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Kava kava (Piper methysticum)
Kava kava is a member of the pepper family. Kava has been used in native medicine for its relaxing qualities, for urinary tract Infections, Asthma, as a topical anaesthetic, and other applications. The primary interest in the West has been its well-documented anxiolytic effects (1). Kava is a herb that has enjoyed respect in the islands of the South Pacific and has been used as a ritual beverage for ceremonial purposes, including the welcoming of important guests (1). The rhizome is the part used: it is chewed or ground with a pestle to produce a cloudy, milky mash. Saliva is added on chewing, causing enzymatic degradation, the productions of which give the full intoxicating effect. Having taken their kava drink, people feel calm and relaxed, with mental activity enhanced. Kava does not appear to have narcotic properties (2).
Part of the plant used: ROOTSTOCK (RHIZOME).
Kava root is primarily used as a natural sedative and sleep enhancement. Herbalists have traditionally used it as a remedy for Nervousness and Insomnia. Kava is an effective relaxant able to induce a feeling of relaxation, peace and contentment, along with a sharpening of the senses. As a sleep aid it promotes deep and restful sleep. It is also a muscle relaxant that may help relieve cramping due to spasms.
Kava has been used for cystitis, urethritis, rheumatism, joint pains, and Infection of the genitourinary tract, Headache and nervous exhaustion.
Kava may be helpful in the management of menopausal problems (1).
High intakes of kava over a prolonged period is associated with "kava dermopathy" a scaly eruption of the Skin. The skin becomes dry, yellowy and covered with scales, especially the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, forearms, the back and shins (4).
It was thought that kava dermopathy may be due to interference with Niacin. However, in one study no therapeutic effect with niacinamide could be demonstrated (5).
Kava extract should not be used in Parkinson?s Disease, as it may interfere with dopamine production or binding to receptor sites and worsen the disease. Kava exerts an additive effect when combined with bensodiazepines (6).
Kava may adversely affect motor reflexes and judgement for driving and/or operating heavy machinery, especially when taken above the recommended dosage (1).
Kava should not be taken for more than three months without medical advice (1).
Kava is not recommended for use by persons under the age of 18 (1).
Kava is not recommended for use during Pregnancy or lactation (1).
Standardised preparations of kava are now gaining great popularity in Europe and the United States as a mild sedative and anxiolytics (3).
Many of the first comprehensive studies on the activities of kavalactones were conducted by a team of scientists from the Freiburg University Institute of Pharmacology in Germany, led by Hans J. Meyer, during the 1950s and 1960s. This research has determined that kavalactones exhibit sedative, analgesic, anticonvulsant, and muscle relaxant effects (1). More recent studies, have confirmed and/or elaborated on these effects (3).
1. Herbal Medicine, 2000, Expert Committee of the German Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices.