Taki MaiTaki Mai

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

The World Is Waking Up To Why It Needs Kava

Ever so slowly…in a relaxed, kava-like way…the world seems to be waking up to why it needs a good supply of kava.

A recent press release by the American Botanical Council announced the ‘adoption’ of kava by Applied Food Sciences National Center on Sleep Disorders Research(AFS), an Austin, Texas-based company.

The Adopt-an-Herb program is an ABC initiative to provide a valuable resource for consumers, students, and members of the herb and dietary supplement community. It links to an online database with comprehensive scientific and clinical research data on over 250 herbs.

South Pacific Elixirs (makers of Taki Mai) have partnered with Applied Food Sciences to start educating people around the world about the need for high-quality kava; and we hope that through this partnership, we can help the world wake up a little more to why it needs kava.

As Mark Blumenthal, ABC’s founder and executive director, says:

“Kava is an herb with a long ethnobotanical history in Polynesia, and it produces clinically-documented anti-anxiety benefits.”

The great work of Applied Food Sciences

AFS specializes in the research and development of functional botanical ingredients for use in foods, beverages, and nutritional supplements.

They recently released KAVOA™ – a kava extract that helps with relaxation, stress relief, and sleep support. As you will know, plenty of evidence exists linking kava to these three beneficial effects, amongst others.

The company’s partnership with the American Botanical Council will help to clarify concerns about the safety of kava and communicate more about its benefits. Chris Fields, vice president of scientific affairs at AFS, said:

“Kava’s long history of use in the South Pacific islands demonstrates that it is a safe, effective, and useful tool with many important health benefits when used in the right form and when the correctly identified cultivars are used,”

“Applied Food Sciences is fully invested in working together with farmers, agronomists, and the research community to provide the entire supply chain with the appropriate tools to bring sustainable, safe, and high-quality kava ingredients to the market.”

The company has been heavily involved in educating farmers about cultivating noble kava cultivars and best practices for harvesting and processing kava.

As you will be aware if you have been reading this blog, this is very much in line with our own direction: advocating the raising of standards of kava quality and producing elite varieties that are disease-free and that produce consistent, predictable, known effects from their kavalactone content.

Addressing safety concerns

There is growing awareness around the world that kava is safe but only because of the efforts of those helping to address concerns.

An article from AFS, which appeared on PS Newswire details how the company has identified five main reasons for safety concerns with kava production. These are:

  • Use of Non-Noble or incorrect chemotype cultivars(s).
  • Unstandardized harvesting practices (yielding byproduct contamination to the kava before processing).
  • Use of the incorrect parts of the plant, namely the peelings and stems (instead of the root and rhizome).
  • Inadequate methods of manufacturing for producing standardized extracts (low quality, unstandardized extracts).
  • Lack of scientifically validated methods for measurement of actives (kavalactones and chalcones).

You will be aware that many initiatives are now in place to address these concerns – from the Kava Bill in Fiji to a regional kava standard that is seeking approval from the WHO and FAO.

Growing demand around the world

The above-mentioned article also highlights how there has never been more of a need for kava in the U.S.

The Director of Marketing for AFS explains:

“Individuals spend their day searching for ways to increase energy trying to get more done during the day …combine that with the ongoing stimulation from technology at night and we are left hardwired, unable to unwind.”

With the National Center on Sleep Disorders Research stating that around 70 million Americans report having sleep problems, and this problem being mirrored in most urbanised populations around the world, news about the relaxation and sleep benefits of kava are making a timely resurgence in the media.

This will undoubtedly help to increase demand around the world – which is great news for everyone concerned.

By Zane Yoshida

How to Select Safe, Healthy, and Relaxing Kava

Kava comes in many forms. It can be confusing for newcomers to find the relaxing kava supplement they are looking for, and to feel confident about taking it.

It’s not just that you can buy kava in liquid, powder, or pill form; the quality of the kava used can vary, depending on the origins of the kava itself, how it has been processed, and where you buy it.

So how do you select the safest, healthiest, most relaxing kava to soothe and relax your body and mind after a hard day?

Below are some pointers…

  • Do your background checks

Firstly – and most importantly – check who you are buying from. If it comes from reputable health stores, established supermarkets, or mainstream convenience stores in the US, Australia, New Zealand, or other western country, then it will usually have gone through rigorous checks before it reaches the shelves.

Buying kava online can be more risky unless you are purchasing from a reputable and established supplier – so check out who they are before sending your money!

  • Research what to expect

There is a wealth of information about kava online – read a few articles on here and other places that describe what you can expect from kava, so that you know what you are getting yourself into  – what it tastes like and the effects you will experience. Then there will be no surprises.

  • Choose noble kava

When researching products, try to establish whether or not they use ‘noble’ kava. This is an elite kava variety that produces safe, healthy, and predictable effects. If it is not ‘noble’ kava, the quality may be inferior. The so-called ‘two-day’ or ‘tudei’ kava may produce unpredictable side effects, such as lethargy and nausea.

Kava bought from reputable dealers and retailers will generally be ‘noble’ kava. But, depending on where you are in the world and where you plan to buy your kava, watch out for less scrupulous dealers. They may sell cheaper, ‘tudei’ varieties that are resistant to pests and stronger than noble varieties. Some of these are responsible for damaging the reputation of kava globally.

Needless to say, Taki Mai kava shots, powder, and capsules, are all made from elite, noble kava – using root grown in our nurseries on the island of Ovalau in Fiji, known for its high quality kava.

  • Know why you are taking kava

It’s important to understand why you want to take kava supplements; this will help you find the most suitable form of supplement.

Many people just want to relax with a good-tasting shot of kava. So the kava shots mixed with juices or other natural flavours may be a good option; others will take it for medical reasons or to aid sleep – and the powder or capsule form may be more appropriate. Perhaps you need a type that you can take ‘on the go’- so, rather than the fresh or dried root (which you need to strain first) or the instant powder form that you need to mix with water, the pill form may be more convenient.

The form of kava you take largely depends on your reasons for trying it and the demands of your lifestyle.

  • You may need to pay a little more

We are not all lucky enough to have family members who grow their own kava. Most of us have to buy it and it’s worth bearing in mind that you generally get what you pay for. Paying a bit more for noble kava that has been processed correctly will ensure that it is safe, healthy, and provides all the relaxation benefits that you are expecting. You may find that, not only does the cheap stuff taste inferior, you need more of it to produce the desired effect – and, as mentioned, it’s often less predictable in its effects.

Hopefully the above helps you select the right kava for your needs. Take time to research what’s available, and how the various brands differ in taste, quality, and effects.

By Zane Yoshida

Is Kava a Safe Alternative to Alcohol?

During a recent debate about kava safety in Australia, Zane Yoshida, founder of Taki Mai, said:

“We definitely deserve to have kava as part of our traditional cultural practices, even in Australia…If anything, it has been a positive influence on the Fijian community, even the youth in Australia, as an alternative to alcohol.”

If the subject of kava safety crops up in the media, a debate about whether kava is a safe alternative to alcohol is usually not far away. But is this claim true?

Earlier this year in Australia, there were claims that organised gangs of Tongans were smuggling kava into Northern Territory Aboriginal communities, where alcohol is banned. The federal government was even considering a ban on the kava in Australia, but fortunately this never happened.

The authorities have hopefully woken up to the fact that banning a natural product that does a lot of good in the community wasn’t the way to address the small amount of problems it causes amongst people who use it irresponsibly.  An immediate comparison with the problems that alcohol causes would show the absurdity of banning it.

Nobody would consider banning over-the-counter pain relievers because a few people misuse them and take an overdose, would they?

Imagine if a study was done to compare the relative health effects of kava against alcohol: the pros and the cons. Which do you think would come out on top?

Similarities between kava and alcohol

There are some similarities between the two substances that often lead to the question of whether kava can serve as a good replacement for alcohol.

Firstly they are both social drinks. Whereas many westerners indulge in alcoholic drinks at social gatherings, South Pacific islanders will generally gather around the kava bowl, and share thoughts, have discussions, and make decisions.

Both kava and alcohol are often taken by people who want to relax and unwind – such as after a hard day’s work, or at the weekend; both can lead to improved mood, initial feelings of euphoria, easing of tension, encouragement to “open up”, lose one’s inhibitions or shyness, and be more social.

There are also a few basic safety measures that need applying when people drink kava or alcohol. In the case of kava, the average dose found in a kava shot or supplement will not impact mental clarity or judgment; it will just make you feel relaxed. But there have been cases where driving under the influence of large doses of kava has been a safety risk. It is therefore recommended not to drive or operate heavy machinery when indulging in a lengthy kava session.

Drinking BOTH kava and alcohol and then driving is a definite no-no – as this report from New Zealand points out.

Of course, we should all know by now the dangers of driving under the influence of alcohol – and the problem around the world is not merely with ‘isolated cases’; it is a major killer.

Both alcohol and kava metabolise in the liver, meaning that it should not be drunk together for fear of putting too much strain on the liver; but unless you drink a large quantity of kava, or take supplements that mix other chemicals or parts of the kava plant other than the root, the liver should be able to handle it just fine.

With alcohol too, in most healthy people the liver is extremely efficient in dealing with alcohol; but serious health problems can result from excessive consumption.

Key differences between kava and alcohol

It is said that “hate cannot exist where kava is”. While this is, of course, an idyllic view, there is a definite peaceful air around the kava bowl. That is why kava is still brought out in the South Pacific to help solve feuds between two “warring” parties. It is a peace offering and the feelings it generates are ones of relaxation, serenity, and calmness.

When drank in the traditional way, kava produces a mild calming and relaxing effect that helps bonding in social situations and family get-togethers, without affecting mental clarity.

Compare that with an average Saturday night in your local pub, bar, or club. It’s many things, but I’d bet that it’s neither serene nor calm. We have probably all seen how alcohol can lead to potentially aggressive situations as people become bolder when they have had a few drinks.

That’s not to say that the excessive kava use doesn’t lead to problems (associated relationship and family problems can result) but these are much rarer than with alcohol-associated problems.

The physical effects of taking alcohol include a reduced attention span and reaction times and, in more extreme cases, a loss of memory or comprehension, vomiting, and a loss of balance. A few reports suggest that red wine used in moderation can be beneficial for health, but in truth there is little literature extolling the health benefits of alcohol.

Also, alcohol-related diseases such as hepatitis and cirrhosis account for high numbers of deaths globally. According to the Lancet medical journal, alcohol is more dangerous than heroin or crack. The WHO’s Global status report on alcohol and health 2014 states the following:

“Globally, harmful use of alcohol causes approximately 3.3 million deaths every year (or 5.9% of all deaths), and 5.1% of the global burden of disease is attributable to alcohol consumption.

With kava, numbness of the lips and tongue results after drinking it and, when consumed in large amounts, pupil dilation, bloodshot eyes, and loss of appetite can result; but it is unlikely you will ever drink enough kava to produce this effect.

The kavalactones present in kava root are a confirmed short-term reliever of stress and anxiety and kava is frequently used in alternative medicine.

Another area of difference between alcohol and kava is in the after-effects. Alcohol “hangovers” caused by dehydration can be severe; headache, fever, vomiting and other stomach upsets are quite common. Prolonged usage of kava may make you feel a bit “hazy” the next day but it does not result in any of the severe symptoms of an alcohol hangover.

Insurance companies starting to endorse kava again

Yourlifesolution.com, a US-based insurance agency last year endorsed kava as a safe alternative to alcohol. With insurance companies tending to steer clear of kava, following the European ban a while back, this is another welcome step to bring the kava industry back to its rightful place.

It’s best to judge for yourself whether kava is a good substitute for alcohol; try it and see if you like the flavours and the effects –it can be an acquired taste, but do you remember your first taste of alcohol?


By Zane Yoshida

Taki Mai Kava Featured at an Australian Government-Organised Event in Fiji

More great news for South Pacific Elixirs and lovers of Taki Mai kava shots recently.

Kava was featured at an Australian Centre for Agricultural Research (ACIAR) show held in Fiji at the end of June. This provided more great exposure for our favourite South Pacific crop, as well as educating the audience about the safety and health benefits of commercial kava.

South Pacific Elixirs was proud to help out at the kava stall, giving attendees the opportunity to access kava research information, discover some of the potential health benefits of kava, and to taste a range of Taki Mai kava supplements.

The PARDI workshop and market day

The Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) marked the completion of the first phase of its Pacific Agribusiness Research for Development Initiative (PARDI) with a two-day Impact Workshop and Market Day on Monday 29th and Tuesday 30th June 2015, held at the Hotel Novotel Suva Lami Bay, in Fiji.

PARDI has been working since 2010 to understand the factors that contribute to successful agribusiness development in the rural and coastal communities of the South Pacific region.

The initiative encourages the sharing and adaptation of research, and supports supply-chain and market-driven research in the forestry, fisheries and crops sectors; kava of course falls into the latter area and is of particular interest because of its benefits to poor, rural communities in the region.

The workshop included a series of presentations highlighting the technical outcomes and implications of PARDI research projects. The market day featured interactive stalls showcasing some of PARDI’s products and successes in agribusiness research.

What did they say about Kava?

Kava was one of the featured crops along with breadfruit, taro, papaya, and high value vegetables. Here is how the PARDI brochure introduced kava:

Kava (Piper methysticum – ‘intoxicating pepper’) has been a ceremonial drink in the Pacific since time immemorial, and is noted for its calming and soporific effects. These effects are becoming more widely known and sought after by the global health supplements market, where kava is seen as an alternative to sleeping pills and other prescription medicines. A recent announcement by a German court to overturn a long-standing ban on kava sales is likely to fuel consumer demand for kava. The ACIAR/PARDI Impact Workshop and Market Day will give you the chance to experience the benefits of kava and learn how research and development will support its development as a high-quality kava extract to secure and maintain markets.

Why Taki Mai kava?

As the makers of Taki Mai kava supplements, South Pacific Elixirs has been working with PARDI on the development of a mass propagation system for elite varieties of kava since 2014.

This project aims to support the development of a rapid propagation system for clean planting material that remains disease-free, and provides the foundation for successful commercial kava enterprises.

Kava dieback is soft rot that can be a serious problem in many countries in the Pacific, sometimes completely wiping out production; our work with PARDI helps to eliminate this danger from our elite varieties and in doing so we hope to raise the bar for kava quality across the region and provide the gold standard for export-quality kava.

Collaboration with PARDI is another step along this path.

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Health Benefits of Kava: More Proof On Its Way
The World Is Waking Up To Why It Needs Kava
How to Select Safe, Healthy, and Relaxing Kava
Is Kava a Safe Alternative to Alcohol?
Taki Mai Kava Featured at an Australian Government-Organised Event in Fiji