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ADHD Herbal Remedies: Kava-Kava

In recent years, there has been an increase in the number of children diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Several studies have also shown that medications used to treat the disorder lose their effectiveness in the long run, do not treat the underlying cause, and are full of potentially serious side effects. This is why many informed parents are now looking for more natural and effective solutions.

Kava-kava is a plant native to the Pacific islands, traditionally used as a ceremonial relaxant.  From there, it spread to Polynesia, Fiji, and then New Guinea, until it eventually reached the United States.  To this day, it is still used in rituals and ceremonies or made into a thick brew and used in folk medicine.

Several years ago, kava-kava came to the attention of homeopathic medicine providers for its unique sedative effect on the central nervous system.  The human body seems to absorb kava-kava quickly, providing fast-acting sedation. Together with St. John's Wort, kava-kava is one of the most popular anti-anxiety herbs available.  However, unlike Valium and other pharmaceutical sedatives, kava-kava doesn't dull the senses, impair mental processes, or make the user feel physically numb.  Its initial effects provide a relaxed, more open state of mind followed by heightened senses.  One study even showed that verbal recall (the mental activity used when you try to remember a person or an object's name) was enhanced after kava-kava consumption.

Kava-kava's sedative effects are due to kavalactones, a group of compounds that are primarily responsible for the root's curative properties. There are six kavalotones in kava-kava preparations, and they work by binding to receptors in the amygdala, the area of the brain that regulates anxiety and fear. Kavalotones also affect the limbic system, the region of the brain that regulates emotion and other homeostatic mechanisms like heart rate, blood pressure, sex drive, hunger regulation, and sleep cycles. All of these processes are closely connected to anxiety, feelings of stress, and depression. Some practitioners believe that kavalotones influence the production of GABA neurotransmitter and stimulate the production of dopamine and serotonin, but this claim has yet to be confirmed by research.

Traditionally, kava-kava is either consumed as a tea, made by placing dried or shredded kava root into hot water, or chewed.  Today, however, you can get kava-kava root in more familiar forms – as crushed powder in tablets or capsules, or as extracts or tinctures. Since kava-kava's tranquilizing effect seems to temporarily address the hyperactivity component of ADHD, this herb is probably best used as a complement and should not be used as the only or primary treatment for the disorder.  As its sedative components seem to be very potent, very small doses should be given to children, if any at all.  Although kava-kava is non-addictive and contains no toxic substances, it would be wise to consult a holistic health care practitioner before taking any herbal supplements yourself or giving it to your child.