It’s always encouraging when traditional uses for medicinal herbs and plants are confirmed by scientific research. In this case, the plant that’s attracting the attention of the research community is Piper methysticum, or kava kava, for stress relief.
Utilized for generations by tribes in the South Pacific for its relaxing and euphoric properties, kava or kava kava root powder is now being studied for its potential for providing natural relief to people suffering from stress, anxiety, and anxiety-related sleep disturbances.
What Kind of Kava Kava Root Powder is Used in Clinical Trials?
Before diving into the research on kava for stress relief, it’s important to understand a little bit about how clinical research works. The kavalactones that are responsible for kava powder’s mood-altering effects are present to varying degrees in the actual kava roots, depending on the strain, the age of the plant, and where it is grown.
In order for natural stress solutions, such as kava, to be accepted by the medical community and prescribed for patients, it’s necessary to study a standardized extract of the plant rather than the whole root so that the safest and most effective dosage for patients can be established. Otherwise, a patient who is suffering from chronic stress or anxiety could take kava for stress relief with unsatisfactory results or even experience side effects if the batch of kava is too strong.
Research on Kava for Stress Relief
The most widely recognized studies on kava for stress relief focus on patients suffering from generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and stress-induced sleep disturbances. In these studies, standardized kava extracts were used with a predetermined quantity of kavalactones in every dose.
Kava Kava for Anxiety
A generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) study on kava was conducted in Australia and published in the Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology in 2013. In this double-blind natural stress solutions trial, 75 participants with either GAD or no diagnosed mood disorder were given an aqueous (water-based) extract of kava kava root powder every day versus a placebo, over a period of six weeks.
At the end of the controlled phase of the trial, the kava group showed a significant decrease in anxiety compared to the placebo, with those suffering from moderate to severe anxiety experiencing the largest improvements. The difference that kava for stress relief made was clear: 26% of the kava group was declared “remitted” at the end of the controlled phase as opposed to 6% of the placebo group. As far as side effects, the kava group experienced more headaches than the placebo group; however, no differences were observed at the end of the trial between the two groups as far as liver function and other physical parameters.
Kava for Stress-Induced Insomnia Relief
Another study explored the effectiveness of a strain of kava kava extract, known as WS 1490, for improving sleep among patients with anxiety, tension, and restlessness. In this trial, 61 participants received either WS 1490 kava or a placebo daily for four weeks, during which their sleep quality, anxiety levels, wellbeing, and Clinical Global Impressions (CGIs) were measured using standardized tests.
The results of this trial were very encouraging with positive outcomes being reported for sleep quality, “recuperative effect after sleep,” and lowered anxiety-level scores among participants. No kava-related adverse effects were reported among the participants of this study.
How Does it Work?
It is not yet entirely understood how kava for stress relief works in the body and brain; however, a number of theories have been put forward to explain its relaxing and mood-boosting effects. In scientific terms, these theories include a possible action of kavalactones on the functioning of the GABA receptors, an altered release of excitatory neurotransmitters, and a blockade of the voltage-gated sodium ion channels. In layman’s terms, kavalactones are thought to calm down the anxiety-related neurons in the brain.
What we do know for sure as far as natural stress solutions go is that kava kava root powder and kava kava extract has been used (and continues to be used) in traditional and modern herbal medicine systems as a sedative, anxiolytic, antistress, and analgesic plant.
How Does Kava Work for Stress Relief and Better Sleep?
So, how does kava help with stress and anxiety relief? In the studies seen above, the type of kava that was effective for relieving stress-related symptoms was a standardized extract.
Currently, enhanced kava kava root powder preparations like those sold at Kratora don’t come with a “mg” amount of kavalactones on the label, but rather are advertised as containing 30% kavalactones. What does that mean? A label of 30% kavalactones on a product means that 100 mg of the powder contains 30 mg of kavalactones.
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