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Mind & Body

How Does Kava Work? A Lesson in Kavalactones


Kava has been consumed in beverage form for thousands of years by people in the South Pacific Islands for medicinal, social and other purposes. However, it wasn’t until the 20th century that we began to understand the chemistry of kava and how that chemical makeup causes the effects that make it so popular. Read on to learn more about how kava works.

Kavalactones: Kava’s Active Ingredients

The known active compounds in kava are a class of lactones called kavalactones. Kavalactones are believed to be responsible for kava’s effects on the brain and other parts of the central nervous system.

Kavalactones work by binding onto various receptors in the brain, particularly the part of the brain known as the amygdala, which regulates feelings of fear and anxiety. Kavalactones are concentrated in the rootstock and roots of the kava plant and not in the stems or leaves, which is why products that contain kava extracts like 1Hour Break are made exclusively of kava root.

Types of Kavalactones

There are approximately 18 distinct types of kavalactones that are divided into two groups: major kavalactones and minor kavalactones. A total of six kavalactones fall under the major kavalactones groups.

These six kavalactones are the only ones that are routinely measured, as they represent approximately 96 percent of the total amount of kavalactones within the kava specimen. The major kavalactones are:

  • Desmethoxyyangonin (DMY)
  • Dihydrokavain (DHK)
  • Dihydromethysticin (DHM)
  • Kavain (K)
  • Methysticin (M)
  • Yangonin (Y)

Each kavalactone is assigned an identifying number (1 = desmethoxyyangonin, 2 = dihydrokavain, 3 = yangonin, 4 = kavain, 5 = dihydromethysticin and 6 = methysticin), and each produces a somewhat different physiologic effect in the body.

Kavain, for example, physically relaxes the muscles without affecting the brain (like a muscle relaxant). Desmethoxyyangonin, on the other hand, increases the amount of dopamine in the brain, giving users a mild euphoric sensation.

These six kavalactones make up a natural kava “cocktail” that produces different physiological effects according to the particular mixture. To identify different mixtures, chemical compositions are coded into chemotypes or sequences.

SEE ALSO: Is Kava Safe? What You Need to Know About Liver Toxicity Claims

Understanding Chemotypes

A chemotype lists the major kavalactones in an extract by listing them in decreasing order of proportion. For example, the chemotype 521364 indicates that dihydromethysticin (5) is the most prominent kavalactone, dihydrokavain is the second most prominent, and so on.

The first three kavalactones in a chemotype usually represent more than 70 percent of the total kavalactones in the extract. This is important to know because it helps you select the kava product that is based on the results you want.

A chemotype that begins with 426 (kavain, dihydrokavain and methysticin), for example, can help you feel more relaxed, happy and sociable. It is ideal for someone who suffers from social anxiety and wants to feel more comfortable in social situations.

Chemotypes vary based on where the kava is cultivated. Kava cultivated in Hawaii, for example, has a chemotype that almost always starts with the numbers 4 (kavain) and 6 (methysticin).

In the islands of Vanuatu, where the kava used in 1Hour Break is cultivated, the six-digit sequence is more likely to start with 2 (dihydrokavain) and 5 (dihydromethysticin), or 2 and 6 (methysticin). For more detailed information about kavalactones, check out this in-depth article.

To take advantage of all the benefits kavalactones have to offer, try 1Hour Break today. 1Hour Break is a safe and effective oral spray that can be used to help relieve stress and enhance mood. The formula is made up of all-natural ingredients that are known promote relaxation, such as lobelia herb, passion flower, lemon balm and, most importantly, kava.

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