Chapter One: An Overview
Kava, an herb used ceremonially for centuries in the islands of the South Pacific, has the remarkable ability to promote relaxation without a loss in mental sharpness, making it the perfect natural supplement for today’s frantic, stress-filled lifestyle. Easing anxiety by creating a sense of peacefulness and oneness between mind and body, its soothing effects seem to mirror the laid-back image of the tropical culture. Safe, free of side effects, and non-addictive, Kava is not only calming, but has been shown to actually enhance perception, awareness, and clarity of thought.
Stress: A National Epidemic
More and more Americans live much of their time in a constant state of anxiety, battling stress at every turn, leading to fatigue, depression, burnout, physical illness, and death. A modern office worker afraid of being chewed out by the boss, experiences many of the same physiological events as a caveman 50,000 years ago about to be chewed on by a saber-toothed tiger. The “fight or flight” response, that complex set of physical and psychological responses we call stress, erupts spontaneously in a human body mobilized for danger. “Epidemic” is not too strong a word to describe the rates of stress we are currently seeing in the United States. A Gallup poll reports that up to 25 % of the American work force suffers from excess stress or anxiety. 15 % of the U.S. population has had an anxiety disorder, and one in five Americans suffer from stress-related insomnia. We all experience stress. Any alteration in a person’s environment can cause it, whether related to work, finances, relationships, or lifestyle. It can be brought about by something as simple as standing in a slow-moving line at the bank. Our bodies pay a price for the years of stress. Sixty percent of doctor visits are connected to stress and the physical ailments it can cause.. The cost to business is $50- to $75 billion a year. Modern research shows that stress can be fatal, and may be the underlying cause of our most pernicious diseases — heart disease, high blood pressure, arthritis, and cancer. This book includes self- administered questionnaires which allow you to assess the number and severity of stressors to which you are currently exposed, as well as the anxiety symptoms you may be experiencing as a result.
A Vicious Cycle
In grappling with the complex problems of stress and anxiety, conventional medicine usually relies on the prescription of powerful psychoactive drugs. The drawbacks of this approach include the potential for addiction, mental and physical impairment, and the serious health risks that accompany their use. Also, by focusing exclusively on treating the symptoms, chemical treatment by itself fails to address the underlying issues and problems that cause stress in the first place. We will discuss the problems and side effects of specific drugs later in the book, comparing and contrasting them with their natural and herbal counterparts. Psychotherapy is also used often in the conventional treatment of stress. While this may not solve the external causes, the process helps us to uncover the factors in our own psyche that allow stress to thrive, and to develop internal and external strategies for stress- reduction. In a Catch-22, however, anxiety often interferes with learning, thus sabotaging the therapy process. Have you ever tried to memorize some material just before an exam, and felt you were staring at total gibberish? Not only is a depleted mind unable to think clearly, a burned out body/mind lacks the energy to make the changes necessary to improve the situation.
We believe a variety of natural therapies, used singly or in combination with each other, can prove extremely useful in managing this epidemic of the 1990s. Safe, natural, and inexpensive, kava, may have a particular contribution to make.. Research has demonstrated its capacity to promote relaxation without a loss in mental sharpness.. You could say kava has the ability “to wake you up as it calms you down”. The media and the public are suddenly “discovering” such remedies that have proven effective for centuries in traditional use, and for twenty years in my own clinical experience. When St. John’s wort, an herbal remedy for depression, was the subject of a cover story in “Newsweek” and a prominent feature on television’s “20/20”, its use increased by 996%. The subsequent success of my book, St. John’s Wort: Nature’s Blues Buster, was one more indication to me that people are hungry for practical, information about the use of natural remedies for depression. We recognize however that there is an equal, if not greater, demand for information on natural treatments for the tension and anxiety that affect nearly everyone. In this time of unprecedented uncertainty and accelerating change, we want to introduce kava as an effective component of a holistic approach to mental and emotional health.
Let Go of Tension and Anxiety with Kava
Kava is already commonly prescribed in Europe, and scientific research confirms that it is as effective as Valium-type relaxants (benzodiazepines) in treating anxiety, but without their sedative effects. One German study of patients diagnosed with anxiety syndrome, found that the participants experienced dramatic improvements after just one week of use. Kava is free from addiction, habituation, side effects, high cost, and is available without a prescription. Tests have also indicated that kava, while relaxing both muscles and emotions, actually sharpens concentration and memory. In addition, kava works socially as well as individually. Our society, for the most part, deals with problems on an individual basis: “It’s your problem” — your personality, bad habits, childhood traumas, brain chemistry, or diet. Though there are exceptions such as 12-step recovery programs (modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous), and couples or family therapy, we have all but abandoned traditions of extended family, and religious or tribal experiences that could provide comfort and support in our lives. Throughout the islands of the South Pacific, kava’s long history of communal use has served to foster connection, communication, and even conflict resolution. Clinical experience has shown that it promotes similar effects in modern settings. In this book you will learn how to use kava. We will answer questions regarding the best forms to take it in, recommended dosages, matters of safety, and the various combinations with other healing and fortifying nutrients. We will also discuss briefly how it works, including its chemistry and pharmacology. In addition, we will tell you about some of kava’s colorful history, and introduce you to the complex issues of politics, economics, and government regulation that may impact its development as a mainstream supplement in the United States and internationally. We discuss kava and other natural supplements in the wider context of the revolution in health care now taking place in the United States. Faced with soaring costs, the frustrations of managed care, and the failure of modern medicine to provide adequate solutions to critical health problems, Americans are seeking alternative solutions in ever-increasing numbers. A 1993 Harvard study published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that more than one in three Americans had used some form of alternative therapy in the preceding year — and there has been exponential growth since then. “Retail sales of bottled herbs at neighborhood pharmacies are up more than 22-fold from 1991.” Alternative health books have topped national best-seller lists for many months. With kava as part of a natural approach to stress, we may begin to replace anxiety and inertia with flow and momentum. When we are less at war with ourselves and each other, we can make healthier choices in all areas of our lives. The most important benefit of kava may well be that as we break the stress cycle, we have the energy and ability to integrate new life changes — something that is difficult, if not impossible to do until we can get off the stress treadmill. In this book, we suggest that kava may be one of nature’s unique keys with which to unlock the door to healthier living in a mad, mad world.
Not by Kava Alone
Kava by itself may not be enough. In addition to its internal synergy, kava, like many other herbs, is often particularly useful in combination with other nutrients. This book will describe specific formulas for particular conditions. For example, a person with insomnia would take kava with valerian, a relaxing herb, while a student in a frantic push during finals might take kava and ginseng; kava to calm and focus and ginseng to restore both mental and physical energy. While we believe kava offers a natural means to reduce the costs of the stressful lives we lead, we can’t help but feel that the message of kava goes beyond that. Within its age-old social context, the drinking of kava takes place in a “community” of people who share the release of tension and anxiety, and move together into an experience of greater well-being and sociability. Earlier this century, Tom Harrison, wrote in Savage Civilization, “You feel friendly… never cross…. You cannot hate with Kava in you.” In this book, we offer you information about the relief available through kava extracts in capsules and tinctures. We also offer you a vision of the world from which it comes. Finally, confronting many of the self-destructive biases of our frantic workaholic culture, we will make a convincing and welcome case for the intrinsic value of mindfulness, calm, and pleasure. The combination of all of the above, from herbs to diet, and exercise to specific anti-stress techniques, can lead the reader out of the stress trap and into a more relaxed, healthy, and fulfilling lifestyle.