Calmed By Kava
By Anthony Almada, MS

Kava (Piper methysticum) has been the subject of considerable research to determine its influence on behavior and brain chemistry. A recent study focused on its ability to curtail postmenopausal anxiety. Forty women received either estrogen (estradiol) or estrogen plus progestin with or without kava extract (55 mg kavain from kava extract) daily for six months. Those receiving kava plus hormone therapy showed significantly greater reductions in anxiety than the women taking hormones alone, after both three and six months of use. Additional placebo-controlled, double-blind studies support kava's ability to control anxiety with few side effects. A recent study had 40 subjects take a proprietary kava extract (70 percent kavalactones; Laitan brand in Europe) a dosage from 50­300 mg per day during and after the discontinuation of benzodiazepine drugs (a class of prescription anti-anxiety medications including Valium). Researchers concluded that kava kept anxiety under control without adverse side effects.

One potential concern with kava is liver damage. Two case reports link daily intake of 210 mg kavalactones to liver injury. Thus it's prudent to take kava under the supervision of a health care professional.

Nutrition and exercise biochemist Anthony Almada, MS, has collaborated on more than 45 university-based studies and is founder and chief scientific officer of IMAGINutrition.