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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

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.

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

EU Announces New Kava Study

Following the lifting of the German ban on kava in February last year, the European Union recently announced that it would carry out a new kava study.

This should comes as welcome news to kava fans everywhere, who have seen the reputation of their beloved root dragged through the mud in the past decade or so; until recently a ban in Germany, and restrictions placed in Europe, the US, and Australia, have hampered exports of our prized crop.

What is the proposed kava study for?

Radio New Zealand reported that the Vanuatu Ambassador, Roy Mickey Joy, announced that the European Union has agreed to carry out a study into kava with the aid of a legal firm, and that it will “consider a submission to the Technical Barriers to Trade programme”.

A two-day conference is planned in Brussels involving all the key stakeholders in the Pacific who are leaders in kava, and its outcome will be shared with the firm conducting the kava investigation.

The 7-month investigation will look at the “legal, scientific and trade aspects of kava” and lead to a ministerial conference in order to discuss a roadmap that would address the issue of the kava ban.

Depending on the results of this study, more export markets may be opened up globally for kava, so it is an important event for the economies of the South Pacific island nations.

The importance of raising the quality of kava

An important initiative for the future of kava in the South Pacific is raising its quality.

The Samoan government was recently urged to help support a plan for controlling the quality of exported kava by a German scientist and European kava expert. He was visiting kava-producing countries in the region as part of a study, encouraging them to focus on producing “noble” kava, which is of a very high quality.

Zane Yoshida and South Pacific Elixirs, makers of Taki Mai kava supplements, have been involved in several kava quality initiatives recently:

Let’s hope that the EU study finds what we all know already – that kava is not only safe, but has many relaxation and anti-anxiety benefits too.

Perhaps the name of kava will be cleared once and for all. Its health benefits have already been proven in many studies and the isolated cases of adverse effects of kava are dwarfed millions of times over by those of alcohol: a commonly-accepted substance on sale almost everywhere around the world.

By Zane Yoshida

Kava and Anxiety – What’s the Relationship?

It seems like every time you walk down the supermarket aisles, a new relaxation or anti-anxiety drink or supplement has hit the market.

The days of energy drinks are slowly giving way to a more relaxed age of liquid refreshment, but what’s in these drinks and supplements that they can claim to help with relaxation, de-stressing and anxiety treatment? Do they do what it says on the tin?

In particular, what’s the relationship between kava and anxiety? Can kava supplements really help with short-term anxiety?

  Read more

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Health Benefits of Kava: More Proof On Its Way
Could Kava be a Secret Weapon in the Fight Against Cancer?
Kava on Trial in 2016
EU Announces New Kava Study
Kava and Anxiety – What’s the Relationship?