and ceremonially for hundreds of years in Hawaii, Fiji, and Tonga.
Kava is traditionally prepared by placing ground root and stem into a porous sack, submerging in water, and squeezing the juice into a large, carved, wooden bowl. Coconut half-shell cups are dipped and filled — punch bowl style. After drinking a cup or two a feeling of heightened attention combined with relaxation begins to come on. Although it is soothing, it is unlike alcohol in that thoughts remain clear. The flavor is largely inoffensive, but some find that it takes getting used to; it really depends on your preference for earthy flavors.
Kava as a Therapy for Anxiety
Kava has been marketed since the early 90’s as an herbal remedy for stress, anxiety, and insomnia; its popularity has grown ever since. The excitement is justified, as the clinical evidence supporting its use is quite extensive. Kava contains compounds known as kavalactones, they’re responsible for its psychoactive qualities. In the brain, they operate on non-opiate pathways to offer a natural and non-narcotic action against anxiety. Some clinical research even suggests that they’re as good or even better than pharmaceutical drugs like benzodiazepines.
According to Duke University Medical Center, kava is beneficial for anxiety and doesn’t produce dependency or negatively affect heart rate, blood pressure, or sexual function. In a 75-participant, 6-week, double blind trial conducted by the University of Melbourne Department of Psychiatry, kava was found to reduce anxiety and, aside from a few reported instances of headache, was well tolerated. It’s even been described as a promising candidate for future research into improving attention disorders.
Kava May Remedy Menopausal Mood Swings
For many women (and men), menopause is a time when hormone levels go haywire and lead to mood swings. Although hormone replacement therapy and mind medicines are frequently used, many women prefer natural therapies. In this regard, menopausal women may find kava to be an excellent option. It is known to help psychological status without affecting the therapeutic action of estrogen — this is especially important when osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease are a concern.
In 2003, a clinical study reported that kava encouraged a healthier, pleasant mood among menopausal women. Coincidentally, or perhaps not, research conducted earlier this year also found that kava significantly increases libido in women.