Most of you reading this will be well aware of the relaxing effect that kava has on the body and mind. But what do you know about the kavalactones responsible for producing this effect?
How can a pre-prepared kava shot, capsule, or powder mixed with water calm the mind, soothe the muscles, and produce the feeling of well-being that kava lovers enjoy?
Yep … it’s all in the kavalactones.
The all-important ‘active’ ingredients
When a substance produces an effect on the body, we talk about the ‘active’ ingredients that cause it. In the case of kava, a range of phytochemicals known as kavalactones are responsible.
With many plants, we predominantly use the leaves for their health-giving or nutritional effects; with kava, the magic all happens underground.
The piper methysticum plant is a member of the pepper family. The kavalactones are concentrated in its rootstock and roots, rather than the leaves or stems. This is why ‘real’ kava is made only from the roots; using any other parts of the plant will damage the quality and may even lead to toxicity.
The many faces of kavalactones…
Kava is not quite so simple though. There is not just one type of kavalactone contained in it; there are eighteen. Of these, six are generally measured, as they account for 90 percent of the kavalactones commonly found.
Don’t worry – there’s no test to see if you remember the names!
Just be aware that each one produces a slightly different effect on the body. This is why not all kava produces the same intensity of relaxation, stress-relief, or sense of mild euphoria; and some may even produce less welcome side effects.
The kavalactones all work together, of course; but it is the specific make-up of their content, the preparation, and your own personal physical make-up that will ultimately determine the effects of the kava you take.
The search for predictability
Different kava cultivars are usually distinguished by measuring the relative concentration of the six substances detailed above; and this difference in concentration is called its ‘chemotype’.
For instance, some varieties of Vanuatan kava may contain high amounts of dihydrokavain, which can cause nausea. However, the response to kavalactones is individual and some people have a higher tolerance than others.
A six-figure numbering system is commonly used to differentiate between varieties based upon each cultivar’s kavalactone-type content. So those starting with 34 will have a higher content of yangonin and kavain.
Remember – predictability is important with kava; if you don’t know where the kava comes from it’s impossible to know its precise effect on you before you take it.
That’s why Taki Mai kava products use only kava grown on the island of Ovalau in Fiji. By insisting on this we know that we can enjoy the pure, sedative, calming effect of kava at any time of the day, without any side effects.