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Categories: Medicinal plants

Kava kava: what is it, benefits and how to drink it

Published by
lbobvalla
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Kava kava is a medicinal plant that is widely used in traditional medicine to treat cases of anxiety, agitation, or tension. Its scientific name is  Piper methysticum and it can be found in health food stores, online stores, and even in certain supermarkets. 

This plant has some very important active substances known as kavalactones, which, according to some studies, apparently act in a very similar way to that of some anxiolytic drugs, regulating the action of the neurotransmitter GABA in the brain. 

In this way, kava can be an excellent natural treatment option for cases of anxiety and agitation, before opting for the use of drugs.

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However, for it to be used correctly and in safe doses, its use must be guided by a naturopath, phytotherapist, nutritionist, or other health professional specializing in the use of medicinal plants. 

How Kava kava works

The exact mechanism of action of this plant is not yet known, however, several studies indicate that the kavalactones in Kava kava have a function very similar to that of benzodiazepines, which are the main group of drugs used in the treatment of anxiety.

This means that the plant manages to bind to the brain receptors for the neurotransmitter GABA, improving their action.

As GABA is the main responsible for inhibiting the central nervous system, allowing the person to relax, feel less fear and be less anxious, this plant has a powerful calming effect. 

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Likewise, some studies indicate that Kava can be used in cases of seizures, since one of its kavalactones, kavain, has an antagonistic action on sodium channels, which generates the stabilization of the electrical activity of the neuron. 

How to drink

The used parts of Kava kava are its rhizomes, which is where the highest concentration of its active substances is found. There are several ways to use this plant:

Supplement (capsules): this is the most effective form, as it uses a more concentrated extract of the active substances of the plant.

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To use it in the form of a supplement, the ideal is to consult a phytotherapist; however, the generic dose indicated is normally 60 to 120 mg per day in the case of extracts with 50 to 70% concentration of kavalactones;

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Tea: Kava rhizomes can also be used to make tea, however, in this way of using it is not possible to fully know what the concentration of active substances is.

However, it is recommended to place 1 tablespoon of Kava kava rhizomes in 500 mL of boiling water for 10 minutes.

Then, remove from the heat, strain, let it cool and drink 2 to 3 times a day or at times when you feel the most anxiety, for example. 

Ideally, a phytotherapist or a health professional specialized in medicinal plants should always be consulted, since their use, dose, and treatment time may vary according to each person and their medical history. 

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Possible side effects

The main side effect of the use of Kava kava is the appearance of serious lesions in the liver.

However, the only studies done on this effect were carried out in people who also had other habits that could have affected liver function.

In this way, although the true effect of Kava on the liver is not yet known, it is recommended not to exceed the dose of 120 mg per day. 

Contraindications

Kava kava is contraindicated in pregnant and lactating women since there are no studies on its safety during these phases of life.

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In addition, it should be avoided by those who suffer from liver diseases and those who are under treatment with antihypertensive drugs, at least without the indication of a health professional.  

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