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Kava: Health Benefits, Side Effects And How To Use

Kava (Piper methysticum) is a herbal shrub with heart-shaped leaves and woody stems and it belongs to the Piperaceae family. It grows in the Western and South Pacific Islands. Kava is also known as kava kava, kawa kawa, ava, awa, malak, yaqano, rauschpfeffer, and sakao.

Kava has been used as a recreational drink, and currently, it is used in herbal medications to treat insomnia and anxiety [1] . Kava is traditionally used to make a drink by making a paste of the plant's root and mixing it with water or coconut milk.

It possesses an active ingredient called kavalactones, which are known to provide an array of health benefits. Read on to find out.

Health Benefits Of Kava

1. Treats insomnia

Kava has a calming effect on the mind which can help reduce insomnia and stress, according to a study [2] . According to another study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, insomnia associated with non-psychotic anxiety disorders can be effectively and safely treated with kava extract [3] .

Stress-induced insomnia is common in people suffering from anxiety and therefore, consumption of kava can help in reducing anxiety and help you sleep better.

2. Prevents cancer

The active compounds Flavokawain A (FLA) present in kava extract are the leading chalcones that contain anticancer properties. It possesses cytotoxicity against cancer cell lines including breast, bladder, and colon [4] .

3. Reduces anxiety

According to a review study published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, kava was considered effective in treating generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) [5]. Another study found that kava extract can be used as an alternative to certain drugs and other depressants [6] .

4. Lowers depression

The kavalactones in kava work as an antidepressant by increasing dopamine, serotonin, GABA and decreasing glutamate, thus reducing the symptoms of depression [7] .

5. Improves brain function

The intake of a single dose of kava extract (300 mg) can help improve attention, recall memory and visual processing. Kava is a potent anxiolytic agent that can speed up cognitive functioning and increase cheerfulness [8] .

6. Protects against Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease

The kavalactones in kava can help prevent brain damage caused by oxidative stress that leads to neurological disorders like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease. Kavalactones activate the Nrf2 antioxidant pathway and elevate the antioxidant enzymes which combat oxidative stress [9] .

Side Effects Of Kava

Although kava is generally safe to use, several cases of liver toxicity were reported in association with kava consumption [10] . Later, the US Food and Drug Administration warned about the liver damage risk linked to kava-related products.

The liver enzymes that aid in breaking down kava also break down other drugs. These enzymes are tied up by kava and it prohibits them from breaking down other drugs, causing them to build up and harm the liver.

Other side effects of kava include indigestion, headache, drowsiness, rash, diarrhoea, and dizziness [11] .

How To Use Kava

Kava can be consumed in the form of capsules, tea, and tincture form. Experts recommend that the daily dosage of kavalactones should not exceed 250 mg [12] .

Kava Tea Recipe


  • 2-4 tbsp kava root
  • Muslin cloth
  • Strainer bag
  • A cup of hot water


  • Add the kava root into the strainer bag and place it in the bowl.
  • Pour a cup of hot water into the strainer bag.
  • Allow it to steep for 5-10 minutes.
  • Close the strainer bag tight to prevent the air from entering.
  • Knead the strainer bag to squeeze out the liquid into the bowl.
  • Collect all the liquid and pour it into a glass and serve chilled.

To Conclude...

Kava is an effective herbal remedy to treat various health ailments, however, researchers are concerned about the reports that kava causes liver toxicity. So, we suggest that consult a doctor before taking kava as it may interact with certain medications.

View Article References
  1. [1] Savage, K. M., Stough, C. K., Byrne, G. J., Scholey, A., Bousman, C., Murphy, J., … Sarris, J. (2015). Kava for the treatment of generalised anxiety disorder (K-GAD): study protocol for a randomised controlled trial.Trials,16, 493.
  2. [2] Wheatley, D. (2001). Stress‐induced insomnia treated with kava and valerian: singly and in combination.Human Psychopharmacology: Clinical and Experimental,16(4), 353-356.
  3. [3] Lehrl, S. (2004). Clinical efficacy of kava extract WS® 1490 in sleep disturbances associated with anxiety disorders: Results of a multicenter, randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind clinical trial.Journal of affective disorders,78(2), 101-110.
  4. [4] Ali, N. M., Akhtar, M. N., Ky, H., Lim, K. L., Abu, N., Zareen, S., … Kamarul, T. (2016). Flavokawain derivative FLS induced G2/M arrest and apoptosis on breast cancer MCF-7 cell line.Drug design, development and therapy,10, 1897–1907.
  5. [5] Sarris, J., LaPorte, E., & Schweitzer, I. (2011). Kava: a comprehensive review of efficacy, safety, and psychopharmacology.Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry,45(1), 27-35.
  6. [6] Witte, S., Loew, D., & Gaus, W. (2005). Meta‐analysis of the efficacy of the acetonic kava‐kava extract WS® 1490 in patients with non‐psychotic anxiety disorders.Phytotherapy Research: An International Journal Devoted to Pharmacological and Toxicological Evaluation of Natural Product Derivatives,19(3), 183-188.
  7. [7] Grunze, H., Langosch, J., Schirrmacher, K., Bingmann, D., von Wegerer, J., & Walden, J. (2001). Kava pyrones exert effects on neuronal transmission and transmembraneous cation currents similar to established mood stabilizers-a review.Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry,25(8), 1555-1570.
  8. [8] Thompson, R., Ruch, W., & Hasenöhrl, R. U. (2004). Enhanced cognitive performance and cheerful mood by standardized extracts of Piper methysticum (Kava‐kava).Human Psychopharmacology: Clinical and Experimental,19(4), 243-250.
  9. [9] Tanaka, A., Hamada, N., Fujita, Y., Itoh, T., Nozawa, Y., Iinuma, M., & Ito, M. (2010). A novel kavalactone derivative protects against H2O2-induced PC12 cell death via Nrf2/ARE activation.Bioorganic & medicinal chemistry,18(9), 3133-3139.
  10. [10] Ulbricht, C., Basch, E., Boon, H., Ernst, E., Hammerness, P., Sollars, D., ... & Bent, S. (2005). Safety review of kava (Piper methysticum) by the Natural Standard Research Collaboration.Expert opinion on drug safety,4(4), 779-794.
  11. [11] Connor, K. M., Davidson, J. R., & Churchill, L. E. (2001). Adverse-effect profile of kava.CNS spectrums,6(10), 848-853.
  12. [12] Teschke, R., Sarris, J., & Lebot, V. (2013). Contaminant hepatotoxins as culprits for kava hepatotoxicity–fact or fiction?.Phytotherapy Research,27(3), 472-474.
Story first published: Wednesday, November 13, 2019, 18:30 [IST]
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