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Updated: Aug 16, 2022

When life moves too fast kava-kava slows things down! Kava-kava, piper methysticum for the Latin educated, is found in the Pacific Islands and has been historically used as a social lubricant and ceremonial drink. Kava-kava’s medicinal powers come from its active ingredients known as kavalactones and invoke brain pathways such as GABA, serotonin and dopamine. Proving that misery loves company insomnia often comes coupled with anxiety like two peas in a life-disrupting pod. If they keep you up at night kava-kava might just be the key to a good night’s sleep.

Does it work? Prove it!

· For 6 weeks patients with stress-induced insomnia took 120mg of kava-kava. These patients fell asleep faster, stayed asleep longer and reported improvement in their mood in the AM.

· In Germany 101 patients with anxiety were given kava-kava for 6 months and were asked to rate their anxiety at different points during the study. After 8 weeks of using kava-kava these patients were found to have lower levels of anxiety. The study authors suggest that kava-kava can be considered an alternative treatment to the commonly prescribed benzodiazepines.

· Menopausal women with anxiety were given hormone therapy, kava-kava or placebo and were asked to rate their anxiety. Compared the women on hormones those that took kava-kava had greater improvement in their anxiety.

· Not all studies are so favorable for kava-kava and anxiety. An internet based trial mailed 391 people with anxiety and insomnia kava-kava, valerian or placebo to use for 28 days. They found no difference in relieving symptoms between each supplement and placebo.

Piper methysticum (leaves). Location: Oahu, Hoomaluhia Botanical Garden

Is it safe?

· Most common side effects are GI upset and rashes seen in <3% of users.

· Liver toxicity is of major concern however according to the Consumer Lab the data shows mixed results. Regardless, the FDA has a cautionary advisory against the use of kava-kava.

· Do not drive when on kava-kava has it can cause drowsiness.

· Not recommended for use in pregnant or nursing mothers.

How do I use Kava-Kava?

Consumer Lab recommends:

· For insomnia: 210mg of kavalactones 1 hour prior to bedtime

· For anxiety: 150-300mg of kavalactones

These patients fell asleep faster, stayed asleep longer and reported improvement in their mood in the AM.


· Kava-kava, traditionally used by Pacific Islanders during ceremonies as a drink

· Some studies show that it improves levels of anxiety and insomnia, yet there are others that show no improvement.

· Similar to alcohol, do not take if you have liver disease or use when driving.

-Dr. Valerie Cacho


1. Drink similar to wine: University of Maryland: A, 2014. “Kava Kava.” University of Maryland Medical Center Complementary and Alternative Medicine Guide. University of Maryland Medical Center, 1997. Web. 3 Sept. 2016.

2. Kavalactones: Michael Yurcheshen, Martin Seehuus, and Wilfred Pigeon, “Updates on Nutraceutical Sleep Therapeutics and Investigational Research,” Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, vol. 2015, Article ID 105256, 9 pages, 2015. doi:10.1155/2015/105256

3. Stress-induced insomnia: Wheatley D. “Kava and valerian in the treatment of stress-induced insomnia.” Phytother Res 2001;15:549–551.

4. Germany: Volz HP, Kieser M. “Kava-kava extract WS 1490 versus placebo in anxiety disorders—a randomized placebo-controlled 25-week outpatient trial.” Pharmacopsychiatry. 1997;30:1-5.

5. Menopausal women: Vincenzo De Leo, Antonio la Marca, Giuseppe Morgante, Danila Lanzetta, Pasquale Florio, Felice Petraglia, Evaluation of combining kava extract with hormone replacement therapy in the treatment of postmenopausal anxiety, Maturitas, Volume 39, Issue 2, 25 August 2001, Pages 185-188, ISSN 0378-5122,

6. Internet based trial: Jacobs, Bradly P., et al. "An internet-based randomized, placebo-controlled trial of kava and valerian for anxiety and insomnia." Medicine 84.4 (2005): 197-207.

7. Consumer Labs: EBSCO CAM Review Board, December 2015, “Kava” Natural and Alternative Treatments. Web 6 Sept. 2016.

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