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A medicinal league of its own: Exploring the health benefits of kava

Presented by MeloMelo Kava Bar
Sip, relax, and unwind at MeloMelo's Kava oasis.
(MeloMelo Kavar Bar)

For as long as us locals can remember, our beloved state of California has been synonymous with all things health. Whether it’s the latest trend in exercise or the hottest health food movement, we’ve managed to stay on the pulse of wellness for decades.

It then comes as no surprise that Santa Cruz is one of many places that has recently been taken by storm by kava, a medicinal root being deliciously brewed into the signature concoction of MeloMelo Kava Bar, located Downtown. Aside from the warm buzz and relaxing properties afforded by kava, the Fiji-native drink also boasts numerous health benefits, not known by many.

Read on to learn about the myriad of healing qualities held by this popular libation that’s been enjoyed for years.

The “root” cause

Kava kava, also known as piper methysticum, is a plant root that has remained common in indigenous Pacific-Islander cultures for many centuries, specifically in Vanuatu. While culturally reserved for ceremonial purposes, recreational consumption of kava has grown to be much more common in recent years, with many users praising its relaxing abilities to reduce stress, anxiety, and even insomnia.

The customary method of consuming kava entails steeping its plant roots in cold water to brew a tea that offers a bold herbaceous flavor. This method also maintains the integrity of kava’s all-natural high, provided by kavalactones, the phytochemicals in kava which provide its infamous calming properties.

Besides being chalk-full of antioxidants, the kava plant possesses both basal and lateral roots (referred to as waka and lawena in Vanuatu, respectively). The lateral roots are commonly isolated for consumption, due to their higher potency. Traditionally, most consumers report improvement in their brain & cognitive support, in addition to improvements in stress & sleep.

Frequent kava drinkers have praised its relaxing abilities to reduce stress, anxiety, and even insomnia.
(Adobe Stock)

The process of growing kava, which can be both time and labor-intensive, is well worth the approximate four years it takes to fully develop. During this time, the kavalactones become more and more highly concentrated, ensuring the most efficient benefits for the consumer.

In addition to its trademark anti-stress qualities, kava is widely known to serve as an anti-inflammatory, specifically its plant compound kavain. Moreover, the all-natural euphoria provided by kava’s buzz can serve as a helpful recovery tool from addiction, as it offers a non-addictive high that can take the place of alcohol or marijuana.

Certain studies have also reported kava to possess healing properties for neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease. Research from 2020 revealed that piper methysticum showcased a significantly positive response towards reducing oxidative stress and neuroinflammation in neurodegenerative diseases.

Most notably, a chalcone from kava extract known as Flavokawain has been found to reduce growth of cancer-causing maladies, including human osteosarcoma cells and bladder cancer cell lines. According to Dr. Xiaolin Zi, an Associate Professor of Urology at the University of California, Irvine, Flavokawain A can influence cell death and a reduction of tumor growth.

“Cigarette smoking is a leading cause of bladder cancer, but in the Pacific islands, where kava is plentiful, the incidence of cancer is low despite high smoking rates. What I’ve been investigating is how kava compounds can prevent bladder cancer in smokers.”

— Dr. Xiaolin Zi, Associate Professor of Urology at the University of California, Irvine

Overall, the kava plant itself boasts countless health benefits that are more than enough to intrigue the average health aficionado. Luckily enough, Santa Cruzans can continue to learn more by heading Downtown to MeloMelo Kava Bar and digest the hype for themselves.

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