Kava Kava and depression



All you need to know about depression

When searching for information on the properties of Kava – methistine pepper – one often comes across mentions of its antidepressant and anti-anxiety (anxiolytic) effects. Some even consider Kava to be a natural alternative to antidepressants. Is this right? What should you know about depression – a disease that will soon dominate the world?

First of all, we must note that clinical depression is a mental disorder and Kava Kava is not a medicine. Under no circumstances should it be considered as a substitute for medication in the treatment process. Kava should also not be consumed while taking antidepressants. If you suspect that you are facing depression, do not ignore the symptoms and seek medical advice from a specialist.

Main information about depression

Depression - a disease that will dominate the world?

According to projections by the World Health Organisation, by 2030 depression will be the leading cause of disease burden globally:


Approximately 280 million people in the world have depression. Depression is different from usual mood fluctuations and short-lived emotional responses to challenges in everyday life. […] At its worst, depression can lead to suicide. Over 700 000 people die due to suicide every year. [, 2021]

Is depression a modern disease?

Although depression is commonly described as a civilisation disease (linked to and compounded by the development of civilisation), it is not exclusively a modern phenomenon.


Already Hippocrates (460-375 BC) wrote about melancholy and the melancholic temperament, pointing to a biological basis. Paracelsus, a physician of the Middle Ages, described a category of sufferers as ‘slaves of sadness’. The term depression was used in 1665 by the chronicler (not a doctor!) Richard Baker, writing of the “great depression of spirit”.


The specialized category of manic-depressive insanity was introduced by Emil Kraepelin, a psychiatrist at the turn of the 20th century. The term depression became popular with the Swiss-American psychiatrist Adolf Meyer in the early 20th century. The term affective disorder is due to Eugen Bleuler (19th/20th century).

As you can see, depression is not just a modern phenomenon.


So what exactly is depression?

What is depression?

Depression is officially classified as an affective disorder, or mood disorder (according to the ICD-11). We will discuss the symptoms of depression below.



Depressive disorders are divided into a number of forms, of which the following are particularly notable:


  • major depressive disorder – occurrence of a set of depressive symptoms for the first time in life (lasting for at least 2 weeks)
  • recurrent depressive disorder – minimum 2 episodes of major depressive disorder, but without manic symptoms (the presence of which would indicate bipolar disorder).

Depression can be briefly described as a systemic disorder with specific effects on the brain and nervous system – the neurohormones. The disorder involves the balance of the neurotransmitters serotonin, noradrenaline and dopamine.



Among other things, depressive disorders are associated with inflammation and imbalances in the limbic system, which is responsible for emotional states, interpersonal bonds, memories, feelings of satisfaction, but also aggression or fear. An overactive system translates, for example, into reduced enthusiasm, mood swings, sleep disturbances, aversion to social gatherings, etc.

It is assumed that methystine pepper has a particularly positive effect on the limbic system, resulting in, among other things, feelings of contentment, openness, sometimes even euphoric states. Kava’s active ingredients – kavalactones – also affect the GABA neurotransmitter system (relieving arousal, calming), reducing the negative effects of stress. They may also interact with dopaminergic, opioid, serotonergic, histamine and benzodiazepine receptors.

Where does depression come from?

It is impossible to point to a single source of depression. Its origin may be

  • psychosocial
  • biological,  
  • as well as genetic

 And one should rather speak of a combination of factors.


The impetus for depression can be a traumatic event (both in childhood and adulthood) or often stress: too intense or too prolonged. Such shock or exertion can disrupt the functioning of the nervous system. Other factors can also be substance and drug use disorders, or a family history of illness. 

Is depression hereditary?

Current research suggests that no – depression is not hereditary.


What we can inherit in our genes is a predisposition to depression. The risk that children of sick parents will also face depression is simply higher and is estimated to be 15-30%.

What are the symptoms of depression? What are the differences in depression between men and women?

The core symptoms in depression include:

  • lowered mood
  • loss of motivation and energy, constant feeling of fatigue
  • anhedonia, i.e. inability to feel pleasure/joy/satisfaction

The core symptoms do not have to occur simultaneously. At least two of the three symptoms are necessary for a diagnosis of depression.


Cognitive-somatic (bodily) symptoms include:


  • appetite disturbances / lack of appetite or strength to eat
  • sleep and diurnal rhythm disturbances: insomnia / difficult falling asleep / waking up  
  • lowered self-esteem / feelings of guilt / shame
  • increased anxiety and fears
  • physical complaints / pain
  • impaired concentration

The symptoms of depression differ between men and women. This is due to the body’s different biology (e.g. endurance).


The symptoms of depression differ between men and women. This is due to the body’s different biology (e.g. endurance).


Among men, depression is less often manifested by a drop in mood as among women (e.g. despondency, sadness) – more often it is negative agitation, hostility, anger, malaise, anxiety and inner restlessness.

NOTE: If you observe the above symptoms for a two-week period (continuously, for most of the day, making daily functioning difficult), you should see a psychiatrist – you are probably measuring yourself against a depressive episode.

What are the types of depression?



Its basis is the body’s biology. Endogenous depression is primarily associated with a malfunction of the nervous system. In its case, the levels of the neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine and noradrenaline are disturbed.


  • Too low a level of serotonin manifests itself, among other things, in a lack of feelings of joy and happiness.
  • Too low a level of dopamine – is a lack of a sense of meaning / purpose, and motivation in life.


Suicidal thoughts are a frequent feature of endogenous depression. Treatment requires the use of pharmacological agents.



This is caused by a traumatic event or intense stress. Examples include the loss of a loved one, problems at work or relationship/family problems.

Symptoms are not as severe as in endogenous depression and treatment may be limited to psychotherapy (depending on the case, of course).


Among depressive disorders, we can also distinguish agitated (anxiety) depression, atypical depression, postnatal or seasonal depression (seasonal affective disorder – more on seasonal depression below), and dysthymia.

Depression and dysthymia - what are the differences?

It is difficult to make a clear distinction between depression and dysthymia. Dysthymia is a form of depressive disorder. It is often referred to as minor depression or neurotic depression.


Dysthymia fulfils the symptoms of depression (depressive episode), but not necessarily all of them and to a lesser degree.


At the same time, these symptoms persist over a period of 2 years, most of the time!


What does this mean: not all and to a lesser degree?


While mild depression is the fulfilment of 2 of the 3 core symptoms plus 4 symptoms from the cognitive-somatic area, dysthymia does not necessarily fulfil these symptoms to such an extent. Untreated dysthymia can even last a lifetime!


The causes of dysthymia are thought to have a biological or genetic basis. Some studies point to the neurotic nature of dysthymia.


Dysthymia sufferers may experience episodes of major depression. This is then referred to as double depression.

Depression and changes in the brain

Depression is associated with changes in the functioning of brain structures and volumes. The most pronounced changes concern the volume of the hippocampus – the centre responsible for memory – which can decrease by up to 10%!


On the other hand, the amygdala, which is mainly identified as a centre associated with the feeling of anxiety or fear, may grow.

Can depression be cured?

Yes, but…


Taking into account that every case of depression is different, that it is made up of a combination of different environmental factors, different substrates, that the course of depression is affected by different individual character conditions and that no two treatments are the same….

…it can be said that depression can be overcome and one can function without further depressive symptoms.

What’s more, it succeeds in both drug therapy and psychotherapy paths.


So what is the ‘but’?

There is always the risk that depression will return after therapy. Statistically, people after a depressive episode are more likely to become depressed than people without such episodes in the past.

Depression in the city?

Depression is a disease of big cities? Not necessarily…


It turns out that moving to the countryside does not have to protect us from depression at all. This has to do primarily with the role of social contacts and ties. Cities – willingly or unwillingly – force us to have more interactions that can act as a protective layer: work, neighbourhood, services, proximity to family and friends, constant contact with people. Isolation (including infrequent contact, long distances, limited social stimuli), on the other hand, increases the likelihood of depression. That much, at least, is what the statistics say. 


Of course, the impact of contact with nature on our condition cannot be overestimated. For many city dwellers, it can even be beneficial. The city often means more stress, greater social and financial pressures, a lack of time for regeneration, an inability to catch a break, overstimulation, reduced exercise and access to fresh air and light. Factors that can contribute to the onset of depression and the exacerbation of its symptoms.

Depression and light (not just sunlight)

Access to sunlight is crucial to our condition. On the one hand, we are talking about a proper biorhythm and a daily balance of activity and regeneration of the body. On the other hand, being in the sun supports the production of vitamin D, which has a significantly positive effect on our psycho-physical condition. 

Light deficiency can also lead to so-called seasonal depression, or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD is associated with a disturbance of serotonin levels – mainly in autumn and winter. It manifests itself as, among other things, constant fatigue, protracted apathy and a general drop in mood. When coping with SAD, it is particularly important to avoid stressful situations, the negative consequences of which are exacerbated by SAD.


To avoid seasonal depression and to compensate for the lack of sunshine, one can turn to so-called antidepressant lamps that imitate sunlight (strong, bright, directed at the face). 

It is not only light, but also warmth in general, that can serve to alleviate the symptoms of depression. Research into the relationship between depression and body thermoregulation disorders is ongoing.

A sense of harmony with nature, stress relief, relaxation of the head and body, healthy sleep and proper biorhythm, balance between duties and regeneration. All of these elements – directly associated with the effects of Kava Kava – can relieve symptoms of depression. 


However, if your condition meets the symptoms or you feel you need the support of a specialist – don’t wait and contact your doctor! 

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