It is no secret that we are one seriously stressed-out society. Many of us are busy from the moment we get up in the morning until our heads finally hit the pillows late at night. Interestingly, a lot of the technology that is supposed to make our lives easier may have actually made it more stressful—like when we are trying to do our grocery shopping and paying for our purchases while simultaneously checking our email and texting on our BlackBerries or any of the other multitasking scenarios that we do all day long.
As a result of all of this go-go-go activity, many of us are dealing with truly health-threatening levels of stress and anxiety. Some people respond by making an appointment with their physicians and many walk out of the office with a prescription for an anti-anxiety or anti-depression drug. These medications, while they can be effective, also come with a pretty impressive laundry list of side effects. Plus once you start taking them, it seems a lot of people end up staying on these medications for years.
In an ideal world of course, we would simply do away with many of the stressful situations and over-packed schedules that caused us to feel anxious and depressed in the first place. But we all know that this is not an ideal world. We can do our best to cut back a bit on activities and perhaps incorporate some soothing activities like deep breathing or yoga but chances are, we will still deal with more stress than we probably should. Wouldn’t it be nice if instead of turning to costly prescription drugs, we could try a natural herbal remedy that would make us feel better? Actually, such a supplement does exist. Called kava or kava kava, it has been used throughout Europe for years as a natural tranquilizer, and in recent years it has become more well-known and used in North America as well.
First, a little history of kava is in order. According to the WholeHealthMD.com website, kava is a member of the pepper family and its Latin name is Piper methysticum, which means “intoxicating pepper.” Kava is grown on the South Pacific islands, where for years it has been made into a ceremonial drink that helps guests relax at fancy occasions (sort of like alcohol does for some people).
Basically, kava works as a natural tranquilizer that helps to reduce anxiety but without the unpleasant brain-fog side effects that accompany many prescription anti-anxiety drugs. Its active ingredients, called kavalactones, are found in the roots of the plant. Research has found that kava works to calm us down by having an effect on the limbic system, the part of the brain that controls emotions.
People who have taken kava report that it can help them with the following:
• Reduce anxiety and panic caused by stress—numerous studies have found that kava can be helpful for easing anxiety and its accompanying symptoms like nervousness and restlessness.
• Fight depression-caused anxiety—By itself or in combination with other natural remedies like St. John’s wort or ginkgo biloba, kava may help reduce the anxiety that often accompanies depression.
• Help with insomnia—People who suffer from insomnia have reported that kava often helps them relax enough so that they can fall asleep.
• Help with chronic muscular pain and muscle spasms—Because kava is believed to have natural properties that help relax the muscles, it can be useful for people who have either muscle spasms or chronic muscle pain from health conditions like fibromyalgia.
In the second part of this article, we will look at kava further and discuss how it must be taken carefully and for short amounts of time. Although it has been taken for years, especially in Europe, during a two-year period from 2003 to 2005 there were suddenly reports of kava causing liver issues in about 40 people who took it. Stay tuned for more information on this herbal remedy and more about how research suggests it should be taken for optimum benefit.