One of the most popular natural supplements for relaxation is the kava root.
Used by natives of the Pacific islands for years, the root has become increasingly popular globally for its calming and soothing effects.
This root can treat a variety of medical issues including ADHD, epilepsy, migraines, and anxiety. But there are also important safety concerns regarding kava root that you should be aware of before trying it.
But before we get into the benefits and side effects of kava root, we’ve ranked the top 5 kava root supplements according to price, product quality, and customer reviews.
So what’s the best kava root on the market?
1- Wakacon Kava
Wakacon “Fijian Waka” Kava is a potent kava supplement in fine powder form, ready to be strained and brewed into a calming kava drink.
Once you purchase the bag of kava powder the company will email you a PDF with detailed instructions on how to properly and safely prepare and consume it.
It is important to note that this product requires a strainer in order to use it (you can check out Wakacon’s recommended strainer here).
So what makes this particular kava product so special?
Here’s what the company has to say:
“Our kava consist of Lateral and Crown Root only, we never use the stems or leaves in any of our products. We specifically hand pick our kava from known Noble growers. Our Kava is tested at University of the South Pacific and found to be Noble.”
Definitely not the cheapest kava supplement on the market, but the customer reviews are impressive regarding the product quality and potency, so it’s easy to see why it’s by far the best-selling kava product on Amazon.
2- Now Foods Kava Kava Extract
Now Foods offers many popular supplements in the supplement space, and their kava kava extract is no exception.
With 250mg of kava root extract per capsule (standardized to contain min. 30% Kavalactones) and 100mg of organic eleuthero, it’s one of the most affordable kava supplements sold on the entire internet.
It is important to note that natural color may vary with this product, but product quality is ensured by Now Foods.
Recommended dosage instructions: Take 1 capsule 1 to 2 times daily as needed. Daily usage not to exceed 4 weeks.
3- Gaia Herbs Kava Kava Root
Gaia Herbs offer a unique kava supplement – this one comes in liquid phyto-capsules.
The phyto-capsules offer better bio-availability and are sourced from kava root ecologically harvested from Vanuatu. Each capsule contains 75 mg of Kavalactones.
Recommended dosage instructions: Adults take 1 capsule 3 times daily between meals. Maximum time of use: one month.
This product is 100% vegan and free of pesticides and heavy metal toxicity.
4- DrinkRoot Premium Organic Kava
One of the most convenient kava supplements out there, this kava supplement comes in ready-to-mix packets that don’t require any straining.
Simply pour the powder packet into warm or cold water (not hot), stir and enjoy.
Each packet contains 2-3 servings of kava, depending on your tolerance. If you are just trying kava out for the first time, start with a smaller dose and work your way up.
This product is 100% organic, non-GMO, and non-toxic – free of harsh chemicals, pesticides, and additives.
5- Source Naturals Kava
Using kava root sourced from the island of Vanuatu, Source Naturals offers a great kava supplement for “occasional anxiety”.
Loaded with 500mg of kava extract per tablet (yielding 150mg of Kavalactones), makes this a powerful, premium kava supplement.
Here’s what separates the Source Naturals company from their competition:
“Our commitment to quality begins with sourcing botanical powders and extracts and other raw materials, including organic and non-GMO verified ingredients when available. Unlike many other brands, we do our own manufacturing and have complete control over all aspects of raw material procurement, formulation, and quality testing.”
Take 1-2 tablets daily – 30 tablets total in the bottle.
What is kava root?
Kava root is a plant that is native to the western Pacific. The extract taken from the root or stump of the Kava shrub (Piper methysticum).
It can be taken orally or applied to the skin to treat various ailments. Kava root extract is added to beverages and it is a popular social drink in the South Pacific where it is consumed similar to alcohol in the West. The word “Kava” is from the Polynesian word “Awa”, which means bitter.
Kava is a depressant drug, which means that it slows down the delivery of signals between the body and the brain (pretty much the opposite of a nootropic). For that reason, it is used as treatment for anxiety, stress, restlessness, and sleep disorders. It can be used to treat ADHD, drug withdrawals, psychosis, depression, and chronic fatigue syndrome.
Kava works by affecting the function of the brain and other parts of our central nervous system. The kava-lactones in the extract are believed to be the active ingredient and responsible for these effects.
What are the benefits of kava root?
Although there are several side effects associated with the popular extract, there is also a substantial amount of evidence showing the positive effects of kava root when used to treat the following:
- Helps with anxiety
In 2003, German researchers compared using 400 mg of Kava a day with the standard doses of two popular anti-anxiety medications in a case study that involved 129 people. After eight weeks of treatment, all three groups had equally effective results.
Another group of German scientists compared the use of 100mg of Kava three times a day with the standard doses of two drugs in the same family as Valiums. The case study involved 172 people. After six weeks of treatment, all three groups also had equally effective results.
Kava has been shown to treat the effects of anxiety such as dizziness, nervousness, and restlessness. There have been many studies performed on the benefits of taking kava for anxiety relief and the majority of these studies have been positive .
- Helps with benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms
Early research on the extract has shown that a gradual dose of kava over the course of a week while simultaneously decreasing the dose of benzodiazepines over the course of two weeks could help reduce the withdrawal symptoms while also reducing anxiety in those who have been taking the drugs for a number of years.
While there is not much evidence out there regarding this benefit, the results of the studies we do have shown very positive results.
- Helps prevent cancer
Kava root contains Flavokawains which are believed to have cancer fighting properties . Studies that compared the toxicity of kava and the cellular adaption of the human hepatocyte cell line showed a decrease in oxidative stress.
Some results even showed a significant amount of cell death, allowing experts to believe that kava could potentially be used as a chemopreventive or as a chemotherapeutic agent .
- Helps with sleep disorders
Since kava is a sedative, it can effectively be used to treat various sleep disorders including insomnia. Research shows that taking kava extract daily for 4 weeks can reduce sleeping problems in individuals with anxiety issues.
- Helps with menstrual and menopause symptoms
A small amount of research performed on the extract shows that taking kava every day for 8 weeks can reduce hot flashes in menopausal women and decrease feelings of stress or anxiety. Taking the extract daily for three months could also reduce feeling of depression.
- Helps manage stress
Taking a single dose of kava extract by mouth could help relieve the symptoms associated with stress and promote a feeling of calmness and overall well-being (similar to chamomile tea).
- Helps with tobacco withdrawal symptoms
Kava can help to eliminate the challenges associated with drug and alcohol addiction. Because it has a relaxing effect, kava can help individuals cope with the cravings and anxiety associated with quitting.
Additional health conditions that Kava is believed to treat include:
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
- Common Cold
- Respiratory Tract Infection
- Sexual Arousal
- Muscle Pain
- Urinary Tract Infection
- Swelling of the Uterus
- Wound Healing
- Skin Disease
What are the side effects of kava root?
Kava is a controversial supplement because of its severe side effects. Since it can be used as a sedative and is considered an alternative to alcohol, it should be taken responsibly and as directed.
One of the most serious issues associated with taking kava orally is liver damage. This has occurred with both short and long-term use of the extract in normal doses. Individuals who have used kava for as little as three months have resulted in the need for liver transplants while others had fatal results.
The early signs of liver damage to look for when taking kava include
- Dark Urine
If you choose to take Kava despite these warnings, it is important that you have your liver function tested frequently. The extract is known to cause liver issues even in healthy individuals. Those who already have liver disease or have a history of liver problems should avoid taking kava as it will only increase their risk of developing severe issues.
Additional side effects to taking kava can include:
- May worsen the effects of Parkinson’s Disease
- May increase the effects of anesthesia, do not take kava at least 2 weeks before a scheduled surgery
Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should not take kava (prenatal vitamins would be a better choice). There are concerns that it may have a negative effect on the uterus. Plus, some of the dangerous chemicals in the extract can pass into breast milk.
Why is kava root so toxic to the liver?
Kava’s effect on the liver is a great mystery to many. The root has been used traditionally in the South Pacific for centuries without any record of causing the islanders liver problems. However, there have been one hundred people throughout the world diagnosed with liver toxicity associated with taking kava.
It is questionable that the reason for liver damage with these individuals could have been the result of another drugs they were taking the same time as taking kava. Research shows that out of the 100 cases, there were only 14 individuals with liver toxicity cases deemed to be a direct result of kava use . To put that into perspective, that means kava causes liver damage for every 100 million doses of kava sold.
One observation concerning the link between kava root and liver damage is that the kava used during the time of these cases may have been harvested incorrectly.
Kava is a slow-growing plant and when it first become popular in the Western world, there wasn’t enough of the plant produced to meet the demand. The suppliers may have decided to use the leaves and stems of the plant at the time to make up for their loss.
However, the leaves and stems of kava plants contain alkaloids and should not be used during the extraction process  . While this could be the answer to the debate over the safety of taking kava, the side effects and warnings should still be considered by all who take the extract.
How do you take kava root?
In the Pacific Islands, Kava root is crushed, ground down or chewed. Then it is soaked in cold water to create a beverage that is used for ceremonies and cultural rituals.
These rituals are believed to strengthen the bond among groups on the islands and help people communicate with the spirits. Kava has been a popular drink for generations among the Pacific Islanders. Those who have now settled in Australia continue to drink Kava and use the extract for healing purposes.
The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tribes first started using Kava when it was introduced to Australian communities in the 1980s. It was intended to be used as an alternative to alcohol and reduce the harmful effects of drinking alcohol within the community. The drink is often used as a sedative by the aboriginal tribes, as well as a muscle relaxer and hypnotic.
Kava extract is also used in herbs as a supplement. You can purchase capsules over the counter to use as treatment for anxiety, stress, and insomnia. While the extract has been removed from the markets in Canada and Europe, Kava is currently not banned in the United States.
To take Kava for anxiety, it is recommended that users take 50 to 100 mg three times a day for up to 25 weeks.
Kava is an extract taken from the root of a shrub native to the Pacific Islands. This extract has been used by the islanders for centuries as an alternative to alcohol and a stress reliever.
As kava root gained popularity in the Western world, the concerns about the harmful side effects of this sedative were on the rise. There were several reports of harmful and even fatal liver damage in users who had also taken kava extract. However, there is also belief that poor harvesting of the root caused the liver damage.
While there may be serious risks linked to taking kava root, there are many who believe that the advantages of this extract far outweigh the risks.
Kava has been shown to help decrease the symptoms associated with anxiety, sleep disorders, and drug withdrawals. It is also known to be effective in eliminating cancer cells (much like turmeric).