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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

Kava on Trial in 2016

A number of kava trials will be conducted in 2016, again indicating its growing profile around the world.

These studies are focused on the potential positive (and negative) effects of taking kava – and will address the types of issues we have discussed frequently on here.

Kava trials and stress relief 

Back in 2009, researcher Jerome Sarris, a PhD candidate from University of Queensland’s School of Medicine, conducted a world-first clinical trial on kava. He found it to be an effective and safe treatment option for people with chronic anxiety and varying levels of depression.

More recently, a randomized controlled trial funded by the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council is looking at the potential of kava for the treatment of generalised anxiety disorder (GAD).

GAD is a chronic condition that creates a large amount of stress and is notoriously difficult to treat. Many existing treatments have limited success and may also have undesirable side effects, so there is great interest in the ability kava to ease its symptoms.

Kava is described as a “non-addictive, non-hypnotic anxiolytic” by the study authors, who are researching the efficacy of “’aqueous noble cultivar rootstock extract’ of kava in GAD in a larger longer term study.”

Over the course of 18 weeks we will know more about the true effectiveness of kava in treating anxiety, with great hope for positive findings:

“If this study demonstrates positive findings in support of the superiority of kava over placebo in the treatment of GAD, and also is shown to be safe, then this plant-medicine can be considered a ’first-line‘ therapy for GAD. Genomic and neuroimaging data may reveal clinical response patterns and provide more evidence of the neurobiological activity of the plant extract.”

Kava trials and safety

Since the lifting of the European kava ban, there has been increased interest in proving kava’s safety beyond doubt.

It seems that everyone with a vested interest in the kava industry, as well as kava lovers worldwide, want a definitive trial that proves what they know already.

Unfortunately, trials such as these are expensive, and often require government assistance to set up.

In New Zealand it was recently announced that the Health Research Council will fund a 2-year trial that will test kava’s safety in the context of safe driving. There is some concern that the effects of taking kava may impair driving, like alcohol is known to do.

Kava has been growing more popular in New Zealand, with the study author from the University of Waikato claiming that more than 20,000 people use kava on an average Friday or Saturday night; he also claims that many kava users take well over the recommended doses and then drive, prompting concerns that they are contributing to the accident toll.

No study has ever looked at this, and there are no standard checks currently performed that detect kava use among drivers; though Pacific island governments routinely issue warnings about not overdoing the kava before driving.

The study leader said:

“The reason I wanted to do this research is that kava is critically important to us as a cultural icon. So this isn’t an anti-kava thing. This is about a practice that we have within a contemporary, mobile society.”

He pointed out that, although thousands of people died annually from smoking and alcohol, there’d not been one death anywhere in the past decade for which kava was solely to blame.

Taki Mai says…

Just like with alcohol, the key is in taking kava in moderation. Such doses of kava do not affect the motor or speech skills so that you able to speak, walk, and communicate well. The effect on driving should also be negligible with a small dose like that contained in a Taki Mai kava shot.

At Taki Mai we are confident that kava will stand up to all the tests this year – and hopefully we will start to uncover more about the array of health benefits associated with it.

By Zane Yoshida

Taki Mai Sponsors International Kava Conference

South Pacific Elixirs, makers of Taki Mai, is proud to be co-sponsoring KAVA2015, the International Kava Conference.

This international event will be held at the Chaminade University of Honolulu in Hawaii, from July 25-26, and will bring together cultural practitioners, scientists, growers and vendors with a shared interest in Kava.

Speakers will fly in from, the Pacific, Australia, Europe and the U.S. mainland, to join local Hawaiian presenters. They will address current issues in the science, culture and regulatory environment of kava as it becomes a more globalised crop.

Some of these issues include:

  • Reconciling the understanding of cultural efficacy and toxicity with Western pharmacology and regulatory understandings
  • Moving toward an understanding of the pharmacology and the mechanism of action
  • Visioning the agro-economical future of kava as it is framed by the regulatory and scientific environment
  • Closing the loop between cultural practice and scientific data

The kava conference organisers note the following:

“Contemporary recreational use has both outpaced the degree to which traditional practitioners can guide kava preparation and cultivation and has extended kava’s impact to a global recreation and nutraceutical audience.  The globalization of kava brings new perspectives to its study, placing Western drug discovery and toxicologically/efficacy studies alongside opportunities to explore the mechanistic bases for kava’s actions in a manner informed by indigenous knowledge.”

Following are a few of the leading names who will be addressing the above:

  • Chris Allen, President of Hawai‘i ‘Awa Council
  • JD Baker, Ph.D., University of Hawai‘i
  • ‘Skip’ Bittenbender, Ph.D., University of Hawai‘i
  • Kamana’opono Crabbe, Ph.D. CEO, Office of Hawaiian Affairs
  • Jerry Konanui, Association for Hawaiian Awa, Hilo, Hawaii
  • Dana Lynn Koomoa, Ph.D., University of Hawai‘i Hilo
  • Vincent LeBot, Ph.D., Department of Agriculture, Republic of Vanuatu
  • Jerome Sarris, Ph.D., University of Melbourne, Australia
  • Mattias Schmidt, Ph.D., Herbreserach, Germany
  • Gary Stoner, Founder of True Kava
  • Helen Turner, Ph.D. Chaminade University
  • Chris Xing, Ph.D., University of Minnesota

We will report back about the outcome of this conference in a future post.

Health Benefits of Kava: More Proof On Its Way
Kava on Trial in 2016