How Kava Works
The therapeutic effects of kava are due to a combination of the main active ingredients in the plant, (known as Kavalactones), not to any single substance or compound. There are a total of 18 different Kavalactones and many other supportive constituents present in the plant. It is the presence of all of these compounds combined that gives traditional Kava its vast array of therapeutic effects of on the body and mind. Because of its natural chemical composition, Kava is able to illicit all of these effects without driving the body out of balance and leading to toxicity, dependence and withdrawal symptoms. There is a large body of scientific literature available on Kava and its many mechanisms of action in the body. In fact, Kava has been more thoroughly studied than almost any herb in the world.
Some of the Main Traditional Uses of Kava
Stress Relief and Relaxation
The most common application for Kava historically has been for that of anxiety relief, and tends to be seen as a completely safe and effective anxiety-reducing alternative to anti-anxiety Benzodiazepine drugs without the addiction factor. Many scientific studies have shown that Kavalactones significantly increase GABA (Gamma amino butyric acid) activity in the brain, which is the body’s main chemical for shutting down excitability and inducing relaxation. They bind to a specific site in the brain called the GABA(A) receptor, which is a key target for most anti-anxiety drugs and is known as one of the master regulators of stress and sleep in the body.
Boosting Mood and Sociability
Kava has historically been used by South Pacific islanders as a safe, natural alternative to alcohol, Because it can bring about significant mood boosting effects, as well as allow people to loosen up and connect easier during social interaction. However, it typically does this without making the person feel drunk in any way, or impair their fine motor skills. This ability of Kava to enhance mood and sociability is believed to come primarily from its effects on Dopamine, which is the body’s main pleasure chemical.
Several Kavalactones have been shown to be very strong inhibitors of an enzyme in the body called MAO-B (Monoamine oxidase-B). This enzyme is responsible for breaking down Dopamine and other neurotransmitters, so inhibiting it’s activity leads to much higher Dopamine levels in the nervous system.
Reducing Cravings for Drugs and Alcohol
Kava has been shown to be an excellent anti craving agent for those suffering from drug addiction and dependency. It is also well known for its ability to significantly reduce withdrawal symptoms when coming off of alcohol, Benzodiazepines, and other illicit substances. This is due to the fact that Kavalactones bind to the same receptors in the brain as many of these substances, but modulates them in a way that doesn’t create tolerance and dependency. In fact, it is well known by long term Kava users that it can produce what is called “reverse tolerance”. This refers to instances where the more an individual uses Kava, the less they need to receive the same effects overtime. The exact mechanisms and reasons for why this occurs are not yet completely understood. However it has been hypothesized that consistent Kava use might actually increase ones natural GABA activity overtime by increasing the number of functional GABA receptors in the brain. This would mean that it could possibly assist in permanent rehabilitation of this system that may be impaired in many anxiety and mood disorders or damaged by long term substance abuse.
Enhancing Brain Function
Kava is also well known for its cognitive enhancing properties. In fact, it is becoming very popular as a powerful nootropic for studying, working or to enhance creativity. Many scientific studies have demonstrated positive effects on cognitive function. This primarily occurs through the previously mentioned effects that Kava has on Dopamine, the brain’s main pleasure chemical that also plays a central role in mental focus, motivation, and memory recall. However, because of the relaxing effects that it also has through activating both GABA and Serotonin, Kava brings about a state of calm focus and mental clarity. This can be much different than the more stimulated, jittery focus that comes from using Caffeine and many other nootropics. This calm focus is generally referred to as an Alpha state, which is known to be the optimal state of mind for accessing maximum creativity and one’s ability learn new information.
Protecting the Brain from Trauma or Toxin Induced Damage
Kava has been consistently shown to be a powerful neuroprotective agent. This simply means that it has demonstrated the ability to protect the brain and nervous system from the damaging effects of stress, trauma and toxicity. It has been shown to illicit these protective effects through multiple mechanisms. Many studies have shown that Kavalactones exhibit actions very similar to common antiepileptic drugs that protect the brain from seizure induced damage. In other words, Kavalactones seem to help calm down the inflammatory storm that ensues after a significant injury or insult to the brain. Since this inflammation is the primary cause of most of the damage that occurs to the brain tissue post injury, reducing it is thought to significantly help prevent much of the damage from occurring altogether. This protective effect is thought to occur through increased GABA signaling, but also through blocking what are called voltage gated calcium (Ca) channels. The blocking of these channels lowers excitability in the brain as well and prevents the formation of something called hydroxyl free radicals, which are a byproduct of this over excitation that can cause the significant damage to the cells. Activation of these channels is also the primary mechanism by which many environmental stressors such as electromagnetic frequencies (EMFs) can induce cellular damage as well. This suggests that Kava could possibly be an important tool for protecting the brain cells from potential damage caused by harmful EMFs. Kavalactones are also known to be activators of an adaptive pathway called Nrf2 (Nuclear factor erythroid 2–related factor 2), which upregulates the body’s own antioxidant and detoxification systems (such as the Glutathione system) that further reduce inflammation and help protect it from damage caused by environmental toxins. All of these effects have also given Kava a lot of attention as a possible agent to assist in neurorehabilitation.
Helping to Fight Pain and Inflammation
In recent years, Kava has also started gaining attention for its effects on pain and systemic inflammation. In addition to the anti-inflammatory effects previously mentioned, Studies have shown that Kava has action very similar to over the counter NSAIDS (Non-steroidal anti -inflammatories) like Aspirin, Ibuprofen, and acetaminophen, which all act as what are called COX (cyclooxygenase) inhibitors. Kava has been shown to inhibit both COX1 and COX2 which in turn reduces the production of prostaglandins, chemicals that promote inflammation, pain, and fever.
Increasing Fat Burning and the Breakdown of Bad Tissues and Cells
Perhaps one of the most exciting areas of research currently being done on Kava is looking at its potential application in the field of Cancer and metabolic conditions. The interest of the scientific community was originally peaked back in 2000 when an epidemiological study showed a close inverse relationship between Cancer incidence and Kava consumption in a large number of different islands in the south pacific. The data indicated that the more Kava was consumed by a population, the lower the Cancer incidence for that population. This correlation was totally consistent across all 8 countries studied. Since then, the body of accumulating scientific data on Kava’s potential application for Cancer treatment and prevention has grown immensely. There are now a large number of studies that demonstrate multiple mechanisms of the anti-mutagenic action of certain types of Kava. One Kavalactone in particular called Yangonin was shown to activate a pathway called AMPK that significantly increases cellular autophagy, a bodily process that involves breaking down and recycling old damaged cells (including cancerous cells) and their components into usable energy as fuel. This occurred partly through the suppression of a pathway called mTOR (Mammalian Target of Rapamycin), which is one of the primary pathways that drives Cancer growth. Other compounds in Kava known as Flavokawains have been shown in numerous studies to be directly toxic to Cancer cells, stimulating what is called apoptosis (cell death) in these cells. These effects have been scientifically demonstrated in a vast array of different forms of Cancer including breast, bone, brain, gastric, oral, synovial, thyroid, lung, prostate, bladder, ovarian, Melanoma and Leukemia. More research needs to be done so this topic can be fully explored but so far the data is very promising.
Another thing that is important to note is that this AMPK pathway is also the body’s primary fat burning pathway that shifts its metabolism into this “recycle” mode, where it breakdowns stored body fat and old damaged tissue and to convert it into usable energy as fuel when little food is present. This pathway is usually activated when a person is fasting or is eating very little food. This way the body will survive by making fuel out of its own tissues and stored body fat. So by activating this pathway it appears that Kava is actually able to help mimic the effects of fasting and calorie restriction, thus stimulating the body to burn fat as fuel and helping to clear out unwanted tissues. This is one reason why Kava is now gaining popularity as a profound Keto adaptive agent that can help someone get into Ketosis while attempting a Ketogenic diet and further enhance the diet once they are adapted.
DISCLAIMER *This product, KAVAPLEX, nor any of these statements are intended to diagnose, prevent, treat or cure disease and has not been evaluated by the FDA. Not recommended for pregnant or nursing women. Ask a healthcare professional before use if you have had liver problems, frequently use alcohol or are taking any medications. The information contained herein is for informational purposes only and does not establish a doctor-patient relationship. These therapies are not substitutes for standard medical care. Consult your physician before taking this or any other product.