Natural Foods Merchandiser

Kava makes a comeback

Kava extract, a natural sedative drawn from the roots of kava plants found in the western Pacific, has long been exotic—and controversial. In 2002, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration declared that kava supplements could cause severe liver injuries such as hepatitis, cirrhosis and liver failure. Many say kava doesn’t deserve the stigma, however. Katie Baker, ND, says kava can be a powerful mood enhancer that helps neurons accept more GABA, a chemical that has a calming effect on the brain. And a 2003 British review of scientific literature found that kava may be an effective treatment for anxiety. A 2009 Australian clinical trial of kava extract concurred, and had additional findings: Not only did carefully prepared kava help relieve depression, but it wasn’t associated with liver problems.

These studies demonstrated what Pacific islanders have known for thousands of years, says Baker. She recommends taking 100 mg twice a day of a water-soluble extract made solely from kava root—not stems and leaves, which may have led to liver-toxicity concerns.

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