Does Fiji hold the key to the next big wellness trend?

Fiji has long been known as one of the happiest nations in the world – a title of no surprise to anyone who has ever landed on that eternally gorgeous archipelago of around 330 islands.

Those who have been most definitely would’ve come across a foul-smelling, questionable-tasting, muddy-looking drink called Kava. Widely known for its remarkable effects said to reduce stress and anxiety, up relaxation, mood and focus, help people sleep and even act as an aphrodisiac, it’s available just about everywhere across Fiji, from luxury hotels to produce markets.

What Is Kava?

A local fresh produce market in Fiji where Kava is often sold | Photo: Chris Singh

Extracted from a pepper plant that grows in abundance throughout the islands, Kava has grown from its historical and ceremonial roots into an everyday recreational drink for those who have long benefitted from it. Just step into any village in Fiji and you’ll no doubt hear about nightly Kava ceremonies after work each day.

Kava has been around for a very long time, though in the past two decades its popularity has extended outside of the Pacific Islands, with a swift proliferation of Kava bars being touted as the “new coffee houses” in USA, and mammoth markets all over the world constantly showing demand for the natural remedy.

Kava Powder being packaged at the local market | Photo: Chris Singh

Although, Kava hasn’t been without spots of short-lived controversy. It was once incredibly popular in Western Europe, until a ban due to unreliable reports of liver toxicity began circulating. Even Australia has had tight restrictions on “nature’s Xanax”, enacted because remote communities would begin to abuse it and mix it with alcohol. Both regulations have since been lifted due to new findings, sprouting a resurgence – and possible revolution – of sorts.

Enter Fiji Kava

Fiji Kava as a brand is not necessarily new – to Fiji, at least – but the impact the company could have on the world is well worth paying close attention to. In establishing a tissue culture lab in Fiji’s old capital of Levuka, as well as a Kava farm on the island, they are seeking to standardise the natural medicine and possibly change the way the world experiences, and views, Kava.

Specifically, they are focusing on the varietal Noble Kava, a wide-spread species in Fiji that has been shown to have the most desirable set of effects without affecting mental clarity, avoiding the issues caused by other types such as Tudei Kava which is abundant on islands like Vanuatu and often considered less safe – as well as sometimes being dubbed “two-day” thanks to its supposed two-day hangover.

What produces the effects credited to Kava are lipophilic resins found in the root, called Kavalactones. And without getting into the nitty gritty of it all, they have been shown in studies to target the same neurotransmitters (for all my neuropsych heads out there – GABA, dopamine, and noradrenaline) as benzos, alcohol, and other commonly used drugs, thereby providing a safe and natural alternative. That’s especially exciting when thought about in terms of an alternative to alcohol, considering the long list of issues surrounding its widespread use.

Kava Products

Fiji Kava products (note that the powder may not be available in Australia)

Fiji Kava have extracted Kava plants into a range of products, which are now available across Australia, New Zealand and, as of 19th October, USA. We’re talking capsules and tea bags (with chamomile and peppermint) mostly, both listed as natural/complementary medicines here in Australia. They are available everywhere except in the Northern Territory.

That brings a pretty exciting, non-alcoholic way to relax at the end of the day, distilling a big part of Fiji’s renowned happiness and calm into a natural medicine. I’ve personally found steeping two teabags into a warm cuppa a few hours before bedtime has a very positive effect, and that’s coming from someone who has had severe sleeping problems since adolescence.

I haven’t personally felt the euphoria, but can certainly notice a de-stress effect, and hence understand a bit better why Kava bars are such a massive thing in the U.S at the moment.

Although do note that kava doesn’t seem to play well with other drugs. Do not mix it with alcohol and make sure to do your own research before deciding if it is for you. This article should not take the place of professional medical advice. If you want more insight into studies negating the claims that kava is bad for the liver, look up with those done by Australia’s Jerome Sarris, Professor of Integrative Mental Health and Deputy Director of the NICM integrative medicine research institute at Western Sydney University. He has a particular interest in integrative medicine, nutraceutical psychopharmacology, psychotropic plant medicines (like kava), and lifestyle medicine, so you’ll find plenty of literature on Fiji’s “gift to the world”.

For more information on Fiji Kava’s products and to order some online head on over to fijikava.com.

The writer travelled to Fiji as a guest of Fiji Kava. This is not a sponsored post and all opinions belong to the writer.

Feature image: View from a Kava Farm on Levuka. Photo supplied.

Chris Singh

Chris Singh is the Deputy Editor of the AU review and a freelance travel writer. You can reach him on Instagram by following @chrisdsingh.

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