My first experience with Kava was a very pleasant surprise. Some years ago, when I was in the thick of my naturopathy studies, the stresses of student life and some personal issues were causing me significant anxiety. It got quite severe, to the point where every night when I was lying in bed attempting to sleep, a wave of panic would overwhelm me and keep me awake for a long time. I had tried using various herbs and other relaxation strategies known to help ease anxiety and promote sleep, but nothing seemed to work. Eventually I decided to go to the student clinic to get help and I walked out with a mystery tonic of herbs for sleep. Keep it on your bedside table and take before bed were the simple instructions. So that night I took the herbs and just waited. Imagine my delight when that familiar feeling of panic that had plagued me for so many nights just never came. Weeks later I returned to the clinic for my follow up consultation and asked to know what was in the tonic – it was simply a combination of passionflower and kava liquid extracts.
The medicinal plant Kava (Piper methysticum) is native to the Pacific Islands where it is traditionally used for cultural, social and medicinal purposes to promote positive mood, socialisation, sleep, relaxation and to relieve fatigue. In western culture, kava is used therapeutically for its anxiolytic, hypnotic, mild sedative and skeletal muscle relaxant properties. Kava also has analgesic and anti-inflammatory activity. Taking kava as a liquid extract will numb the oral cavity, making it a useful herb to gargle for painful conditions of the mouth.
Research suggests that kava works by modulating GABA, an inhibitory neurotransmitter of the central nervous system (CNS). GABA is involved in many neurological functions including motor function and regulation of sleep and anxiety. Recent human clinical studies and systematic reviews have looked at the role of kava on anxiety and sleep disturbance. These studies and reviews demonstrated that kava was more beneficial than placebo and had equivalent efficacy to pharmaceutical anxiety medications for alleviating anxiety. It also caused few and very mild side effects. Kava was also found to be more effective for improving sleep quality compared with no treatment.
Kava has not been extensively researched as long-term treatment but is safe to take up to 8 weeks. To ensure an effective therapeutic effect, the correct potency and dosage must be administered.
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