Kava, commonly referred to as kava-kava, is an herb that’s widely known for its ability to relieve stress and reduce anxiety. However, it’s important to be cautious when using kava, as it can interfere with some drugs and may pose health risks to the liver when used in excess.1
When it comes to natural nootropics used for mood and stress relief, kava is one of the most popular choices. Highlighted below is some general information on kava, an overview of its possible mood-boosting benefits, proper dosage, and risks associated with use.
What Is Kava?
Kava (Piper methysticum) is a plant belonging to the pepper family that originates from the South Pacific. Traditionally kava root is used in Fiji and Australia in drinks for ceremonial and relaxation purposes.2
Around the world, kava root is sold in many forms, including tinctures, pastes, powders, capsules, extracts, and teas. These products are largely used for their ability to reduce stress and promote a positive mood.
The benefits of kava are largely credited to a class of compounds known as kavalactones which easily cross over the blood-brain barrier in humans.3
Nootropic Benefits of Kava
Sometimes, it might feel like no matter which way you turn, you’re bombarded with stressors. These fall into two main categories: mental and physical stressors. As humans evolved, physical pressure was the primary form of stress and included dealing with extreme temperatures, running away from predators, or getting injured in the wild.
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However, today it’s mental stress that most people are met with each day. This can include project deadlines, exams, rush-hour traffic, money difficulties, fights with spouses, or pressure from a boss. When the body meets one stressor after another, it’s not uncommon to develop negative symptoms associated with chronic stress or anxiety.
Fortunately, there is a category of plants known as adaptogens that are powerful stress-fighters and kava is one of the most widely used adaptogenic herbs today.
There have been extensive human studies where kava has been successfully used to help relieve anxiety and stress. In one of these studies, 101 patients with anxiety were split into either a kava treatment group or a placebo group for 25 weeks. After eight weeks and on, a significant difference was observed between the two groups, with those in the kava group seeing significant reductions in anxiety levels when compared to the placebo group.4
Even healthy adults aged 18 to 30 who were given kava for one week were found to experience reduced subjective feelings of pressure under laboratory conditions after kava supplementation, a change not seen in the placebo group.5
These results and many others support the use of kava for reducing stress and anxiety.
Enhances Subjective Well-Being
In one study, researchers provided healthy participants with either a placebo or a single dose of kava one hour before a test. In comparison to those who took the placebo, kava was found to increase feelings of “cheerfulness.” 6
Boosts Sleep Quality
Some people who struggle with anxiety also have difficulty sleeping. Studies with use of kava in human patients suffering from anxiety have found promising results in its ability to reduce anxiety symptoms and improve sleep quality.7
Strengthens Concentration and Improves Attention Span
With most individuals working or studying 40 plus hours each week, the ability to focus is both critical and difficult. This is where nootropics can be especially helpful.
In a study on healthy volunteers, researchers found that a single dose of kava taken one hour before a test resulted in increased scores that indicated enhanced visual attention when compared with those who took a placebo.8
Kava Dosage and Safety
The ideal form of kava to take is an extract called WS1490. For stress and anxiety, 300mg/day of WS1490 divided into three doses appears to be a good dose. Alternatively, you can use any product that contains 250 mg collective kavalactones, which is the active ingredient in kava.9 Try to only use supplements made from the rhizome or root, as these may be safer than the alternatives.
When it comes to safety, the biggest concerns with kava come from drug interactions and a possible negative impact on liver health.
Given the wide range of benefit this adaptogenic nootropic has been shown to provide, kava might be well-worth incorporating into your daily routine in order to boost mental health and performance.
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