A person grinding kava roots

What Are The Benefits Of Kava?

Kava kava, or simply kava, has a rich history in alternative medicine and cultural practices, renowned for its potential to reduce stress and anxiety while promoting restful sleep. Recent clinical studies have begun to explore its therapeutic benefits further.

Individuals traditionally prepare kava kava by mixing it with water or brewing it into a tea, although it is also available in tablet form.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), kava kava has a mild anxiety-reducing effect, but it carries a risk of severe liver damage. Despite this, it remains legal to sell kava kava in the United States, with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommending cautious use.

Researchers continue to advocate for kava kava's potential benefits while actively seeking safer administration methods. This article aims to delve into the uses, benefits, and safety considerations surrounding kava kava.


A woman reading a book about kava

What exactly is kava kava?

Kava kava, derived from the Piper methysticum plant found across Pacific islands, is a traditional beverage made by mixing the root paste with water or coconut milk. It's widely used in South Pacific cultures for ceremonial purposes to induce altered states of consciousness. Additionally, the dried roots can be processed into powders or tablets for consumption.

Kava kava's effects on the body are attributed to its active compounds called kavalactones, which interact with the brain's receptors to promote relaxation and reduce anxiety.

Consuming kava induces a relaxing and euphoric effect, making it an anxiolytic substance similar to alcohol. This quality has led to its use both recreationally and medicinally, effectively reducing stress and anxiety levels in users. Its popularity stems from its natural origins and its ability to promote a sense of calmness without the adverse effects often associated with other anxiolytic medications.

A woman sleeping

What are the uses and health benefits?

Kava kava is commonly used to alleviate anxiety and improve sleep quality. Research suggests that it may have calming effects on the mind and body, making it a popular choice for those seeking natural remedies for stress.

Anti-anxiety effects

Kava's primary role is in alleviating stress and anxiety, making it a popular choice for those seeking natural remedies. Recent studies indicate its potential to effectively manage symptoms associated with anxiety disorders.

In a notable randomized controlled trial conducted in 2013, researchers administered either kava extract or a placebo to 75 individuals diagnosed with anxiety disorders, monitoring them over a 6-week period. The results highlighted a notable reduction in anxiety symptoms among those who received kava extract compared to the placebo group. Importantly, participants reported minimal side effects, primarily headaches, with no significant concerns regarding liver health or other adverse reactions.

Kava's ability to offer relief from anxiety symptoms underscores its growing recognition as a viable alternative to conventional treatments.

The authors propose that kava could serve as a beneficial short-term solution for managing anxiety disorders.

A 2011 review study suggests that kava kava has potential in alleviating stress and anxiety. However, the authors caution that further research is necessary to fully assess its safety and effectiveness before endorsing it as a therapeutic option.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), research findings on the effectiveness of kava kava yield inconsistent results. This variability complicates efforts to definitively determine its efficacy in treating anxiety.

Sleep-promoting effects

Kava kava is believed to have sleep-inducing properties owing to its calming effects on anxiety, making it a popular choice among individuals seeking alternatives for sleep disorders.

However, a systematic review conducted in 2015 concluded that there is insufficient evidence supporting kava's effectiveness in treating sleep disorders. The review also found no conclusive evidence supporting the efficacy of other herbal remedies such as valerian, chamomile, and Wuling in improving sleep quality.


A woman drinking kava tea

Is Kava Kava Safe to Use?

The safety of kava kava has been a subject of concern due to research suggesting its potential for causing liver damage. It has been identified as hepatoxic, which means it can harm liver cells.

Due to these safety concerns, several countries, including Canada, Great Britain, and Germany, have imposed restrictions or outright bans on the sale of kava kava.

In the United States, kava kava remains legal, primarily due to its perceived therapeutic benefits. However, in 2002, the FDA issued a direct warning to consumers about the potential risks associated with kava-based products, highlighting instances of severe liver damage, including hepatitis and liver failure, reported in some cases.

There have been over 100 documented cases of serious liver damage associated with kava kava. Symptoms reported in these cases include fatigue, nausea, jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes), abnormal enzyme levels, rash, and fever.

If individuals experience any of these symptoms while using kava kava, it is crucial to discontinue its use immediately and seek medical attention.

Despite ongoing efforts by researchers to develop safer usage guidelines for kava, the mechanism by which it damages the liver remains unclear. This lack of understanding makes it challenging to definitively determine the safety of kava.

Until more conclusive research is available regarding the safety of kava kava, caution should be exercised when considering its use.

In high doses and with long-term use, kava has been associated with several potential adverse effects, as reported by trusted sources:

  • Dry, scaly skin
  • Yellowing of the skin (jaundice)
  • Heart problems
  • Eye problems

These effects underscore the importance of using kava kava cautiously and under medical supervision, especially when considering prolonged or high-dose usage.


A woman reading while holding a cup of kava tea

Proper Usage of Kava Kava

To use kava kava, traditionally, people prepare it by making a paste from the root and mixing it with water or brewing it into a tea. Alternatively, pre-made kava tea is available at select stores.

Kava kava can also be found in liquid form, which can be mixed with other beverages like juice. Additionally, there are tablets and capsules containing powdered kava kava.

Research indicates that the recommended daily dose of kava kava should ideally be kept below 250 milligrams to minimize potential risks associated with its use.


A pregnant woman drinking kava tea

Can pregnant women safely use kava kava?

Due to limited research on the effects of kava kava on pregnant women, its safety during pregnancy has not been conclusively established. As a precautionary measure, it may be advisable to avoid using kava kava during pregnancy until more definitive research is available.


Different tablets and capsules

What are the common drug interactions with kava kava?

Kava kava interacts notably with alcohol, potentially increasing the risk of liver damage when consumed together.

Additionally, kava kava can interact with various medications, including benzodiazepines and antidepressants. Therefore, it is essential to consult with a healthcare provider before using kava kava, especially if other medications are being taken concurrently. This precaution helps ensure safety and minimize potential drug interactions.


Kava kava offers promising benefits as a natural remedy for stress and anxiety, supported by centuries of traditional use and recent clinical studies. Its active compounds, known as kavalactones, interact with brain receptors to induce a calming effect, akin to conventional anxiolytic medications but without the typical side effects. While research underscores its efficacy in managing anxiety symptoms, caution is warranted due to potential risks, particularly concerning liver health.

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