Benefits of Kava

Benefits of Kava

June 23, 2023

estimated read time - 14 min

Kava has a history of being used as a natural treatment for different health issues, including anxiety, stress, and insomnia. Eventually, numerous studies have been carried out to explore its potential benefits. These studies have highlighted additional health benefits of kava that may be advantageous for certain medical conditions.

Below are some of kava's potential health benefits and properties that may be able to help alleviate some health conditions that we have gathered from research articles.

Please note: We are NOT medically trained physicians and none of what is stated here should be used as a substitute for medical advice.

Kava Mechanism

The active compounds in kava interact with several neurotransmitters in the brain, including GABA. The kavalactones in kava help increase the activity of GABA that may lead to relaxing and calming effects on the mind and body. We go more in depth on how it works here. This mechanism is similar to the action of benzodiazepines, a class of drug that is commonly used to treat anxiety disorders, but significantly less pronounced at standard amounts.

Kava may also affect other neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin, and noradrenaline. Serotonin has a role in regulating mood, appetite, sleep, and other physical processes. It is often connected to feelings of well-being and happiness. Dopamine plays a role in the regulation of movement, motivation, and the reward pathways in the brain. It is also linked to the feelings of pleasure and satisfaction. Low levels of serotonin and dopamine have been linked to depression and anxiety disorders.

Noradrenaline or norepinephrine is involved in the body’s stress responses and helps regulate blood pressure and heart rate. In the brain, the noradrenaline plays a role in alertness, attention and new memories.

Kava has shown to increase the levels of these neurotransmitters which may contribute to its anxiolytic, euphoric, relaxing and mood-enhancing effects.

Kava Compounds

Kavalactones are the active ingredients in kava responsible for its sedative and anxiolytic effects. While there are approximately 19 kavalactones found in the kava plant, only six major kavalactones are typically present in most kava plant varieties. These kavalactones are believed to interact with GABA and GABA receptors, which are responsible for various brain activities. This interaction may contribute to the numerous potential health benefits of kava.

For a more in-depth understanding of how kavalactones and GABA work, check out our writeup here.

Kava also contains flavokavains, a class of chalcones that has been shown to have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anticancer effects. Flavokavain A, B, C, and D are the main type of flavokavains, with flavokavain A as the most abundant and has shown to have strongest biological activity.

Flavokavains have beens studied for its potential health benefits and some of the most interesting finds are related to to their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Studies have shown that these flavokavain may help induce aptosis, a natural process of cell death, inhibit the growth of tumor cells (13). And scavenge free radicals and reduce oxidative stress induce oxidative stress

Properties of Kava

The therapeutic effects of kava may help several health conditions including anxiety, stress and insomnia but, several studies have demonstrated that kava may have a range of properties that may make it beneficial for several health conditions. These properties include: anxiolytic/anti-anxiety (stress relieving)

Kava May Have Anxiolytic or Anti-anxiety Properties

Kava have been shown to have anxiolytic properties which refers to the ability of a substance to reduce anxiety and promote relaxation. The kavalactones in kava have been found to interact with several neurotransmitters in the brain including GABA and dopamine. GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that helps calm and reduce activity of neurons in the brain. Dopamine on the other hand, is a neurotransmitter that plays an important role in regulating emotion, mood, motivation, reward, attention and other behavioral functions.

Kavalactones have been found to help increase the activity of GABA in the brain that may help promote calm and relaxation, which may result in the reduction of feelings of anxiety and stress.

Sedative Properties

Kava May Have Sedative Properties

Kava's reputation for inducing relaxation and relieving insomnia stems from its sedative properties, which are thought to be linked to its interaction with GABA receptors. By enhancing GABA activity, kava may promote relaxation and reduce anxiety, making it useful for managing symptoms of anxiety, stress, depression, and insomnia. We talk a little more in depth about the specific mechanisms and the interactions with sleep here.

Analgesic Properties

Kava May Have Analgesic Properties

While research on the analgesic effects of kava is limited, there is some evidence to suggest that it may possess pain-relieving properties. Specifically, kava has been shown to alleviate symptoms of chronic pain, which is characterized by persistent or recurring pain lasting for three months or longer.

Studies indicate that kava may interact with the nervous system to reduce pain. One potential explanation for this effect is the interaction between kavalactones and GABA and glutamate. Glutamate and glutamate receptors are located in the brain, spinal cord and periphery and are involved in signaling and transmission of pain. This neurotransmitter has been a target of new therapies for pain.

Kava's interaction with glutamate remains complicated and involves several processes. However, one study suggested that kavalactone might modulate glutamate signaling by reducing the release of glutamate, resulting in the decrease of its excitatory activity(5).

These interactions with GABA and glutamate may contribute to kava's effects on pain, anxiety and other neurological functions. Nonetheless, more studies are needed to fully understand the mechanism involving kavas interaction with glutamate and its effects on the nervous symtem.

Anti-inflammatory Properties

Kava May Have Anti-inflammatory Properties

Kava's potential anti-inflammatory properties have been investigated in part due to its analgesic effects, as anti-inflammatory medications are commonly utilized for pain management. Scientific studies indicate that certain compounds in kava may reduce the secretion of pro-inflammatory cytokines, which are signaling proteins involved in regulating inflammation in the body. This could lead to both pain and inflammation relief(5).

As a result of its analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects, kava may be useful in alleviating various forms of pain, including chronic, neuropathic, and acute pain.

The New Zealand Blacks, a rugby team we are a fan of, are famous for stating the use of kava in their workout recovery sessions as well as an after game treat to relax after an intensive session.

Neuroprotective Properties

Kava May Have Neuroprotective Properties

Kava has been demonstrated to possess neuroprotective properties, in addition to its interaction with the neurotransmitter GABA. Kavalactones can also interact with other neurotransmitters in the brain, such as dopamine, serotonin, and noradrenaline, which are involved in mood disorders and depression.

By inhibiting the enzyme monoamine oxidase, which is responsible for breaking down dopamine, serotonin, and noradrenaline, kava may have mood-enhancing and antidepressant effects. This inhibition can help to maintain higher levels of these neurotransmitters in the brain, leading to positive effects on mood(10).

Moreover, studies have shown that elevating GABA levels may protect neurons from damage caused by excessive excitatory activity in conditions such as epilepsy and stroke. Therefore, kava's ability to increase GABA activity may have a protective effect on the brain and contribute to its neuroprotective properties(3).

Antioxidant Properties

Kava May Have Antioxidant Properties

Kava has been discovered to possess antioxidant properties, which means it has the capability to counteract free radicals in the body. Free radicals are highly reactive molecules that can damage cells and contribute to the development of numerous chronic diseases, such as cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimer's disease.

Kavalactones, the active compounds in kava, have been shown to exhibit both direct and indirect antioxidant activity. Direct antioxidant activity refers to their ability to directly neutralize free radicals by donating an electron to the radical and stabilizing it. This process can prevent the free radicals from causing damage to cells and tissues(8).

In addition, kava also has indirect antioxidant activity by enhancing the body's own antioxidant defense mechanisms. Research has indicated that kava may increase levels of glutathione, a crucial antioxidant molecule in the body. By enhancing these natural antioxidant defenses, kava may help protect against the harmful effects of free radicals and oxidative stress.

Cardiovascular Benefits

Kava May Have Cardiovascular Benefits

Kava's potential cardiovascular benefits may be attributed to its ability to alleviate stress and anxiety, which are known risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Chronic stress can increase cortisol levels, trigger inflammation, and damage blood vessels, all of which contribute to the development of cardiovascular disease. In addition, kava has been shown to improve blood flow by dilating blood vessels, potentially lowering blood pressure and improving cardiovascular health.

Furthermore, kava's anti-inflammatory properties may help reduce the risk of atherosclerosis, a condition in which fatty deposits build up in the arteries, increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Anti-Cancer Properties

Kava May Have Anti-Cancer Properties

The exact mechanism on how kava works to prevent cancer is not fully understood. However, according to studies the active compounds in kava have shown potential anti-anxiety properties. Here are some potential ways in which kava may exhibit anti-cancer properties(7).

  1. Inducing apoptosis: Kava's active compounds have been found to potentially induce apoptosis, which is a natural process of cell death that eliminates unnecessary or abnormal cells. Cancer cells tend to evade apoptosis, resulting in uncontrolled cell growth and tumor formation. Kava's constituents can potentially trigger apoptosis, causing cancer cell death and inhibiting further growth(7).
  2. Inhibiting cell proliferation: Cell proliferation is the natural process by which a cell grows and divides to produce two new cells. Kava has been found to possess antiproliferative properties that may help inhibit the proliferation of certain types of cancer cells. This could be due to kava's ability to interrupt cell signaling pathways that promote cell division and growth, leading to a reduction in the growth and spread of cancer cells(7).
  3. Reducing oxidative stress: Oxidative stress occurs when there is an imbalance between the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) in cells and the body's ability to detoxify them. ROS can damage DNA and contribute to the development of cancer. Kava has been found to exhibit antioxidant properties that can help counteract ROS and decrease oxidative stress(8).
  4. Modulating immune response: The immune system is crucial in detecting and eradicating cancer cells. Kava has been shown to enhance the activity of various immune cells, including natural killer cells, macrophages, and T cells. These immune cells are vital in identifying and eliminating abnormal cells, including cancer cells. Studies suggest that kava may boost the activity of immune cells that target cancer cells while suppressing the activity of immune cells that promote tumor growth.
  5. Inhibiting angiogenesis: angiogenesis is the physiological process in which new blood vessels are developed which are necessary for the growth and spread of tumors. Studies have shown that kava may inhibit angiogenesis in several cancer types, preventing blood vessels from forming into tumors and starving it for nutrients.

While kava has shown some promising anti-cancer properties in laboratory and animal studies, more research is needed to determine its efficacy in preventing or treating cancer in humans. It is important to use kava responsibly and under the guidance of a healthcare professional. As with any potential cancer therapy, individuals should consult with their healthcare provider before using kava as a complementary treatment.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is kava FDA approved?

kava do not fall under FDA approval because it falls under the dietary supplement category in the US. FDA does not regulate cosmetic or dietary supplements. However, the FDA does regulate the labeling, manufacturing, and marketing of dietary supplements. Even though kava is not a regulated product, we at drinkroot classify it in the "food" category and treat it as such with corresponding bacterial and chemical testing.

Is is also recommended to use kava moderately and follow the suggested therapeutic doses which tend to range around 250mg of kavalactones.

Is kava safe?

Kava is generally considered safe when used in moderation. To determine the appropriate dosage for you, you can refer to our kava dosage blog, which outlines the factors that may affect your dosage. We generally see the safety of kava more a factor of the type of kava than the amount itself. Traditionally prepared kava (like our medium grind and dehydrated instant kava's) are probably better solutions than some extract versions that exist on the market. Good kava is not cheap so be wary, if it's too good to be true, it probably is. (I've fallen into this trap MANY times)

However, it is also important to talk to your healthcare provider before using kava, particularly if you have a pre-existing medical condition or are taking medications. They can help you evaluate the potential risks and benefits of using kava based on your individual health status and determine if it is safe for you to use.


In summary, kava contains various active compounds, including kavalactones and flavokavains, which interact with neurotransmitters in the brain such as GABA, dopamine, serotonin, and noradrenaline. These interactions give kava its anxiolytic, sedative, analgesic, anti-inflammatory, and neuroprotective properties. Kavalactones increase the activity of GABA, resulting in calming and relaxing effects on the mind and body. Kava may help alleviate symptoms of anxiety, stress, insomnia, and depression, as well as relieve various types of pain. Additionally, kava's neuroprotective properties may protect neurons from damage caused by the brain's excitatory activity.

It is important to note that the information presented in this blog is for entertainment purposes only and should not be considered a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It is also important to consult a qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have about a medical condition. Furthermore, the use of kava or any other supplement should be approached with caution and under the guidance of a healthcare professional, particularly if you have a pre-existing medical condition or are taking medication.

Also, keep in mind that kava may interact with several medications and there are groups of people who are not advised to be allowed to use it. You can visit our blog here to learn about kava’s interaction and restrictions.


  1. Wheatley D. Stress-induced insomnia treated with kava and valerian: singly and in combination. Hum Psychopharmacol. 2001 Jun;16(4):353-356. doi: 10.1002/hup.299. PMID: 12404572.
  2. Lehrl S. Clinical efficacy of kava extract WS 1490 in sleep disturbances associated with anxiety disorders. Results of a multicenter, randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind clinical trial. J Affect Disord. 2004 Feb;78(2):101-10. doi: 10.1016/s0165-0327(02)00238-0. Erratum in: J Affect Disord. 2004 Dec;83(2-3):287. PMID: 14706720.
  3. Tzeng YM, Lee MJ. Neuroprotective properties of kavalactones. Neural Regen Res. 2015 Jun;10(6):875-7. doi: 10.4103/1673-5374.158335. PMID: 26199594; PMCID: PMC4498339.
  4. Jewett BE, Sharma S. Physiology, GABA. [Updated 2022 Jul 25]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from:
  5. Bian T, Corral P, Wang Y, Botello J, Kingston R, Daniels T, Salloum RG, Johnston E, Huo Z, Lu J, Liu AC, Xing C. Kava as a Clinical Nutrient: Promises and Challenges. Nutrients. 2020 Oct 5;12(10):3044. doi: 10.3390/nu12103044. PMID: 33027883; PMCID: PMC7600512.
  6. Minh, T.N.; Van, T.M.; Khanh, T.D.; Xuan, T.D. Isolation and Identification of Constituents Exhibiting Antioxidant, Antibacterial, and Antihyperuricemia Activities in Piper methysticum Root. Foods 2022, 11, 3889.
  7. Soares RB, Dinis-Oliveira RJ, Oliveira NG. An Updated Review on the Psychoactive, Toxic and Anticancer Properties of Kava. J Clin Med. 2022 Jul 12;11(14):4039. doi: 10.3390/jcm11144039. PMID: 35887801; PMCID: PMC9315573.
  8. Zhou P, Gross S, Liu JH, Yu BY, Feng LL, Nolta J, Sharma V, Piwnica-Worms D, Qiu SX. Flavokawain B, the hepatotoxic constituent from kava root, induces GSH-sensitive oxidative stress through modulation of IKK/NF-kappaB and MAPK signaling pathways. FASEB J. 2010 Dec;24(12):4722-32. doi: 10.1096/fj.10-163311. Epub 2010 Aug 9. PMID: 20696856; PMCID: PMC2992378.
  9. Singh YN, Singh NN. Therapeutic potential of kava in the treatment of anxiety disorders. CNS Drugs. 2002;16(11):731-43. doi: 10.2165/00023210-200216110-00002. PMID: 12383029.
  10. Prinsloo D, van Dyk S, Petzer A, Petzer JP. Monoamine Oxidase Inhibition by Kavalactones from Kava (Piper Methysticum). Planta Med. 2019 Oct;85(14-15):1136-1142. doi: 10.1055/a-1008-9491. Epub 2019 Sep 20. PMID: 31539917.
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  12. Zhou P, Gross S, Liu JH, Yu BY, Feng LL, Nolta J, Sharma V, Piwnica-Worms D, Qiu SX. Flavokawain B, the hepatotoxic constituent from kava root, induces GSH-sensitive oxidative stress through modulation of IKK/NF-kappaB and MAPK signaling pathways. FASEB J. 2010 Dec;24(12):4722-32. doi: 10.1096/fj.10-163311. Epub 2010 Aug 9. PMID: 20696856; PMCID: PMC2992378.

  13. Zi X, Simoneau AR. Flavokawain A, a novel chalcone from kava extract, induces apoptosis in bladder cancer cells by involvement of Bax protein-dependent and mitochondria-dependent apoptotic pathway and suppresses tumor growth in mice. Cancer Res. 2005 Apr 15;65(8):3479-86. doi: 10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-04-3803. PMID: 15833884.

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