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By Zane Yoshida

Stress-Induced Insomnia and Treatment With Kava

Insomnia may be caused by a variety of physical and psychological factors but stress-induced insomnia is a particularly common complaint in many industrialised nations.

There is good evidence that kava on its own or in combination with other natural substances may be of use in the treatment of this type of insomnia.

Stress, anxiety, and insomnia

The Sleep Foundation reports that anxiety-induced insomnia affects ‘most adults’ at some point in their lives. But when this becomes a regular pattern, it is more serious and can affect health, performance at work, and ability to carry out everyday tasks.

The types of psychological factors that can interfere with the regular sleep pattern are:

  • Depression
  • Tension
  • Thinking about past events
  • Worrying about future events
  • Feeling overwhelmed by responsibilities

These types of factors can cause either trouble falling asleep or waking up during the night and not being able to get back to sleep. Both can deprive you of valuable rest and, if they occur regularly, will likely impact your quality of life.

Kava: a proven insomnia treatment

Though not technically a sedative, kava is well-known to decrease anxiety, which would point to it being of use in treating stress-induced insomnia.

This is not news to people in the Pacific islands, who have been using kava for its soothing, soporific effects for many centuries. In the west, it has been widely reported in respected medical journals that kava may be as effective as benzodiazepines like Valium for treating anxiety.

Then there is a study from 2001 that specifically looked at the use of kava and valerian in the treatment of stress-induced insomnia. In this study, 24 patients with this type of insomnia were treated with kava, then valerian, and finally a compound of both. The following results were very encouraging:

“Total stress severity was significantly relieved by both compounds individually (p < 0.01), with no significant differences between them; and there was also improvement with the combination, significant in the case of insomnia (p < 0.05).”

While it was a small study and further research is needed, kava has no risk of dependence or any major side effects, unlike many of the sedatives and sleeping pills on the market. So, if you’re suffering from stress-induced insomnia, it’s safe to try as a natural, alternative treatment.

By Zane Yoshida

Can Kava Improve Your Sex Life?

Has the bedroom been a bit of a barren desert recently? Things not going ‘bump’ in the night? The answer to sprucing up your sex life may be quite close to home: up the kava!

Aphrodisiacs have been sought ever since Man first walked the earth and met Woman. Many of these have been used and abused, both natural and man-made. But kava is rarely mentioned.

In fact, the whole topic of sexual dysfunction is often treated as taboo; this in a world where we are constantly bombarded with images of sex on TV and in printed media, in advertisements, from online services to movies. It’s enough to make us fall a little inadequate when we are constantly presented with beautiful, sexy people from all angles, yet we can’t even get it on with our partner!

It’s time we had the discussion to see whether kava can, indeed, help.

How can kava help in the bedroom?

There could be many reasons why one’s sex life is not exactly bouncing along –physical, mental, and relational issues abound. That’s what makes us human and interesting. But some believe that kava is the aphrodisiac you need to add some much-needed ‘zip’ to your love life.

Kava WON’T necessarily make things happen instantly, like some well-known pharmaceutical remedies (especially those small blue ones, I’m told). But it WILL calm you down and chill you out, and that may just be the tonic you and your partner need; it’s important to be relaxed, de-stressed and anxiety-free in the bedroom.

Stress and tension are major contributors to loss of libido in both men and women. Eric J. Leech from Planet Green puts it like this:

“The mind is a very powerful tool for improving health, but it can also be a factor in our own self-induced sexual dysfunctions if we let it.”

Kava produces this relaxing effect without the drowsiness or mental ‘fogginess‘ that can come with some sedatives. This could mean that indulging in a little kava before indulging in a little love-making may be beneficial.

Some people use alcohol to relax, remove tension, and to shed inhibitions before getting romantic, and kava could be a great replacement for this – without the negative side effects of alcohol (I think we all know what that can mean, gents – shall we just call it ‘performance anxiety’?)

It’s also worth noting that in South Pacific folk medicine, kava was an important treatment for genito-urinary infections. Because of its antiseptic qualities, it was used to treat a variety of conditions from gall bladder problems to vaginitis and sexually transmitted diseases. So, kava has traditionally been used to help restore sex lives after health problems.

A natural solution to an age-old problem?

Sexual problems are far more common than people admit; whether it’s erectile dysfunction or females failing to reach orgasm, few relationships can honestly claim to be immune to problems in the bedroom.

With kava being 100% natural, there is no risk of unpleasant side effects like some people get with the erectile dysfunction pills. This includes shortness of breath, irregular heartbeat, and sudden hearing and vision loss, for instance.

There are also none of the stigmas attached to buying or taking kava, which some people experience with the pills.

The bottom line? The effects of kava may work as an aphrodisiac for some; but there is really only one way of knowing…

By Zane Yoshida

Opportunities For Kava In A ‘Modern, Globalised World’

What are the opportunites for kava  in a world barely constrained by geography and distance? Where you can choose freshly-caught Indian Ocean tuna from supermarket shelves in Europe; or enjoy French cheese and wine on a remote island in the South Pacific?

The ‘globalised world’ certainly makes many things possible for kava – and that is perhaps what is behind the recent activities to start regulating and protecting the kava industry in the South Pacific region.

A few years ago kava was barely known outside of the region. Now people are experiencing the benefits of kava in the kava bars and health food stores of the U.S. and Europe.

But this is only the start. If things are managed well, there should be a bright new dawn for kava farmers and exporters everywhere. This point was made in a recent Aljazeera report from New Zealand, which talks of kava’s assured place in a ‘modern, globalised world’.

Constraints and challenges

Unfortunately, there are plenty of constraints and challenges for the kava industry to overcome first. Some of these include:

  • Kava is a slow growing crop – taking up to six years to fully mature and be ready for harvest.
  • It is susceptible to disease and natural disasters – which can devastate crops and reduce supplies, such as experienced after Cyclone Winston earlier this year.
  • Kava strength and effects can vary – different kava varieties produce different kavalactone concentrations and different ‘chemotypes’, which produce different effects.
  • Quality can vary – without strict regulations, manufacturers do not have clear standards to abide by.
  • Western government regulations are often heavily weighted against developing countries, making it difficult for kava to break-through into international markets.

The opportunities for kava

However, with these challenges comes great opportunity.

Kava’s relaxing properties are quite well understood but the true limits of its medicinal properties are really just being explored. Whilst Fijians and other Pacific islanders have been extolling the health benefits of kava on the islands for centuries, proving these to the rest of the world is another matter.

But huge potential exists in this area. People are becoming less trusting of pharmaceuticals and interest in alternative medicine is growing.

The Aljazeera video above mentions how exponents of Chinese medicine are becoming increasingly interested in the properties of kava. If this catches on, then it’s a question of how supply can meet soaring demand from China and elsewhere.

We have only just scratched the surface when it comes to investigating the properties of kava as an alternative treatment for insomnia, stress, depression, and other ailments.

In-depth clinical studies are expensive, and beyond the budgets of most interested parties. But there is potential if groups join forces for funding. And, given the potential gains, it could be a worthwhile investment, as kava continues to repair its reputation after the now-overturned European bans.

Meanwhile, we at South Pacific Elixirs will continue to do our bit to establish elite, disease-free varieties of kava that produce predictable and consistent effects; and to support the push for kava standards to be developed for the region, as this can only be good for the future of kava.

By Zane Yoshida

Kava Culture: 5 Things You Didn’t Know About Kava

As kava culture becomes more popular around the world, people become more acquainted with its history and its usage.

But there are still some elements of our enigmatic root that surprise people. Here are a few things you may not know…

  1. It was chewed by virgins

Kava has been an important part of Fijian culture for many centuries. This was the case well before Europeans arrived in the South Pacific. As part of the traditional preparation of kava, the fresh root was required to be peeled and chewed by young virgin girls before it was mixed with water and fermented in the tanoa (kava bowl). It was then served by women – who were not allowed to drink it.

  1. Kava is related to pepper

The full name of the plant bearing the roots that make kava is piper methysticum, which is a member of the pepper family that also includes black pepper. Only the root is used in making kava – no leaves or stem. While it won’t make you sneeze, it will produce a pleasant numbing and relaxing effect!

  1. It’s been used in the Vatican

Kava has made it round most of the world, but there are some places you would not expect it to make an appearance. Believe it or not, there has been a kava session in the Vatican. A group of travelers from the Pacific arranged this towards the end of 2015; but perhaps we should not be too surprised at this – considering Pope John Paul II sampled a shell of kava in Fiji in 1986.

  1. It’s been used as a medicine for centuries

Pacific islanders have used kava as medicine through the ages. You probably know about its use in anxiety relief, stress relief, and insomnia; but did you know that it has been used to combat a wide range of health problems such as arthritis pain and muscle tension, rheumatism, genito-urinary tract infections, asthma, worms and parasites, headaches, and various skin diseases?

  1. Your ‘kava drink’ may not contain much kava

As the relaxation beverage industry takes off, there are many drinks now available that are touted as ‘kava drinks’. The truth is that they may not contain much kava – check ingredients for melatonin, valerian, and tryptophan, which may be added with kava.

The wild world of kava contains many surprises – how many of the above did you know?

By Zane Yoshida

A Herbalist’s View of Kava

It’s always interesting to read opinions and attitudes towards kava. Speak to most South Pacific islanders and they will almost certainly have a positive view of it; but we are also starting to see plenty of positive write ups on kava from people in the west who have studied its properties, and perhaps enjoy an occasional tipple (or chew) themselves.

Michigan-based herbalist Jim McDonald includes a long write up on kava on his herbcraft website, with some interesting observations that cover most of the reasons why we in the South Pacific have been taking it for centuries.

Read the full post for his complete view, but some of his observations are included below.

“Nature’s most exquisite gift”

“Kava falls into a class uniquely its own. I know of no other herb like it (nothing I’ve ever come across could even remotely qualify as a “substitute” for kava), and consider it one of the nature’s most exquisite gifts.”

“Best enjoyed intentionally”

“I’ve always felt kava is best enjoyed intentionally, and not as just a part of a daily supplement routine.”

“Primarily suited to treating acute stress”

“Kava is, in my opinion, primarily suited to treating acute stress that settles into the musculature of the body. It is most effective when your mind is overwhelmed and your body is tightly strung from a crazy hectic day and that’s what’s making you unable to relax.”

“Lying on a sunny beach with nothing pressing to do”

“The best way I can describe the effects of kava kava is to compare it to lying on a sunny beach with nothing pressing to do or think about and being so laid back it feels as if you’ve sunk halfway into the sand.  Kava puts you there.”

“Mental acuity remains”

“What is so distinct about kava kava is that it’s so promptly and significantly relaxant; mental stress subsides as a result of relaxation, not sedation.  In fact, while the body lets go, mental acuity remains…you can definitely take kava and still be cognitively functional.”

“After-work drink”

“It is a perfect replacement for (and a much better option to) the archetypal “after work drink”.

“Induce a peaceful spirit”

“Studying island traditions surrounding the plant reinforces the notion of kava’s ability to induce a peaceful spirit.”

“Hate cannot exist in the presence of kava

“It is said that “hate cannot exist in the presence of kava”. While this may be an ideological overstatement, kava is clearly a plant of friendship and camaraderie.”

“A little goes a long way”

“Be responsible, start at low doses and get a feel for how you react to it… some people seem to be especially sensitive to kava and so a little goes a long way.”

McDonald also comments on the “adverse event reports” about kava from a few years ago, which led to the European ban. He provides a great breakdown of the reasons for the complications with the kava in question:

“It now appears that the cause was threefold:

“First (and this is perhaps the main cause), kava leaves and stems were used instead of or in addition to the root, and these parts of the plant contain a liver toxic alkaloid, pipermethystine, not present in the root….Second, there may be a problem with the highly concentrated Kava extracts being marketed nowadays…Third, European extracts use toxic solvents like hexane and acetone.

He adds, pointedly:

“You can’t make claims about the safe historical usage of a plant and apply it to weird, modern, solvent laden extractions that have never been used before.”

McDonald also includes a run-down of some of the ways he and other herbalists use kava in herbal medicine and ways in which it is prepared.

“Personally, chewing small pieces of the root has come to be my favorite way to use it, though admittedly some don’t share my appreciation for its flavor.  There are also some rather strong fibers in the root that require spitting out.”

We like to save you from having to spit anything out! You can enjoy pure, high quality kava in Taki Mai shot, powder, or capsule form.

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Stress-Induced Insomnia and Treatment With Kava
Can Kava Improve Your Sex Life?
Opportunities For Kava In A ‘Modern, Globalised World’
Kava Culture: 5 Things You Didn’t Know About Kava
A Herbalist’s View of Kava