The Anti-Inflammatory Benefits of Kava

The Anti-Inflammatory Benefits of Kava: Our Journey Towards Healthier Living

Introduction: Our Health Journey

Late last year, my wife was diagnosed with breast cancer, an event that shocked us and changed our lives. As a vegan family, I considered ourselves relatively active and healthy (although I still ate a bit of vegan junk-food), this diagnosis was a wake-up call. Since then, my wife has been through chemotherapy, surgery and now currently going through radiation which leaves us with her recovery and embarking on a mission to further improve our health. This journey led me to explore various supplements, fasting, detoxing and lifestyle changes, including an interest into researching more about inflammation as I had recently read or seen a phrase that stick with me "stress creates inflammation and inflammation is the root of all disease".

I recently came across an instagram post the Australia Kava Shop shared on inflammation and wanted to learn more about the anti-inflammatory benefits of kava as this is our business and realising I had not done a blog post in over three years, here we are! 


Discovering Kava

Kava, a plant native to the South Pacific, has been traditionally used for its calming effects. The active compounds in kava, known as kavalactones, are believed to contribute to its anti-inflammatory properties. These kavalactones work by inhibiting COX enzymes, suppressing the NF-κB pathway, reducing pro-inflammatory cytokines, and providing antioxidant benefits.

Kava’s Anti-Inflammatory Properties

Inflammation is the body's response to stress, injury, or infection. Chronic inflammation, however, can lead to various diseases. Here’s how kava helps in reducing inflammation:

  • Inhibition of COX Enzymes: Kavalactones can inhibit COX-2 enzymes, reducing the production of pro-inflammatory prostaglandins.
  • NF-κB Pathway Suppression: By suppressing this pathway, kava helps regulate the immune response and reduce inflammation.
  • Reduction of Pro-Inflammatory Cytokines: Kava decreases levels of molecules like TNF-α and IL-6, which promote inflammation.
  • Antioxidant Activity: Kava’s antioxidants help mitigate oxidative stress, a contributor to inflammation.

During historical times, Tongan warriors returning from wars and voyaging throughout the South Pacific would consume kava to help them de-stress and assimilate back into village communal life. This transition helped them shift their mindset from fierce warriors to community leaders, fathers, husbands, fishermen, and farmers. In modern times, we can similarly use kava to transition from the stresses of work life back into home and family life, thanks to the relaxing effects of this traditional drink.

Personal Experience with Kava

For me, kava's benefits extend beyond its anti-inflammatory properties. It has brought social, cultural connection, monetary and spiritual value into my life. Growing up in New Zealand, I was somewhat detached from my Fijian culture and had limited exposure to kava. However, when I started consuming and growing kava as my father, grandfather and ancestors did, I rediscovered a sense of connection and community through meaningful conversations aka talanoa and social connection.

During my younger days playing rugby, I often experienced the negative impacts of alcohol, especially after injuries and body soreness. In contrast, kava has provided a healthier alternative that promotes relaxation and team bonding without the adverse effects of alcohol. While the drinking culture is still prevalent in rugby clubs I'd been involved in, kava is slowly emerging as a cultural and social alternative in these spaces.

Integrating Kava with Other Health Practices

Our health journey has also branched out into grounding, probiotics, adaptogens, nootropics and even trialing out a kangen water machine. Grounding, for instance, involves direct contact with the earth’s surface electrons, promoting better sleep and reducing inflammation. My experience with grounding this year includes cold plunges at the beach after gym sessions, walking barefoot on the beach with our dogs, and now sleeping on a grounding bed sheet. As I write this blog post in the morning, I'm drinking a concoction of fresh ginger root, turmeric powder, squeezed lemon juice, cayenne pepper all of which we also grow on our farms in Fiji. 

Kava fits seamlessly into this holistic approach. Its calming effects complement the stress reduction achieved through grounding and other practices, contributing to overall well-being.

Cultural Insights: The Fijian Connection

The traditional use of kava (yaqona in Fijian or wainivanua in a more formal setting) is deeply ingrained in Fijian culture and plays a significant role in our social, spiritual, and everyday lives. Kava is central to various Fijian ceremonies, including welcoming guests, resolving conflicts, and marking important occasions like weddings and funerals. These ceremonies foster a sense of community and connection. Prior to starting our farming and sourcing the location of our farms, kava was presented to the chief of the village along with a tabua (whales tooth) as an offering to initiate and receive the blessing of the mataqali. 

Kava is also consumed in informal settings among friends and family, promoting relaxation, conversation, and connection. It has medicinal properties, traditionally used to relieve anxiety, stress, insomnia, and pain. The Fijian lifestyle, including the use of kava, contributes to their well-being through:

  • Community and Connection: Kava ceremonies and social gatherings foster a strong sense of community, belonging, and social support.
  • Relaxation and Stress Reduction: The mild sedative effects of kava help reduce anxiety and stress as well as creating a space for talanoa and healing.
  • Mindfulness and Present Moment Awareness: The ritualistic nature of kava ceremonies encourages mindfulness and being present in the moment.
  • Cultural Identity and Pride: Participating in kava traditions fosters a sense of pride and connection to one’s heritage.

Scientific and Anecdotal Evidence

Research supports kava’s anti-inflammatory properties, though more studies are needed. Anecdotally, many people have shared positive experiences with kava, noting improvements in stress, sleep, and inflammation.

Practical Tips for Using Kava

When considering kava, look for high-quality sources that can evidence traceability, understand the processing and sanitisation of the kava from the moment it's harvested through to when you open the package. Start with small doses to see how your body reacts and gradually increase as needed. Always consult with a healthcare professional, especially if you have any underlying health conditions or are taking other medications.

Call to Action

I encourage you to explore the benefits of kava and consider how it might fit into your lifestyle. We'll be sharing more insights on our instagram (shared automatically to our facebook), as well as trying to post more regular blogs with updates on our journey. Together, we can make informed choices for a healthier future.

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