Kickin’ back with Kava


There is yet another sign that aging, graying, bulging boomers facing their golden years refuse to sail off into the twilight without a fight. They Rogaine for thinning hair, they Botox to remove unsightly wrinkles, they lift, they nip, they tuck their bodies into gravity defying shapes, and when it comes to metaphysical well-being — they supplement.

St. John’s Wort is used in place of Prozac, Ginko is ingested to ward off “senior moments” — heck, there’s even herbal Viagra.

The latest addition to the list of natural remedies is a new chill pill called Kava Kava, and it’s making the rounds in Malibu.

“It’s one of our biggest-selling herbs,” says Jill McKenzie of the Vitamin Barn. “It’s great stuff. I use it quite frequently myself.”

The Kava root is cultivated on the Pacific Islands of Oceania, which is said to have the happiest and friendliest natives around.

In recent years, it has hit drug and health food stores in the United States. The market has soared from virtually zilch in 1994 to $35 million today. While it is touted as a safe, natural alternative to Valium, Kava Kava has its fair share of skeptics.

The New England Journal of Medicine notes a recent article that herbal supplements (in general) can make some people sick and urged that the loosely regulated herbal industry be held more accountable for its products.

At Super Care Drugs, Jerry Engel points out that prescription medication is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, but many times with supplements you don’t know what you’re getting. “I’m really up in the air about it,” he says. “Some doctors pooh-pooh them and other doctors totally believe in them.”

Engle says anyone using supplements should check with a physician first to see if they might have a reaction with any other medication. But if you’re convinced that herbal supplements are the way to go, do some research — not all products are the same. “It really depends on the manufacturer and the amount of the active ingredient. It varies considerably.”

McKenzie says quality is key. She recommends Kava Kava be taken in its liquid form, preferably by an outfit called Gaia Herbs based in Brevard, N.C. “That’s all they do,” she points out. “It’s like produce. You have to have the highest quality, otherwise you don’t know what you’re getting. Go to a health food store, and make sure you buy from a reputable company.”

Whether it’s anxiety, muscle pain or insomnia, Kava Kava is taking off and seems to be making laid-back Malibu even more mellow.