If you have ever taken a supplement to reduce stress or anxiety, then you have likely seen something called kava or kava root listed as an ingredient.
Kava has become a popular ingredient in tea and supplements in recent years. While you may have just begun to hear about it, its actually been used for centuries by certain groups.
There has been a lot of praise for kava’s ability to reduce anxiety and promote relaxation. It seems like it’s being added to every anxiety and sleep supplement on the market.
When I first began taking supplements that included kava, I found myself wondering, what is kava root? I saw it listed over and over again on supplement labels and had to do some research to learn about it.
If you find yourself wondering exactly what it is as I did, I’m going to help you unravel this mystery supplement and give you a little information on it so that you know what to expect and look out for.
What is kava?
Kava goes by a lot of names however, the main ones are kava, kava kava, kava root and its plant name, Piper methysticum.
The kava plant is native to the Western Pacific region. The exact area and time in which Kava appeared seems to be a bit of a mystery however, its reported to have been used for centuries during religious ceremonies and as a medicine.
The kava plant is a relative of the black pepper plant and only grows in tropical locations. It’s a green shrub-like plant that takes several years to mature.
Kava plants grow quite tall with the average plant typically being between 10 and 20 feet in height.
The important part of the Kava plant is the root. The root of the kava plant is what’s taken from the plant and added to supplements. Not the leaves. The leaves serve no real purpose other than mulch for future kava plants.
How is kava produced?
Now that you have some basic knowledge of the kava plant, on to the important part. How it actually gets from the ground to your supplements! It’s a simple process however, kava comes in many forms.
The most common form that you are going to find is dried kava root that’s been ground up and added to a supplement as a powder.
The first thing done after the plant has matured is to separate the root from the plant.
After the root is separated, the skin is peeled off and the root gets washed thoroughly. After its cleaned, the root is then dried and ground up into a fine powder.
The majority of supplements that I see that use kava root come in capsule or powder form. It’s also commonly sold as a tea or tincture.
Kava is best known for its ability to treat stress and anxiety. It’s also used to treat restlessness, migraines, headaches insomnia, ADHA and depression.
In researching kava root, I found that it does have some major potential benefits aside from treating stress and anxiety related disorders.
Kava may have potential when it comes to cancer, reducing tumors found in the prostate, boosting the immune system and fighting breast cancer.
Like many herbs, the jury is still out on the definitive benefits however, it has definitely shown some potential!
There is some potential downside unfortunately. Like most good things in life, kava does not come without some controversy.
In the early 2000s, numerous countries banned Kava after several reports came out claiming that it had the ability to cause serious liver damage.
While it is still banned in some countries, other countries have lifted their bans after it was discovered that the potential to cause liver damage may have been wrong.
This is honestly a confusing issue that still does not seem to have been solved. Numerous studies and reviews of Kava have been conducted since the initial scare however, it does not seem like a consensus has been reached regarding its safety.
Studies have come out both for and against the safety of kava when it comes to the liver. It appears that the focus of issue is now focused on the methods used to extract and process kava root.
Methods using harsh chemicals such as alcohol and acetone may be the culprit behind the issue as opposed to the kava root itself.
I have used several supplements and teas that had Kava in it and have not experienced any negative side effects. That being said, I have not experienced any mind-blowing effects regarding its ability to reduce stress and anxiety.
As kava is sold in the United States, I was prepared to find mostly positive studies and reports regarding its usage. The potential side effects it could have on the liver make me fairly uneasy about using it in the future.
I was not fully aware of the controversy behind it as most people I’ve heard from that use it have nothing but good things to say about it.
While I cannot say for certain, I have a strong suspicion that the main issue regarding its potential side effects come down to the processing methods as stated above.
Some companies will produce any supplement that they think they can make them some money with. With the popularity of kava in recent years, I suspect than some less than ethical companies jumped on the band wagon.
This goes back to my entire point for starting Supplement Reviews Lab. Not all supplements are created equal. Sadly, many are a waste of money and even worse, potentially harmful to your health.
It is so important to do your research on the companies you purchase supplements from. Many companies do not take the time to ensure that they are producing their supplements the correct way. They are only trying to earn a profit.
If you do decide to try kava, make sure you purchase it from a reputable company that has experience with it. Try to find it grown organically however, in my experience it’s rare to find. Please be smart about it.
I may become interested in it again in the future and review a few brands if I have good results but as of right now it’s not at the top of my list.
Until next time,
P.S. Have you ever used kava root before? I would be extremely interested to hear your experience with it, both good and bad, below!