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By Zane Yoshida

Kava and Kratom: Similarities and Differences

Kava is often compared to, and sometimes confused with, kratom. You also see kava and kratom next to each other on health food stores the world over.

But there are some important differences between the two…

Location of origin

First things first; kava and kratom originate from different geographical locations and cultural backgrounds.

Kava hails from the Western Pacific islands like Fiji, Vanuatu, and Hawaii, where it has been interwoven into the fabric of the culture since the beginning of the region’s recorded history.

Kratom, on the other hand, is found in Southeast Asia. It is native to Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia etc., where it has also been used by the native populations for many years.

Plant of origin

Kava (Piper Methysticum) and kratom (Mitragyna speciose) come from different families of plants – and different parts of the plants are used in their preparation.

Whereas the kava plant is part of the pepper family of plants (its name means ‘intoxicating pepper’), kratom comes from a tropical, evergreen plant in the coffee family.

The preparation of kava is from the roots of the plant, whereas kratom is prepared from the leaves of its plant.

Traditional and modern usage

Kava was traditionally used as a beverage in important ceremonies and to greet visitors, as well as for various health purposes. It was used in religious ceremonies where the village chief might contact the ancestors. Nowadays it is drunk in social gatherings to relax and unwind; it is usually taken either in traditional beverage form, as a pill supplement, or mixed with water from a powder.

Kratom leaves are still sometimes chewed but are more commonly taken in their dried and powdered form, mixed into water to create a cold beverage or the leaves are made into a tea.

Effects of taking it

Both kava and kratom can induce a sense of euphoria, and may boost energy levels; however, kava may also induce feelings of sleepiness, depending on the type and dosage of the kava taken.

Kratom is a psychoactive drug that can boost energy and make people more socially active; larger doses may also act as a sedative.

Health benefits

Kava and Kratom both have effects that lead to recreational use and use for health purposes. Both have long been used as medicine in the native populations, with workers using kratom as a stimulant to relieve exhaustion and pain, and kava being taken as a relaxant, sedative, pain reliever, and to aid sleep.

Nowadays, kava is well proven to relieve stress and is an alternative anti-anxiety treatment; other uses include treatment for muscle pain and it may even be used in cancer treatment in the future.

Potential dangers and health risks

Kava is gaining more widespread acceptance around the world as its health benefits are increasingly being shown to outweigh the risks –  especially as an anti-anxiety treatment. Dangers to the liver have been well-publicised but are greatly dependent upon the type and amount of kava taken; the vast majority of people who take high quality kava in moderate doses have no problems.

Kratom, on the other hand, is generally more frowned upon and, in many places, regulations are tightening. In the U.S., there is currently a legal battel over a ban. There is less scientific study on kratom than kava, but it is known that Kratom interacts with the brain differently to kava. It behaves more like an opiate drug, whereas kava works on the GABA receptors; it also stimulates the serotonin and norepinephrine receptors, whereas kava stimulates the dopamine receptors.

This means that kratom can be addictive, unlike kava. It has even been used to wean people off heroine, which may be one of the reasons why it has a more negative reputation than kava.

There you go – kava and kratom in a nutshell! As you can see, there are quite a few similarities, but a couple of important differences to bear in mind.

By Zane Yoshida

Kava and Damiana: What are the Main Differences?

Kava is sometimes mentioned in the same breath as another natural substance, damiana. They are sometimes sold next to each other in health stores, so it’s important to know the differences between kava and damiana.

Location of origin

Kava and damaiana are found in different parts of the world.

While, kava is native to Western Pacific islands such as Fiji, Vanuatu, and Hawaii, damiana is found in southwest U.S, as well as Central America, Mexico, South America, and the Caribbean.

Plant of origin

Kava is the root of the Piper Methysticum plant, which is part of the pepper family of plants. Its name means ‘intoxicating pepper’.

Damiana comes from Turnera diffusa, a small, wild, woody shrub with small, aromatic flowers.

Usage

Kava is prepared from the dried roots of the plant. It has been used for many centuries, originally as a beverage consumed in important ceremonies and social gatherings. Nowadays it is still used at most important occasions on the Pacific islands, but may be drunk socially or taken as a health supplement in pill, powder, or beverage form.

Damiana stem and leaf was used in the preparation of a traditional Mexican liqueur that was sometimes used in place of triple sec in margaritas. Nowadays it is more often seen dried as a supplement in health stores. The dried leaves are still used to make a cordial type of drink or tea. It is sometimes also smoked recreationally or even inhaled for a slight ‘high’.

Health benefits and after-effects

Kava users feel relaxed, stress-free, and it can also induce sleepiness, but it depends on the kava type and dosage taken.

Kava has been used as a medicine in the western Pacific since recorded history began, especially as a muscle relaxant, sedative, pain reliever, and to aid sleep. It was also used to treat urinary tract infections, and nowadays it has gained prominence as an anti-anxiety treatment that is as effective as prescription drugs but without the harmful side effects.

Damiana was traditionally used in Mexico as a remedy for nervous disorders and as an aphrodisiac. It is celebrated for its positive toning effect on the nervous system and sexual organs, and is also used in the treatment of headaches, bedwetting, and depression.

Potential health risks

Both kava and damiana are safe to use in normal doses and when high quality is maintained.

Dangers to the liver with kava are well-publicised but often exaggerated. Liver problems are extremely rare, and this is even more the case with the type of high-quality kava that is usually sent for export. New standards are being created to protect the industry by maintaining this quality, both in Fiji and across the region.

Damiana has occasionally been associated with convulsions and other symptoms similar to rabies or strychnine poisoning, but only when taken in large amounts (200 grams of extract). It may also affect blood sugar levels in diabetes sufferers.

As you can see, there are plenty of differences between kava and damiana – bear them in mind when you next see them together in your health store.

By Zane Yoshida

Health Benefits of Kava: More Proof On Its Way

Kava’s health benefits are one of the main reasons for its growing popularity in the West; but kava has always suffered from a lack of evidence supporting its claims. While Pacific islanders have been espousing the health benefits of kava for many centuries, the West has been much slower to embrace the claims.

However, with more overdue proof on its way about the effectiveness of kava in treating anxiety, sentiments towards our favourite root are changing.

More results about kava and anxiety

Radio New Zealand reported recently that, within the next year, we can expect more results about the effectiveness of kava in treating anxiety.

There have been past clinical trials on the benefits of kava, most notably from Universities in Australia; in 2013, the lead researcher in one of the most recent studies, Jerome Sarris, reported that a significant reduction in anxiety was observed for kava users and a more recent study confirmed the benefits of kava for people with chronic anxiety.

Another benefit of kava is that it does not have the negative side effects or threat of dependence that some anti-anxiety medications have.

Sarris is expecting further evidence of the effectiveness of kava in this respect.

Proving kava’s safety

Another major challenge for the kava industry, apart from proving its health benefits, is proving its safety.

With the reputation of kava damaged by reports of liver toxicity in the early years of the millennium, it’s been a long road back for kava to clear its name.

Sarris believes that proof for kava’s safety in the question of liver toxicity is not far away, as current ongoing research (double-blind clinical studies) looks closely at the effects of kava:

“Hopefully the results will be available in the next year or so, and we can see whether kava is truly truly effective, as we believe it is, to reduce anxiety in people with chronic anxiety disorders, as well as being safe or not for people in regards to liver function.”

When asked whether the Pacific Islanders use kava for anxiety treatment, Sarris observed that most of them have never even heard of anxiety.

What does this tell us? (Clue: they drink a lot of kava!)

By Zane Yoshida

Could Kava be a Secret Weapon in the Fight Against Cancer?

Among kava’s many medicinal properties it has long been suspected that it helps protect against cancer.

In particular, there is a low incidence of colon cancer in the South Pacific island nations of Fiji, West Samoa, and Vanuatu, despite relatively high rates of smoking.

Now this connection is a step closer to being proven. New research out of the U.S. has found that traditionally prepared kava could help treat or prevent the growth of cancer cells. That’s big news for the industry!

Kava’s many health benefits

Although kava’s stress relieving and anti-anxiety properties have been demonstrated in modern clinical tests, many of the other suspected health benefits of kava that have been passed down through the generations in the Pacific island nations remain the stuff of folklore and debate.

It’s fair to say that the medical establishment often scoffs at the reputed health benefits not only of kava but many herbal medicines that have not undergone rigid (and expensive) clinical trials. There is a big industry to protect, after all.

But the latest kava research by scientists from the New York Botanical Garden, The City University of New York, and Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York, is showing great promise with the value of kava in the battle against cancer…

The findings of the latest kava study

In the study, which was published in the Phytomedicine journal, a group of scientists set out to demonstrate that traditionally prepared kava inhibits the growth of cancer cells.

‘Traditionally prepared’ kava is where the roots are extracted using cold water and strained through hibiscus bark. The study focused on the growth inhibitory activity of such a preparation on colon and breast cancer cells.

The following results were found:

“Traditional preparations of kava inhibit the growth of breast and colon cancer cells. Among the kava preparations, the order of decreasing activity was Fiji(2), Fiji(1), Hawaii; the unfiltered preparations from Fiji were more active than the filtered. Phytochemical analysis indicated that filtering reduced most kavalactone and chalcone content.

And the following was the conclusion:

“Our results show that traditional kava, alone or combined with sea hibiscus, displays activity against human cancer cells and indicate it will be worthwhile to develop and further analyze these preparations to prevent and treat colon and other cancers.”

Great news for Fijian Kava!

This is only one study but, despite the limitations, it appears to be great news for the kava industry in general and, in particular, for unfiltered, traditionally prepared Fijian kava. This was the most effective kava in fighting cancer cells.

This is how the people of Fiji have traditionally consumed their kava, rather than in the less active filtered format that is found in many kava products sold around the world.

The great work needs to be continued so that the whole world learns of the kava’s health benefits – not just as a ‘chill out’ drink when you holiday in Fiji or Vanuatu, but in the fight against one of the world’s most devastating diseases.

Kava and Kratom: Similarities and Differences
Kava and Damiana: What are the Main Differences?
Health Benefits of Kava: More Proof On Its Way
Could Kava be a Secret Weapon in the Fight Against Cancer?