The value of kava in treating anxiety, lowering stress, and helping people feel more relaxed is well established.
But think what this might do not only for your health – but for your performance in other areas of life.
A root known as Kava that grows in the Pacific Islands could yield some promising health benefits. Scientists in New York say it’s becoming a useful weapon in the fight against cancer.
Kava is used in traditional ceremonies on the islands and elsewhere. Pacific islanders grind the root and mix it with water. The mixture is then squeezed and strained into a coconut shell, ready to serve.
One of the questions we get asked most frequently at Kava Time is:
“How long does it take for the kava to work?”
And another is:
“How much kava do I have to take to experience its relaxing effects?”
The answer to both of these questions is: “It depends…”
But it’s not just dependent upon the nature of the kava; or even on its kavalactone content, its preparation, or your personal body chemistry.
It also depends on how long you’ve been taking kava. This is due to a phenomenon known as ‘reverse tolerance’.
What is reverse tolerance?
In the case of many substances with active ingredients – like alcohol, for instance – people tend to build up a tolerance; so the more they drink, the more they become immune to its effects over time.
With kava, the reverse is true. When you first start taking kava, it may take more time to feel the effects than for someone who has been taking it for years. It’s like you need to become ‘sensitised’ to kava before it starts working – a type of ‘break-in’ period.
It’s not known exactly why this is, but it is theorised that some people need a certain level of kavalactone build-up in the body to feel the full effects of kava.
If you start with a small amount, as most people understandably do, then the relaxing effects of kava may not register. In fact you may feel very little the first few times you take it.
If you are patient, and gradually take more over time, you will get more benefit out of your kava. You are likely to experience the effects sooner after taking it and, while you will be more familiar with the taste and the effects, this means you will need less to trigger the pleasurable relaxing effects.
Ultimately, you will only know how much kava you need to experience the desired effects after taking it for a while.
That said, some general guidelines would probably be useful?
Moderately potent kava will usually produce an effect within 20–30 minutes and should last for 2-3 hours.
That’s about it for generalisations though – you really need to find your own ‘level’ with kava. Reverse tolerance may take a couple of weeks to a month or more to overcome.
Persevere with it – and space out your kava servings until you are familiar with its effects. That way you can take a serving of kava and get the predictable, relaxing benefits at the time of day when it suits you best.
What are the relative effects of kava and alcohol on the human body?
In terms of usage they are both social drinks, but alcohol is a super-heavyweight around the world and kava just a flyweight. The short and long-term effects on the body are very different too.
EFFECTS OF ALCOHOLIC DRINKS
Alcohol is used socially because it can temporarily improve mood and produce sensations of euphoria; it can act as a social “lubricant” whereby people lose their inhibitions or shyness.
This can also create situations that are potentially aggressive, because people often become more bold when they have had a few drinks. We have all seen that on a Friday night out in the city!
Physical effects include a reduction in attention span and reaction times (which is why it’s illegal to drive with a high blood-alcohol reading) and, in more extreme cases, a loss of memory or comprehension.
There are some reports suggesting that alcohol such as red wine, when used in moderation can be beneficial for health.
But it can also cause problems with loss of balance and, in large quantities, can cause vomiting or complete loss of consciousness.
Frequent and long-term usage can lead to problems with liver damage, including hepatitis and cirrhosis. In fact alcohol-related disease accounts for high numbers of deaths globally.
The after-effects of alcohol consumption can be quite severe with the traditional “hangovers” caused by dehydration; headache, fever, vomiting and other stomach upsets are quite common after-effects of drinking excess alcohol.
Some potentially adverse social effects include the risk of addiction and associated relationship and family problems.
EFFECTS OF KAVA (TRADITIONALLY-PREPARED)
We will focus on the traditionally-prepared kava that Fijians and other Pacific islanders have been drinking for centuries rather than other modern versions on the shelves out there.
When drank in the traditional way, kava produces a mild calming and relaxing effect that helps bonding in social situations and family get-togethers. It can also provide mental clarity and patience, according to some drinkers.
The kavalactones present in kava root are a known short-term reliever of stress and this active ingredient gives the drink its well-known place as an “ice breaker”; kava ceremonies are a traditional greeting for guests and kava presentations from visitors are used as a traditional gift for hosts.
Physically, you will feel numbness of the lips and tongue after drinking. In larger amounts you may experience pupil dilation and bloodshot eyes, and possibly a loss of appetite; but it is unlikely you will ever drink enough kava to produce this effect.
The effects of kava will usually start after 20 minutes and last up to 2 hours but, unlike with alcohol, even prolonged usage produces no tendency to become aggressive and nor does it result in a hangover. There is also no addictive quality to kava.
While anecdotal reports state that kava has other health benefits, clinical studies about the root are in short supply; though there is certainly proof that it promotes short-term stress relief.
You can judge for yourself whether drinking alcohol or drinking kava is more beneficial to your body.
The Kavasseur has done a review of our Taveuni's Lawena. Watch it here!
One of the reasons for kava’s growing popularity in the west is that is provides a natural alternative to two drugs that have become ‘mainstays’ of modern culture: alcohol and diazepam.
People who have either given up alcohol, don’t enjoy it, suffer from bad hangovers, or who would just rather not drink it can enjoy a similar social buzz from kava.
And those who have been taking Diazepam, Valium or any of the other spin-off benzodiazepine family of drugs that produce the trademark calming effect can find similar relief from kava; but without the same potential for addiction that the little pills carry.
THE KAVA ALTERNATIVE TO ALCOHOL
As suggested by the growing popularity of kava bars in the US, large numbers of people enjoy the social side of meeting up with friends in a bar, but they don’t necessarily want to drink alcohol.
The notorious side effects of alcohol (we all know what that pounding headache and nausea feels like), not to mention the inability to drive home after consuming it, makes alcohol particularly hard for many people to justify.
In a kava bar, you get the relaxing and calming effect of kava, together with its slightly euphoric effects, while also enjoying a social experience; and with no hangover afterwards.
The owner of the Krave kava bar in Carrboro, North Carolina puts it this way:
“It gives you a sense of well-being, you feel generally good, you become less anxious, more social, relaxed.”
And some of the drinkers at her bar say:
“I like bars, I like talking to people. This provides the same environment.”
“It’s a fun alternative to going out.”
“It makes you feel really relaxed and less stressed out.”
THE KAVA ALTERNATIVE TO DIAZEPAM
In 2006, Valium addiction sent over 19,000 people in the US to ER; in 2010, over sixty million Valium prescriptions were written. It is one of the most used drugs in the world, both recreationally and medically (in particular for those who suffer from seizures, muscle spasm, insomnia, alcohol withdrawal, or anxiety).
The active compounds in kava (kavalactones) bind onto the brain receptors in the amygdala, which regulates feelings of fear and anxiety in a similar way to diazepam or valium; but, unlike with these prescription drugs, with kava there is no threat of addiction or other unpleasant side effects when taken in normal doses. These include driving impairment, memory loss, heart attack, hallucinations, and coma.
Consequently, there is great interest in the power of kava as a safe and natural treatment for depression, stress, restlessness, and anxiety.
Why not try kava if you are suffering side effects from your prescription anxiety medicine, or want to kick alcohol? What’s the alternative?