Article at a Glance:
There is nothing secret or mysterious about kava. In Polynesia, where it has been a cultural cornerstone for more 3000 years, kava is as essential as water, shelter and family. It is both a simple pleasure and an understood necessity.
Kava has proven benefits for a variety of health related issues and can be instrumental in maintaining a holistic, preemptive approach to personalized healthcare. How you incorporate kava into your life and for what reasons is vital. By maximizing the benefits and healing properties of kava you’ll find that it is not simply an organic supplement that you take or use, it is much more Polynesian than that—a simple pleasure and an understood necessity.
The Proven Benefits of Kava
Kava is a highly effective treatment for a wide variety of pain-points including difficulty relaxing, lack of clarity, insomnia, stress and anxiety. Chemical compounds called kavalactones target specific receptors to restore balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. Rather than dosing the whole, kava allows you to target your specific needs and customize treatment as dictated by external and internal triggers.
Relaxation Dihydrokavain is a naturally occurring chemical compound in kava that promotes relaxation. Even in low doses, it triggers a parasympathetic response that quickly restores a sense of calm. Clarity Kava increases clarity via chemical compounds called Desmethoxyyangonin and Yangonin that boost energy & awareness without boosting blood-pressure and heart rate. Stress & Anxiety Kava is non-addictive, has zero side-effects and its ability to relieve stress & anxiety has the clear support of the scientific community. A recent study conducted by the National Center for Biotechnology Information showed via double-blind trials that kava extract significantly reduced anxiety levels in 95% of participants. Addiction Relief Kava does not directly combat the addictive properties of alcohol, nicotine and other commonly abused substances. What it does do is relieve stress, increase clarity and provide a controllable state of relaxation all of which lead to better decision making and a heightened ability to fight withdrawal and beat addiction. Insomnia On a clinical level insomnia is often linked to anxiety. But for most of us, it’s simply an issue of restlessness. The balancing properties of kava restore a sense of calm which in turn promotes healthy sleep. Depression Kava combats depression in the same way that it combats addiction, by restoring balance to the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems allowing you to step back from the toxicity and rashness often associated with depression and anxiety. That said, if you have serious issues with depression please seek professional help.
Kava Strains & Kavalactones
Noble versus Ignoble Kava
Noble Kava or Piper Methysticum is the result of 3000 years of agricultural science. Ancient Polynesians recognized the curative properties of its wild cousin Piper Wichmanii (Ignoble Kava) and sought to rid the root of its harsher after-effects through careful cultivation. It worked. Modern chemical analysis shows an almost complete absence of Flavokavain B and low levels of Dihydromethysticin the compounds responsible for nausea, drowsiness and the hangover like qualities sometimes associated with ignoble kava. Today, ignoble kava is used almost exclusively for traditional ceremonies. They even have a special name for it, Tudei, which in Baslama translates to “two-day,” a nod to its lingering effects. It is illegal to export ignoble kava throughout much of Polynesia and no reputable vendor will touch the stuff, and yet, less scrupulous producers have been known to mix ignoble and noble kava in order to bulk up shipments and skirt the export laws. It is rare, it really is. That said, be cautious of any product that lists a high concentration of Dihydromethysticin or the strains Isa, Koniak, or Palisi as they may indicate the presence of tudei kava. And remember, the burden of proof is on the vendor so don’t hesitate to press them on the specifics.
Get to Know Your Kavalactones
Kavalactones are the primary compounds responsible for the relaxing effects of kava products. They are lipophilic (meaning that they can readily pass through fatty membranes like those found in neurotransmitters) and they have been shown to aid in the production of antioxidants. Each of the primary kavalactones has a unique effect on the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems:
Desmethoxyyangonin - Helps to influence the increase of dopamine and serotonin levels, thought to help boost attention levels
Dihydrokavain - Has sedative properties, often making the user feel relaxed and sleepy
Yangonin - Thought to be responsible for the stimulating effects kava can have, giving the user energy and mental stamina
Kavain - Will often promote a sense of euphoria, helping to elevate mood or improve overall self-image
Dihydromethysticin - Responsible for kava’s analgesic effect, reducing pain and tension
Methysticin - A relatively neutral compound in kava that does not affect mood in any particular way
The mixture of kavalactones differs from root to root. In order to deliver consistent, targeted results kava producers carefully cultivate their strains allowing kava suppliers to offer consumers products grouped into three distinct categories:
Heady: Promotes clarity and focus with an underlying sense of calm.
Heavy: Promotes deep relaxation, mood-improvement and restful sleep.
Balanced: Promotes a productive mix of focus and calm.
You may also find kavalactone blends listed according to the number system above. Think of it as an ingredient list with the most prevalent kavalactone types listed first. If you’re interested in a heavy, Dihydrokavain led experience choose a kavalactone mix beginning with the number 2 (i.e. 243165). If you’re interested in a headier Yangonin led experience choose a kavalactone blend beginning the number 3 (i.e. 314256).
Types of Kava Products
Kava is holistic in nature—preemptive and personal. Look for a supplement that will provide the right balance between lifestyle demands and wellness needs. You know when you need to focus and when you need to relax. You know what your stress and anxiety triggers are. You are the person most capable of healing you.
Kava Root Powder Perfect for traditionalists; ground kava powder needs to be strained with a muslin bag or cheesecloth using warm (but not scalding) water, however, if you got the time, this is the closest you can get to a kava ceremony in Fiji. Take it slow. Kava root powder packs a punch. Kalm with Kava, ½ lb of Kava Powder, $30 USD Instant or Micronized Kava Micronized kava is as easy as add water and stir. Kavalactone percentages and blends are clearly indicated (measured per scoop) allowing you to effectively monitor usage. It has an earthy, peppery taste that some find unpleasant but that’s easily solved with a little creativity in the kitchen. Bula Kava, 50 grams of Micronized Kava, $27 USD Kava Tinctures Kava Tinctures are drops or sprays applied beneath the tongue. They are quickly absorbed into the bloodstream providing near instant relief. The dosage is based on your in-the-moment need and easy portability is added plus. Some users experience a brief stinging sensation upon contact but it’s no worse than mouthwash held a moment too long. 1Hour Break, 15 servings - Sublingual Kava Based Spray, $29 USD Kava Paste Kava pastes are known for their high kavalactone concentrations. A 55% kava paste can put you at the suggested daily limit with a single dose. Kava pastes are not recommended for use throughout the day but if you are looking to unwind after work or sleep more soundly they may be a good solution. Root of Happiness, 25 servings, $45 USD Kava Capsules Kava capsules are a good alternative for those who experience persistent low-level stress or anxiety throughout the day, however, they lack holistic flexibility and are not recommended for anyone interested in kava as a general relaxation aid or for targeted anxiety relief. Gaia Herbs, 60 count, $19.49 USD Kava Candy Kava candies don’t pack much of a punch but they are family friendly and can provide a gentle compliment to your primary kava supplement. Ozia, Herbal Candies - 4 count, $14.99 USD Kava Tea Kava tea seems like a logical place to start but water above 140 degrees Fahrenheit destroys most of kava’s kavalactone content, so a hot tea will only leave you disappointed. A cold-brew tea, on the other hand, just might work. Yogi Tea, Stress Relief Tea - 16 tea bags, $7.99 USD
Anticipate and Monitor your Kava Consumption
The daily recommended limit for kava consumption is 300mg. Be sure to anticipate your needs. Are you looking to microdose throughout the day? Do you regularly take a strong dose before bed? Again, you know you.
Natural Alternatives to Kava
A detailed understanding of the balance between our sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems is the stuff of modern medicine but a sense of imbalance and the desire to regain our calm and focus is as old as us. Our ancestors looked to the natural world. Many of the remedies they found are still in use today and new plant based remedies are being developed.
Here is a brief look at the alternatives most often compared to kava:
Ashwagandha Ashwagandha (Withanja somnifera) is a plant that comes from India as well as Middle Eastern and North African countries. It has been used in the Ayurvedic tradition for thousands of years and it is widely known for its adaptogenic properties which means that it can help relieve bodily stress by lowering cortisol levels. Here’s detailed overview of its history and uses. Kratom Kratom (Mitragyna speciosa) is a tropical evergreen tree in the coffee family, indigenous to Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and other parts of SE Asia. Traditionally ingested by chewing on leaves, Kratom is now available in powder and capsule form. It is purported to relieve musculoskeletal pain, improve sexual desire and aid in withdrawal from opioid addiction (though conversely it is potentially addictive.) Kratom’s relation to kava is tangential at best but the comparison does come up. Here is a side-by-side breakdown if you’d like to learn more.
CBD Oil Cannabidiol or CBD is a chemical compound extracted from marijuana plants that is then mixed with a carrier oil like coconut or hemp seed. If you're concerned about THC (the compound that produces marijuana’s euphoric effects), CBD oil usually has little to no THC and can be used to relieve anxiety, high blood pressure and localized pain.
Where to Buy Kava
Kava is an investment in your health and wellness. When you consider where and how to purchase kava, try to think beyond cost and simplicity. The majority of companies specializing in kava and harvesting the best available strains don’t have distribution deals with the major U.S. retailers, and while typically available on Amazon, they tend to reserve their best pricing and subscription discounts for sales made directly through their websites. It’s worth drilling down in order to find your ideal mix of supplement and kavalactone blend.
If you reside outside of the U.S., be sure to get strict shipping and return reassurances from your vendor before making a purchase. In general, kava restrictions are loosening worldwide but policies can be fluid. There are no restrictions on shipping kava to Canada and it is available in specialty stores (though exclusively U.S. brands). Shipping kava to the U.K. is rarely a problem but Australia can be quite difficult. It varies country to country, so do your homework.
Is your ideal supplement + kavalactone blend available?
Ease of purchase; short-term and long-term?
Quality of the kava being sourced?
Is the vendor educated about kava?
Are the bulk of the reviews positive?
Brick & Mortar Retail Stores Whole Foods, Sprouts, Molly Stones, Wild Oats, Walmart
Many locations throughout the US
Eliminates shipping times & cost
Limited brands & products available; usually only capsules or extracts by large vitamin manufacturers
No specialty kava brands
Those looking to easily add kava capsules or extracts into their daily regimen
A wide selection of kava products and vendors
Too many options make it harder to choose; difficult to sort through
Many vendors withhold their best pricing for sales made directly through their website
Need fast shipping? Amazon Prime offers 2-day shipping on many kava products
Online Specialty Stores
Allows you to choose who and where your kava is coming from
Smaller businesses tend to have better customer service
Time & costs associated with shipping
Some kava vendors offer first time purchase promos or subscription discounts
For those who care about the specifics of what they're buying
Straight from the Source Vanuatu, Fiji, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Samoas, Hawaii
Fresh kava root and prepared beverages are commonly available at local markets and cafes
Limited to areas in Oceania where kava is widely grown
It's difficult to gauge the potency of prepared kava—start slow!
Those wanting to travel or experience kava in its traditional form
How To Choose The Best Kava for You
When you go to the grocery store you don’t grab apples off the top of the stack or stuff avocados in a bag. You squeeze and shake and get finger prints on half the produce in the store. You take your time because you want the good stuff. Why would you treat kava any differently?
Use this Buyers Guide as roadmap. Take it step-by-step.
Determine why you are interested in Kava. Is it for relaxation? Stress and anxiety? Substance withdrawal? Insomnia?
Educate yourself about kava blends. What best fits your needs? Heady, heavy or balanced?
Weigh your supplement options. Which supplement best fits your lifestyle? Do you want a consistent dose or the power to control dosage as needed?
Shop wisely. Get to know the brands. Are they using high-quality kava? Are they knowledgeable and helpful?
If you simply wanted to try kava you would have grabbed the first supplement you could find without so much as a squeeze or a shake. You are here, learning, because you are legitimately interested in the curative powers of kava root and the potential of natural medicine. What comes next is both a choice and challenge. Embrace the holistic lifestyle. Take small achievable steps towards improving your health and wellness. Diet, exercise, mental calm and clarity; they are all connected, they are all about restoring balance. Let kava guide you toward a better way of living. You’ll discover potential you never knew you had. You’ll look back and realize that the Polynesians were right, kava is a simple pleasure and an understood necessity.