If you find yourself constantly smiling and nodding whenever someone brings up a new health trend, then you’re not alone. After all, there are so many new “it” foods and drinks that it’s hard to keep up. But if everyone is talking about it, you might want to pay attention too. After all, things become buzz-worthy for a reason, and there are a lot of reasons that the world is talking about kava. So what is kava tea, exactly? According to Dr. Edward Group DC, NP, DACBN, DCBCN, DABFM, “kava, also known as piper methysticum, kava kava, and ‘awa, is a small shrub native to the islands in the South Pacific. The root and stems are made into a non-alcoholic, psychoactive beverage that has been used socially and ceremonially for hundreds of years in Hawaii, Fiji, and Tonga.” So, to back up, you drink this stuff. The roots are used to make a liquid that is somewhat dark and cloudy in appearance, almost like a dark tea that is served cold (or technically you could serve it warm as well).
While the flavor is fairly benign, it is an earthy-tasting drink that might require a bit of getting used to. Imagine the first time you tried green tea or matcha—it isn’t always love at first sight but once the effects of this beverage kick in, you will certainly know what all the buzz is about.
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And it’s not just because it tastes good, or it’s good for your health in the long-term. Kava tea has an almost instantaneous impact on your psychological state. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, “kava is said to elevate mood, well being, and contentment, and produce a feeling of relaxation. Several studies have found that kava may be useful in the treatment of anxiety, insomnia, and related nervous disorders.” Yeah, bet you didn’t know that a tea could do that. This drink literally calms your nerves without any alcohol or illegal medications or drugs. It’s an all-natural solution for those who suffer anxiety, or need a little help relaxing after a stressful day.
So how does this tea work, and why is it so effective? It’s all about the roots, which pack a perfect punch of kavalactones (aka compounds that naturally fight stress by sedating certain parts of your nervous system). Eater.com offers a little glimpse into what it’s like to sip kava: “Drink a cup of kava and your lips and tongue will go numb and your muscles will relax. Depending on how much you drink, and how potent the brew, that feeling will last anywhere from a few hours to most of the night. And unless you really overdo it, kava shouldn’t affect your brain. While the body goes loose, the mind stays clear.” So, basically, it feels like you’re just a little buzzed, a little more chill than you were before you drank the kava, and a little less consumed by the stress of your day, but mentally you’re still 100% competent, as opposed to when you consume alcohol or drugs and your brain function is impaired. You will feel more relaxed, but your reaction time (which is important if you are functioning in your daily tasks like working, driving, cooking etc.) and your reflexes won’t be negatively affected in any way. Sounds like a pretty good solution to us.
And it’s not just effective in easing stress and soothing anxiety; kava can also elevate your mood and help battle feelings of depression in a similar way that anti-depressants work. It can also help you sleep better and improve feelings of contentment.
While kava is fairly new to the health scene in the US, it’s been used in Pacific Island cultures forever. But despite its long history with other cultures, there is some hesitation about how good for you kava really is. It’s a good thing to be cautious about new food and health trends, but here’s what the experts are saying about kava. While they are cautious about other supplements as a way to deal with anxiety, they not only recognize but also recommend the consumption of kava as a way to experience therapeutic benefits.
The American Academy of Family Physicians argues, in an article on “Herbal and Dietary Supplements for Treatment of Anxiety Disorders” that “short-term use of kava is recommended for patients with mild to moderate anxiety disorders who are not using alcohol or taking other medicines metabolized by the liver, but who wish to use “natural” remedies.” Kava is also not addicting, which gives it an edge on other stress-reducing options that you can get hooked on. That said, like any substance that promises to change the way your body and mind feel, you should consume it with caution and in moderation. Similar to how a cold medicine can knock you out, in excess kava can make you feel so relaxed that you are actually sleepy, which is a bad state to be in if you need to drive, operate heavy machinery or watch after your children. Drink kava with care, and pay attention to how it makes you feel so you can manage your intake and adjust accordingly to get the most out of your cup.