Kava - NutraPedia

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Kava: An Overview

1. Conditions Studied for Kava Use

Kava has been studied for its potential effects on various conditions, including:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Stress
  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Menopausal symptoms

2. Efficacy in Treating Conditions

Research on the efficacy of kava in treating these conditions has shown mixed results:

  • For anxiety, some studies suggest that kava may be effective in reducing symptoms.
  • The evidence for treating insomnia and stress is less conclusive, with some studies indicating potential benefits while others do not.
  • The effectiveness of kava in treating depression and menopausal symptoms remains uncertain, with more research needed.

3. Health Benefits of Kava

Kava is associated with the following health benefits:

  • Sedative and calming effects that may help with relaxation
  • Potential relief from anxiety when used in appropriate doses
  • May promote better sleep quality for some individuals

4. Downsides of Kava

Despite its potential benefits, kava also has downsides:

  • Heavy and prolonged use can lead to liver damage and other health issues.
  • May cause side effects such as dizziness, drowsiness, and gastrointestinal disturbances.
  • Can interact with alcohol and other medications, potentially enhancing their sedative effects.
  • May be subject to legal restrictions in some countries due to concerns about its safety.

5. Genetic Variations and Kava

As of now, there is limited research on the relationship between genetic variations and the effects of kava. However, some points to consider include:

  • Individuals with certain genetic profiles may metabolize kava differently, affecting its efficacy and safety.
  • Genetic predispositions to liver disease might increase the risk of liver toxicity from kava use.
  • More research is needed to fully understand the genetic factors that may influence the impact of kava on health.

Kava (Piper methysticum) Overview

Kava, known scientifically as Piper methysticum Forst., is a plant from the Piperaceae family. It has been traditionally used in the Pacific Islands for its ceremonial, cultural, and medicinal properties. The extract from its root is known for its sedative, anxiolytic, and muscle relaxation effects. Despite its historical usage, concerns have arisen regarding its safety, particularly regarding liver toxicity.

Uses and Pharmacological Properties

Kava is used primarily for treating anxiety and restlessness. It has been a subject of interest due to its psychoactive properties, such as inducing relaxation and euphoria. Research has explored its effects on neurotransmitters in the brain, suggesting that kava extract and its components, known as kavalactones, may influence the levels of dopamine and serotonin, potentially explaining its sedative and anxiolytic effects.

Liver Toxicity Concerns

There is a significant focus on the hepatotoxic potential of kava. Studies and systematic reviews have pointed out the need for careful postmarket surveillance and the establishment of an international database to track adverse effects. Research has indicated that kava's liver toxicity could be linked to its interaction with human cytochrome P450 enzymes and P-glycoprotein, which are essential in drug metabolism. Cases of severe liver damage, including some necessitating liver transplants, have been reported, prompting regulatory actions in some countries.

Interactions and Side Effects

Kava has been found to interact with other drugs, potentially causing adverse reactions due to the inhibition of P450 enzymes. This interaction underlines the importance of considering potential drug-kava interactions, especially for drugs that are P-glycoprotein substrates. Other side effects associated with kava usage include dermatological conditions like kava dermopathy, a reversible skin condition.

Cultural Significance and Modern Use

Despite the health concerns, kava remains culturally significant in the Pacific Islands, where it is prepared and consumed ceremonially. Its importance has diminished in daily life due to time and external influences but is still considered central to certain cultural practices. Kava has also gained popularity in Western countries as a natural remedy for anxiety and stress.

Research and Analysis

Extensive literature exists on kava, including pharmacological studies and analyses of its chemical constituents using techniques like high-performance liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry. These studies have contributed to understanding kava's components and their effects on the body. However, more research is needed to fully unravel the mechanisms behind its pharmacological effects and toxicity concerns.

Regulatory Status

The regulatory status of kava varies internationally, with some countries having banned or restricted its use due to safety concerns, while others have not taken such actions. The discrepancies in regulation stem from different interpretations of the available data on kava's efficacy and safety.


  1. Safety review of kava (Piper methysticum) by the Natural Standard Research Collaboration
  2. Kava: an overview
  3. Effects of the heavy usage of kava on physical health: summary of a pilot survey in an aboriginal community
  4. Kava and dopamine antagonism
  5. Extracts and kavalactones of Piper methysticum G. Forst (kava-kava) inhibit P-glycoprotein in vitro
  6. Electrospray high performance liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry in phytochemical analysis of kava (Piper methysticum) extract
  7. Immunohistochemical analysis of expressions of hepatic cytochrome P450 in F344 rats following oral treatment with kava extract
  8. Effect of kava extract and individual kavapyrones on neurotransmitter levels in the nucleus accumbens of rats
  9. Constituents in kava extracts potentially involved in hepatotoxicity: a review
  10. Kava lactones and the kava-kava controversy
  11. Extracts of kava (Piper methysticum) induce acute anxiolytic-like behavioral changes in mice
  12. Uptake into mouse brain of four compounds present in the psychoactive beverage kava
  13. Enhanced cognitive performance and cheerful mood by standardized extracts of Piper methysticum (Kava-kava)
  14. Identification of some human urinary metabolites of the intoxicating beverage kava
  15. Metabolism of some kava pyrones in the rat
  16. Synthesis, in vitro, reactivity, and identification of 6-phenyl-3-hexen-2-one in human urine after kava-kava (Piper methysticum) ingestion
  17. Post-insult exposure to (+/-) kavain potentiates N-methyl-D-aspartate toxicity in the developing hippocampus
  18. Kava pyrones and resin: studies on GABAA, GABAB and benzodiazepine binding sites in rodent brain
  19. Kavapyrone enriched extract from Piper methysticum as modulator of the GABA binding site in different regions of rat brain
  20. The effects of extracts from St. John's Wort and Kava Kava on brain neurotransmitter levels in the mouse
  21. Interaction of various Piper methysticum cultivars with CNS receptors in vitro
  22. Extract of kava (Piper methysticum) and its methysticin constituents protect brain tissue against ischemic damage in rodents
  23. Effect of kava and valerian on human physiological and psychological responses to mental stress assessed under laboratory conditions
  24. Effects of oxazepam and an extract of kava roots (Piper methysticum) on event-related potentials in a word recognition task
  25. Kava-kava extract in anxiety disorders: an outpatient observational study
  26. Efficacy of kava-kava in the treatment of non-psychotic anxiety, following pretreatment with benzodiazepines
  27. Kava-Kava extract LI 150 is as effective as Opipramol and Buspirone in Generalised Anxiety Disorder--an 8-week randomized, double-blind multi-centre clinical trial in 129 out-patients
  28. Kava extract for treating anxiety
  29. St. John's wort and Kava in treating major depressive disorder with comorbid anxiety: a randomised double-blind placebo-controlled pilot trial
  30. Kava in generalized anxiety disorder: three placebo-controlled trials
  31. An internet-based randomized, placebo-controlled trial of kava and valerian for anxiety and insomnia
  32. Saccade and cognitive function in chronic kava users
  33. Saccade and cognitive impairment associated with kava intoxication
  34. Neurological manifestations of kava intoxication
  35. Final report on the safety assessment of Piper methysticum leaf/root/stem extract and Piper methysticum root extract
  36. [Effect of Kava-Special Extract WS 1490 combined with ethyl alcohol on safety-relevant performance parameters]
  37. Acute effects of kava, alone or in combination with alcohol, on subjective measures of impairment and intoxication and on cognitive performance
  38. Positive interaction of ethanol and kava resin in mice
  39. Pharmacokinetics and disposition of the kavalactone kawain: interaction with kava extract and kavalactones in vivo and in vitro
  40. Toxicity of kava pyrones, drug safety and precautions--a case study
  41. The Kava Anxiety Depression Spectrum Study (KADSS): a randomized, placebo-controlled crossover trial using an aqueous extract of Piper methysticum
  42. Kava kava: examining new reports of toxicity
  43. Kava hepatotoxicity
  44. Acute hepatitis induced by kava kava
  45. Fatal fulminant hepatic failure induced by a natural therapy containing kava
  46. Safety of ethanolic kava extract: Results of a study of chronic toxicity in rats
  47. Aqueous kava extracts do not affect liver function tests in rats
  48. Health effects of kava use in an eastern Arnhem Land Aboriginal community
  49. Dermatomyositis-like illness following kava-kava ingestion
  50. Kava dermopathy
  51. Kava-induced dermopathy: a niacin deficiency?
  52. Adverse effects of herbal drugs in dermatology
  53. Inhibition of human cytochrome P450 activities by kava extract and kavalactones
  54. Effects of kava (Kava-kava, 'Awa, Yaqona, Piper methysticum) on c-DNA-expressed cytochrome P450 enzymes and human cryopreserved hepatocytes
  55. Inhibition of cytochrome P450 3A4 by extracts and kavalactones of Piper methysticum (Kava-Kava)
  56. Supplementation with goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis), but not kava kava (Piper methysticum), inhibits human CYP3A activity in vivo
  57. Efficacy of kava extract for treating anxiety: systematic review and meta-analysis
  58. Toxicologic studies of dihydro-5,6-dehydrokawain and 5,6-dehydrokawain

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