The potential clinical benefits and challenges of kava, according to science

What research says about the benefits of kava and what we need to look out for when using it

This study from 2020,  looks at the potential benefits of kava as a clinical nutrient and possible clinical challenges. This study reviews the different clinical benefits of kava that previous research studies have claimed to see what the evidence is behind it and what the risks or challenges might be. 

Kava and its diversity

The researchers discuss the rich tradition around kava and how not all kava is the same. The differences differ from island to island. This can be how it’s drunk,  the amount consumed and the strain of kava grown. There are over 150 types of kava plants grown and each of them has unique properties. The location where they are grown impacts what kavalactones are present giving the diversity in effects. Because of this diversity, some have called for standardizing kava. Current standards are focused on kavalactone content.

How kava regulates inflammation in the body

Inflammation is connected to many different health conditions including cancer, chronic pain and different brain disorders. Kava has the ability to relieve pain and an older study showed kava’s anti-inflammatory properties. It’s the kavalactones that are the active component against inflammation by acting on certain  inflammatory pathways. Interestingly, chronic use of kava has led to symptoms of inflammation in some people. 

Neurological functions of kava

Through research we know that kava works on the GABA neurotransmitter system which gives kava it’s calming and relaxing effects. The researchers talk about the potential neuroprotective properties that have been linked to helping reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s diseases. The best known neurological benefit is in regards to anxiety. Due to how kava works in the brain, it naturally has an anxiety reducing effect. Some studies suggest that kava could be an alternative to traditional anxiety medications. However, some of the studies have conflicting results.

Kava and cancer prevention

In places where people regularly drink kava, like the pacific islands, there are lower cases of cancer. Specifically, men have lower cancer rates than women, which is the opposite trend of cancer seen in other parts of the world. It seems that certain kavalactones hold the anti-cancer properties, in particular lung cancer in smokers. Kava may also protect against bladder, prostate and colon cancers. Studies have shown that flavalactones A and B may act in anti-cancer ways by stopping cancer cell growth and spread. Some parts of kava may even help fight cancer but more research needs to be done to understand this.

Kava Safety

While kava is considered safe, the type and amount you drink can have different effects. There have been reports that kava causing liver damage, however it’s been proven that kava itself isn’t to blame, but it’s likely that it was kava in combination with other substances that caused the damage.  Traditionally, kava hasn’t raised significant health concerns after centuries of use. 

Conclusions

Kava is a traditional plant that is been used ceremonially and medicinally for centuries and has recently started being used as an herbal supplement in North America and Europe.  While there is still a lot to learn, it’s showing promise in treating inflammatory, neurological and cancer among other chronic health conditions. 

Link to original article:

Kava as a Clinical Nutrient: Promises and Challenges

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7600512/ 

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