Business of Well-being

Alleviating Stress and Anxiety: Health and Wellness Through the Power of Kava

For stress, anxiety and frustration, there are a variety of prescription medications, supplements, over-the-counter drugs and other products that purport to treat these problems. The issue, from my perspective as a biochemist and as someone who has tried and reviewed many products in this category, is striking a balance between efficacy and safety, on the one hand, and affordability and taste, on the other.

In some instances, particularly among those who do not have health insurance or pay out of pocket for antidepressants (which allegedly address the phenomenon known as "general anxiety disorder"), it is important to consider the side effects of these medicines before agreeing to consume these pills for an indefinite period of time.

Many of the most popular prescription drugs, including those doctors reference for depression, anxiety, obsessive behavior and stress, can induce any number of adverse reactions, such as: Weight gain, nausea, dry mouth, reduced libido, diarrhea, weight loss, sleeplessness, lethargy, hypertension, and yes, even heightened stress, anxiety or mania.

The point about these medicines is that, given the eagerness with which physicians recommend these drugs and the acceptance by patients to consume large dosages of SSRIs (selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors), we may very well have an over-medicated population -- that still suffers stress, anxiety, depression and sleeping disorders.

No amount of marketing can negate these facts, despite billions of dollars in advertising by big pharmaceutical companies to convince consumers that they must try the newest drug (which may be nothing more than a slight molecular change to an already existing product, which is now available as a generic) to treat anxiety, among other things.

At this point, people need to explore other options than conventional therapies, which, again, have a questionable record of success and have identifiable (and confirmed) side effects. The challenge, of course, rests with finding a product that is safe, effective, easy to consume and backed by independent research.

Too many brands, despite Federal Trade Commission (FTC) rules to the contrary, tread a fine line - which they sometimes cross - between suggesting there is the potential to lessen anxiety and issuing bold, unsubstantiated claims.

All of which makes it more important for consumers to read the ingredients of these various products, along with additional analysis online. In fact, there are a multitude of health-related websites that offer information about, say, supplements or liquids, which contain a variety of herbs and other helpful properties.

My recommendation, therefore, is to do your own research and educate yourself about the advantages of kava, which can be very helpful in lessening the stress and anxiety many of us confront every day. Indeed, there is a wealth of data - including a highly respected study conducted by Duke University - attesting to the successful use of kava for treating sleep problems, general anxiety, stress, ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and depression.

More to the point, there is a long tradition of use of kava in Polynesia, both as a customary drink (for centuries) among islanders and as a means of promoting clarity of mind. (A sidebar: Tribal leaders used to drink large amounts of kava as a sort of diplomatic solution, so to speak, when warring factions would meet and negotiate.)

The scientific support for kava is itself impressive - and here I refer to other reports besides the one undertaken by Duke - that strongly indicate that this is a more holistic remedy, for all manner of conditions, than prescription drugs or a mere placebo. The goal, for consumers and people who want to make kava a daily staple, rests, again, with performing the necessary research.

Translation: Read the ingredients, explore the reviews (from consumers and health care professionals), and avoid artificial flavors, dyes, preservatives, harsh chemicals and other potentially dangerous enhancers. In terms of kava, I have a preference for Zend, which is an excellent way to relieve stress, reduce anxiety and sharpen mental focus.

Also, on a personal level, and here I write as someone who is a cancer survivor (from Hodgkin's lymphoma), I applaud any company - particularly in the health and wellness space - that has a real identity, one that resonates with consumers and underscores the value of authenticity.

More specifically, the Founder of Zend, Steve Curtis, is a member of the same fraternity of cancer survivors - like me, he, too, defied the odds - who is both inspiring and resolute in helping others. For, any individual dealing with this disease - or for people with loved ones suffering with this awful ailment - please know that, with hope and resolution (lessening the effects of stress and anxiety are a necessity for patients), a person can aid the healing process.

As a scientist, these topics matter a great deal to me because, based on my formal academic training and my interests as a consumer, I want to know as much as I can - and benefit as powerfully as I can - from the easily available and safe items that alleviate stress (which can be toxic) and potentially improve my mood.

Given the information, testimonials and commentary (in print and online) about kava, I think people should take a moment to learn more about this issue. By being an intelligent consumer, we may very well find an alternative to the more conventional - or the potentially toxic - combination of benzodiazepine and antidepressant drugs, among others.

For stress reduction, anxiety and a general sense of calm, it is time to respect the power of kava. We owe it to ourselves to be healthy, both mentally and physically. The subsequent rewards are measurable, observable (by a person's more relaxed or upbeat mood) and further proof that Mother Nature is often the source for finding the origins of health, wellness, recovery, strength and vigor.

So, yes, use science as your guide - and respect the integrity of independently performed studies - which can yield practical and consistent results. It is high time we do something to defeat stress and anxiety.

About the Author

Michael D. Shaw is a biochemist and author, based in the Washington, DC, area. A protegee of Willard Libby, the 1960 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, he writes about a variety of subjects involving personal wellness and health care.

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