Herbal Ergogenics: Kava Root

muscled guy posingKava (Piper methysticum) is also known as kava-kava and intoxicating pepper. Kava root has a long history of use by Pacific Islanders who use the root to make tea which is consumed at social gatherings. The active constituents of kava root are called kava pyrones also known as kava lactones.

The consumption of kava root is known to produce feelings of relaxation and slight euphoria. Kava root can aid in relaxation of the mind and body, and many people find it useful for relieving anxiety and falling asleep. Kava root should not cause a decrease in mental clarity (“brain fog”) as many other sleep and relaxation aids do.

The safety of this herb has been questioned, as quite a few cases of liver toxicity have been linked to kava root. These cases have been linked to products using low quality raw material herb as well as high doses of kava root and the combination of kava root with other drugs known to cause liver stress. At a moderate dose as an occasional relaxation aid, kava root should not cause any significant liver stress, but it is still important to know that some cases of liver toxicity have been documented.

Kava root may be purchased in capsules, tea bags, powder, or as the whole root. Kava root tea may produce a numbing sensation in the mouth due to a local anesthetic action.


1. Pittler MH, & Ernst E. (2002). Kava extract for treating anxiety. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (Online). (2), CD003383.

2. Baum SS, Hill R, & Rommelspacher H. (1998). Effect of kava extract and individual kavapyrones on neurotransmitter levels in the nucleus accumbens of rats. Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology & Biological Psychiatry. 22(7), 1105-20.

3. Jamieson DD, Duffield PH, Cheng D, & Duffield AM. (1989). Comparison of the central nervous system activity of the aqueous and lipid extract of kava (Piper methysticum). Archives Internationales De Pharmacodynamie Et De Therapie. 301, 66-80.

4. Uebelhack R, Franke L, & Schewe HJ. (1998). Inhibition of platelet MAO-B by kava pyrone-enriched extract from Piper methysticum Forster (kava-kava). Pharmacopsychiatry. 31(5), 187-92.

5. Teschke R, Sarris J, Glass X, & Schulze J. (2011). Kava, the anxiolytic herb: back to basics to prevent liver injury? British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology. 71(3), 445-8.

6. Teschke R. (2010). Kava hepatotoxicity: pathogenetic aspects and prospective considerations. Liver International : Official Journal of the International Association for the Study of the Liver. 30(9), 1270-9.

7. Teschke R, Schwarzenboeck A, & Hennermann KH. (2008). Kava hepatotoxicity: a clinical survey and critical analysis of 26 suspected cases. European Journal of Gastroenterology & Hepatology. 20(12), 1182-93.

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