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Can You Count on Kava Tea for Health?

In some countries, teas are so highly revered that there are ceremonies for it. In Japan and China, tourists watch or participate in tea ceremonies all year ‘round. In some islands in the Pacific, there’s a special tea tradition involving a well-loved drink called kava tea or kava kava. Learn more about what makes kava tea special, as well as the side effects to watch out for when trying this drink.

What Is Kava Tea?

Kava tea comes from kava (Piper methysticum), a plant that’s native to islands in the South Pacific. Other nicknames for kava tea include kava kava and ‘awa.1 Kava kava is usually served in a coconut shell and swallowed in one or two gulps. When drinking it this way, you should mention thoughts of gratitude, especially toward the person who served the drink.2

Kava tea is often consumed before religious rituals or ceremonies, formal functions, social events or get-togethers.3 Aside from cultural impacts, kava tea is respected for its medicinal effects. The kava plant’s roots and underground stem are also used medicinally and made into extracts, pills and drinks.4

Health Benefits of Kava Tea

Arguably, kava is most known for helping ease anxiety,5,6 restlessness and stress, and in helping people suffering from insomnia because of its potential to induce sleepiness.7,8 However, additional research has discovered other possible health benefits of drinking kava tea:

Improved brain performance: Authors of a 2004 Human Psychopharmacology study discovered that kava extracts promoted better cognitive abilities and cheerfulness.9

Assist people in curbing addictions: According to a 2001 Pacific Health Dialog article, some of kava’s active ingredients may assist people who want to resolve their addiction to substances like alcohol, cigars and cigarettes.10,11

Help in stroke recovery: Kava tea or extract can also be offered to patients recovering from a stroke12 and help shield the brain from the effects of oxygen deprivation,13 as long as it has been permitted by a doctor.

Ease menstrual pain and premenstrual syndrome:14,15 According to a 2003 article in the journal Maturitas, kava administration helped promote better moods and reduced anxiety symptoms among women in their perimenopausal stages.16

Other known properties and benefits that drinking kava tea offers include the following:17

Anesthetic18 and analgesic:19 Kava tea may assist with pain and muscle spasm relief.20 Chewing the root also has this effect, although it can cause numbing and tingling in the tongue.

Anti-inflammatory21 and antiseptic: Kava tea can be useful if you have a toothache or sore throat. This tea may assist in addressing urinary tract infections,22 cystitis, urethritis, urinary frequency and bladder irritability too.23

Diuretic: While kava is said to possess diuretic properties, the book, “Natural Standard Herb & Supplement Guide,” strongly advises consultation with a doctor before using it for this purpose.24

Kava can be applied topically to help address skin diseases like leprosy, promote wound healing and act as a painkiller, or be used as a mouthwash to target canker sores and toothaches.25

Kava Tea Nutrition Facts

A serving of kava tea contains roughly 7 calories. Here’s a quick rundown of the nutritional values of this tea:26

Tea Nutrition Facts

Serving Size: 1 serving

  Amt. Per
% Daily
Calories 7.0  
Total Fat 0 g 0%
Saturated Fat 0 g  
Polyunsaturated Fat 0 g  
Monounsaturated Fat 0 g  
Cholesterol 0 mg 0%
Sodium 0 mg 0%
Potassium 0 mg 0%
Total Carbohydrates 0 g 0%
Dietary Fiber 0 g  
Sugar 0 g  
Protein 0 g  
Vitamin A 0% Vitamin C 0%
Calcium 0% Iron 0%
Vitamin B-12 0% Vitamin B-6 0%
Vitamin D 0% Vitamin E 0%
Copper 0% Folate 0%
Magnesium 0% Manganese 0%
Niacin 0% Pantothenic Acid 0%
Phosphorus 0% Riboflavin 0%
Selenium 0% Thiamin 0%

*Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.

Unfortunately, there isn’t sufficient information regarding the caffeine content of kava tea.

How to Prepare Kava Tea

Kava tea is made by simmering the kava plant’s roots in water, although the tea can also be made by combining kava powder with water. If you’re buying kava powder, ensure that it contains kava root extract so you can reap the drink’s benefits.27 To see if you have bought an instant mix or not, check if the powder completely dissolves in water without leaving any residue. If it does, it’s instant.28

In the Pacific Islands, kava tea is made by straining 1 to 2 ounces of dried kava powder (approximately 2 to 4 tablespoons per person) in water using a nylon stocking, cheesecloth, strainer or muslin bag. The bag is immersed in a bowl of cool water. Afterward, the kava powder is hand-kneaded. At first, the powder will feel oily because of kava’s kavalactone content, but constant kneading will reduce the oiliness. Stop kneading once the powder doesn’t feel oily and the water is mud-like.

People who don’t feel like kneading powder can repetitively bring the strainer bag out of the bowl, squeeze it and place it back in the water. If you don’t have enough time for this kneading method, you can use a blender instead. Here’s how to easily brew kava tea:29

Traditional Kava Tea


2 to 4 tablespoons dried kava powder

1 cup water


1. Combine the kava powder and water.

2. Blend together for four minutes.

3. Pour mixture into a nylon sieve or cheese cloth. Squeeze excess liquid into a bowl. Discard the pulp afterward and enjoy.

This makes 1 serving.

How to Store Kava Tea

Kava roots or powder must be stored in well-sealed containers and protected from heat, light and moisture.30 According to kava powder manufacturer Kava by Rex, brewed kava tea can be stored inside your refrigerator for two weeks or more. After this period, it may “sour” instead of spoil, because of its high starch content. The more sterile your hands and kava drink-making equipment are, the longer the drink will last in the refrigerator.31

If Consumed in Excess, Kava Tea Side Effects May Occur

Speaking in an article published in Eater, Chris Ludwigh, a bartender from a New York-based kava bar, notes that some of the sedative effects of kava brew may register in 10 to 15 minutes.32 In other cases, drowsiness may occur 30 minutes after drinking the beverage.33

Excessive, long-term kava tea consumption may also lead to liver damage, as the kavain narrows blood vessels and prompts liver cell lining to retract.34 If you have liver disease or a history of liver problems, refrain from drinking kava tea.35 Another side effect of long-term, heavy and consistent consumption of kava is the development of a scaly skin rash called a dermopathy. There are three possible causes for this, namely:36,37

An interference with cholesterol metabolism

Kava lactone or flavopigment accumulation

Allergic systemic/contact dermatitis

Sebotropic or persistent photosensitivity reaction

Avoid consuming kava tea alongside alcohol38 and pharmaceutical drugs like sedatives, diuretics, phenothiazine drugs, levodopa and/or liver-metabolized medicines or anti-anxiety medicines,39 because this can lead to a high risk of adverse effects, such as worsened depression. People with Parkinson’s disease must avoid drinking kava tea because this can exacerbate the disease.

If you’re scheduled to undergo surgery, stop drinking kava tea two weeks before the procedure. Kava may affect the central nervous system and increase the effects of anesthesia and other medicines utilized during and after surgery.

Drinking kava tea isn’t advisable for pregnant women or breastfeeding mothers, because it can affect the uterus. Some chemicals in kava tea may also be passed to the breastmilk and can negatively affect the development of an infant. Young children mustn’t drink this tea, either.

Avoid drinking kava tea before driving. Incidents of “driving under the influence” connected to kava tea occurred with some people because they drove erratically after drinking large amounts of this beverage.40

You Can Enjoy Kava Tea, but Do It Carefully

Tea can be a unique part of a group’s culture, and the Pacific Islanders’ respect for kava tea or kava kava proves this. Although kava tea may not be familiar to people living on the other side of the globe, this drink’s potential benefits can be worth considering.

However, drinking kava tea may have its drawbacks, especially when consumed in excess. This beverage may enhance the effects of certain medications, worsen some conditions, or raise your risk for conditions like liver damage and dermopathy. As such, it’s advisable to consult a doctor before drinking kava tea.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Kava Tea

Q: Does kava tea work?

A: Yes. Kava tea can provide various benefits, and it’s known to contain anesthetic, analgesic, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic and diuretic properties. Kava tea can be beneficial in relieving stress and anxiety, addressing menopause symptoms, alleviating skin conditions and more.

Q: Is kava tea safe to drink?

A: Kava tea is safe to drink in moderation. Side effects like liver damage and a scaly skin rash called dermopathy may develop if kava tea is consumed in excessive amounts.

Q: Does kava tea show up on drug tests?

A: Kava may or may not show up in routine drug tests like a urinary test or a gas chromatography/mass spectrometry.41

Q: Where do you buy kava tea?

A: Kava stores in islands like Fiji or Vanuatu are good places to look for kava products. If you happen to go on a vacation in any of these islands, you might want to ask locals for recommendations. However, stores like this are uncommon in the U.S., so you can consider buying kava tea and other kava products from a reputable website.42

Once You Learn This You’ll Never Throw Out the Avocado Pit Again

By Dr. Mercola

Avocados (Persea americana) are one of the most popular fruits in the U.S., and two-thirds of consumers have purchased them in the past year. According to Hass Avocado Board 2014 tracking,1 60 percent of those purchasing avocados fall into the “lovers/enthusiasts” category, meaning they purchase at least 37 avocados each year. This is particularly striking since as late as the 1970s, avocados were more of a luxury item or a delicacy.

Avocados are actually a fruit, rich in monounsaturated fats that are easily burned for energy. Including them in your everyday diet helps to increase healthy fat without increasing protein or carbohydrates. Avocados are also high in potassium, which helps to balance your vitally important potassium to sodium ratio.

In the early 20th century, avocados were still called “alligator pears” due to their green bumpy skin. In a brilliant PR campaign move, avocados were renamed and rose out of obscurity. They subsequently beat the low-fat craze in the ‘80s and ‘90s and found their way into the hearts of Americans. The single greatest game-changer may have been avocado’s entrance into the Super Bowl.2

The California Avocado Commission PR firm held a “Guacamole Bowl” in the 1990s, gathering recipes from NFL players and taste testing them on fans and reporters. But it’s not just the avocado that is rich in vitamins and antioxidants. You might be surprised to find the pit has numerous health benefits as well.

Have You Eaten an Avocado Pit?

While you may be familiar with some of the benefits of eating avocados, this whole time you may have been throwing out the most nutritious part of the fruit. Here are some of the advantages you may enjoy when you take the time to prepare and eat your avocado pits.3

Antioxidant value: The avocado seed is packed with polyphenols. There are over 500 unique polyphenols, collectively known as phytochemicals.4 Plant-based foods tend to be high in polyphenols and the concentration is affected on how the product is grown, farmed, transported, ripened and prepared.

Many throw out the seed and skin. However, a high proportion of polyphenols remain in the seed.5 Antioxidants are known to combat cell damage, help prevent Type 2 diabetes, boost insulin sensitivity, reduce inflammation associated with heart disease and cancer, decrease blood pressure and play a role in weight management.6 In one study, the antioxidants in avocado pits were also found to protect hamburger meat against oxidation.7

Cancer: In a study published in Pharmaceutical Biology,8 ethanol extracts of the fruit and seeds were successfully used against Jurkat lymphoblastic leukemia cells in the lab. Researchers found the extract functioned as a proapoptotic compound, killing the leukemia cells through an oxidative stress mechanism.

Another study published in Cancer Research9 found avocatin B, a lipid derived from the fruit, targets leukemia stem cells responsible for recurrence of acute myeloid leukemia. Avocado pits contain biscatechin, a condensed flavenol, which demonstrated antitumor activity in one animal study.10 Unripe avocado fruit have also demonstrated cytotoxic properties in the lab.11

Digestion: Avocado seeds have been used in South American cultures for centuries to soothe gastrointestinal disturbances,12 and the antiprotozoal and antimycobacterial actions of the seed may have been used to reduce or eliminate diarrheal illnesses. Seed extracts have demonstrated the ability to inhibit the growth of several bacteria a protozoa responsible for disease.13

Using an extract from the leaf of the plant, researchers demonstrated the ability of avocados to help prevent the formation of ulcers after administration of ulcerogenic medications in an animal model.14

Antiaging: The oils in the avocado seed are rich in antioxidants helping reduce the free radical damage causing illness and aging. The anti-inflammatory actions also help reduce the signs of aging in your skin. By helping reduce blood glucose levels and to maintain a healthy weight, they may also help reduce aches and pains and keep you energetic.

The seeds may also be useful topically. When they are dried and ground, you can use them to make a homemade face mask and as an exfoliant.15 Combine ground seed with olive oil and a banana, or avocado and lemon juice. The seed helps your facial mask take off external dead skin and is a great addition for a facial massage.16

Avocado — A Real Superfood

To get to the seed you must go through the fruit. You probably know avocados are an excellent source of healthy fats. This whole food also has other unique health benefits protecting you against cardiovascular disease and diabetes, and enhancing your body’s ability to absorb nutrients. A small UCLA-led pilot study17 found eating one-half of a fresh medium Hass avocado with a hamburger significantly inhibited the production of inflammatory compound interleukin-6, compared to eating a burger without the fresh avocado.

The findings offer promising clues about the ability of avocados to benefit vascular function and heart health. The avocado also provides 21 percent of the recommended daily value for potassium in a single serving, approximately 1 cup of cubed fruit.18 According to a 2011 study,19 those at greatest risk for heart disease consume a combination of too much sodium with too little potassium. This was one of the first and largest U.S. study to evaluate the relationship between salt, potassium and heart disease deaths.

According to one of the lead authors, potassium may actually neutralize the heart damaging effects of sodium.20 Those who ate a lot of salt and very little potassium were more than twice as likely to die from heart attack as those who ate nearly equal amounts of both nutrients. Although a fruit, avocados are low in carbohydrates and high in fats.

There is evidence suggesting a limited intake of protein may be helpful in long-term health and in the prevention of cancer. Avocados are a tasty and satisfying way to eat a high fat diet while consuming close to 20 essential nutrients including fiber, vitamin E, B vitamins and folic acid.21

In a small study,22 researchers in Japan discovered the avocado contains potent chemicals that may reduce liver damage. Researchers fed 22 different fruits to a group of rats with liver damage caused by galactosamine. When the levels of liver enzymes were measured, the rats fed avocado showed the least liver damage.

Five compounds were tested in rats with chemically induced liver injuries resembling those caused by viruses. This suggested to the researchers an avocado extract may be promising in the treatment of viral hepatitis.23

The Best Way to Get the Most From Your Avocado

To get the most benefit from the avocado fruit, it’s important to take the skin off in such a way that you don’t remove most of the valuable phytonutrients. A UCLA research study24 demonstrated the greatest concentration of beneficial carotenoids are located in the darkest area of green fruit, closest to the inside of the peel.

The California Avocado Commission issued guidelines25 to get the most out of your avocado by peeling it the right way. To preserve the area with the greatest concentration of antioxidants in the fruit, it’s best to peel the avocado with your hands as you would a banana.


  1. First, cut the avocado lengthwise, around the seed
  2. Holding each half, twist them in the opposite directions to separate them from the seed
  3. Remove the seed
  4. Cut each half, lengthwise
  5. Next, using your thumb and index finger, simply peel the skin off each piece

Keep Your Avocado Fresh

The flesh of an avocado turns brown once it is cut as an enzyme oxidizes the fruit when exposed to air. The avocado has not necessarily gone bad at this point, and you can often scrape off the top brown layer to reveal a fresh green layer underneath. However, it is unappealing, and not many people like to eat brown guacamole. There are a number of tricks to keep avocados fresh for several days once they’ve been cut.

I’ve found storing avocados in the fridge — even while they’re still whole — keeps them fresh for up to two weeks. If you’ll be using only half at a time, leave the seed in the half of the avocado you’re not planning to use. If you’ve scooped the avocado for guacamole, store the seed in the leftovers.

Consider storing an avocado half in a sealed glass jar after covering the open half of the avocado with wax paper. Guacamole should also be stored in a glass airtight container in your refrigerator to reduce oxidation. Other strategies that can help reduce browning include the use of:

Olive oil: “Paint” a thin layer of olive oil onto the top of the avocado half. This creates a natural barrier to help prevent oxidation. You can use this trick with guacamole too (use a pastry brush to spread the oil on top); however, be aware it will add an oilier flavor and texture to your dip.

Lemon juice: Lemon juice helps to inhibit oxidation. Rub some on an avocado half or sprinkle some on top of your guacamole. It will add some lemon flavor to the avocado, which may or may not be desirable depending on your taste.

Onion: Place a handful of large onion chunks into the bottom of the container with the avocado (face up) on top. Alternatively, sprinkle the chunks of onion on top of your guacamole (and remove them when it’s time to serve).

Powder the Pit

This short video demonstrates how to dry your avocado seeds, powder them and store them for future use. Although the seed is off-white when sliced, after being processed in a blender, food processor or coffee grinder, oxidation turns the powder a light pink to orange color. The powder can be stored in an airtight container in your refrigerator for up to 14 days.

Some report avocado seeds taste bitter, while others experience a nutty flavor.26 If your powder tastes somewhat bitter it may be best to pair it with strongly flavored foods. The powder may also be sprinkled over smoothies or your salads to offer a unique taste. Sliced avocado seeds may be used to make tea. Place slices in a tea infuser and pour boiling water over it, steeping for several minutes. You may wish to add a little honey if the seed you have is slightly bitter.27

Understanding the Opioid Epidemic

By Dr. Mercola

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 115 Americans, on average, die of an opioid overdose every day.1 The increasing use of opioid painkillers and the rampant rates of addiction to them have become a social issue that transcends all geographic and socioeconomic boundaries.

Drug overdoses now affect people of every age, gender and ethnicity. “Understanding the Opioid Epidemic” is a one-hour PBS documentary designed to highlight some of the issues surrounding the disturbing rates of use and abuse of prescription opioid medications in the U.S.

These potent painkillers are routinely prescribed for the treatment of bodily pain, most often relating to accidents, car crashes, sports injuries or surgery. If you or someone you love is taking opioids or is already addicted, you may find solace and validation by hearing from recovering addicts and their family members. Also featured are patient advocates, doctors and other experts who deal with this issue on a daily basis.

Painkillers Prescribed for Common Medical Conditions Can Be a Gateway to Opioid Addiction

Far from being an epidemic of nameless, faceless people from faraway lands, the U.S. opioid crisis makes front-page news week after week. The headlines include heartbreaking stories from people like Avi and Julie Israel of North Buffalo, New York, whose son Michael’s story is featured prominently in the documentary. Michael was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease at the age of 12. Problems with drug addiction began when Michael transitioned from his pediatrician to a gastroenterologist when he was 18.

To address Michael’s pain, the new doctor prescribed hydrocodone (sold under the brand names Norco and Vicodin), a semisynthetic opioid derived from codeine. That one choice changed Michael forever.

After obtaining a court order to review Michael’s pharmacy records after his death, the Israels discovered their son had been prescribed 185 pain pills in little more than a 30-day period just a few months before he died.2 “I couldn’t believe the doctors did this to him,” declared Julie. “It’s indefensible. … It changed him chemically forever.”

Sadly, after his addiction to prescription opioids and other medications overtook his life, Michael committed suicide in June 2011. He was 20. In the film, Avi and Julie expressed their sadness over the reality that many who become addicted to opioids are treated like outcasts, especially by people whose lives have not been directly impacted by this crisis.

Said Julie, “The people who are not affected do not think it will happen to them, but that’s a naïve perspective. You are one car accident, one surgery, one wisdom tooth or one sports injury away from the disease of addiction. That’s how fast it can happen to your family.”

Sports Injuries Are Another Launching Point for Opioid Addiction

As mentioned, opioid addiction can easily begin with an injury or surgery. While you may not realize it, taking prescription opioids puts you just a few steps away from becoming a heroin addict or falling victim to synthetic opioids such as fentanyl. Dr. Andrew Kolodny, director, opioid policy research, Brandeis University, says “The effects of these drugs are indistinguishable from the effects produced by heroin.

When we talk about opioid prescription drugs, we are essentially talking about ‘heroin pills.’” Jennifer Weiss-Burke, executive director of Serenity Mesa Youth Recovery Center in Albuquerque and mother of student-athlete Cameron Weiss, who died of a heroin overdose in August 2011, knows that full well. Around age 16, Weiss had the misfortune of breaking his collarbone — twice — the first time while wrestling, which required surgery, and several months later while playing football.

On both occasions, Weiss was prescribed opioids to help him cope with the intense pain. Unfortunately, the prescribed medications served as gateway drugs for him, and he later moved on to heroin, which is regarded as a cheaper substitute for prescription opioids. About the effects of drugs on his life, Weiss-Burke writes:3

“Cameron became dependent and then addicted to opioids. He quickly progressed to a heroin addiction when he no longer had easy access to pills. Heroin was cheaper and easier to get. He smoked heroin for about a year before he began injecting the drug. He had always said he would never put a needle in his arm, but the drug beckoned, and he listened.

Drugs changed Cameron almost overnight. He went from being a compassionate young man who loved spending time with his family, to a young man who made heroin his primary focus. School, sports and family — everything took a backseat to his addiction. The drug became his world and it controlled him like a puppet on a string.

He was no longer using to get high, he was using to feel “well” and to not be sick. Becoming addicted to drugs and dying as a result of his addiction was the last thing Cameron (or our family) ever thought would happen to him. Cameron would want everyone to know that if it can happen to him, it can happen to anyone. No one is exempt from this terrible disease.”

What Are Opioids and How Are They Used?

If you’ve ever received a prescription for painkillers, you’ve likely taken an opioid. These powerful pharmaceutical medications are commonly used to treat moderate-to-severe pain despite the many serious risks and lack of evidence about their long-term effectiveness. They are often prescribed after an injury or surgery, or to relieve pain associated with chronic health conditions such as cancer, fibromyalgia and inflammatory bowel disease, among others.

A few of the most popularly prescribed drugs are oxycodone (sold under the brand name OxyContin), hydrocodone, morphine and methadone. Regardless of whether you have a history of legal or illegal drug use, anyone who takes prescription opioids for any length of time runs the risk of becoming addicted to them.

Once addicted, it can be hard to stop using these medications. “Patients and prescribers really need to understand that opioids are highly addictive,” states Dr. Richard Blondell, vice chair for addiction medicine at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at the University at Buffalo and first director of the National Center for Physicians Training in Addiction Medicine.

“It doesn’t mean they should never prescribe them or that a patient should never take them. It means we have to be very careful with these drugs.” On the other hand, when used properly, opioids can provide much-needed pain relief to get you through the early hours and days of an intense healing and recovery process.

Whenever the subject of pain medication is brought up, it’s important for you to ask questions about your pain-management options and also the potential risks of opioid addiction. Both you and your doctor should carefully consider risk factors such as your family history, genetics, history of substance abuse or addictions, mental health, psychological or social stressors and history of trauma. These factors may increase your risk of addiction.

Facts About the Opioid Epidemic

David Thomas, Ph.D., health scientist administrator with the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), was a pain and opioid researcher for 12 years before joining the NIDA. Regarding the opioid epidemic, Thomas said, “The rate of death from prescription opiates has been exponentially growing. And that’s only the tip of the iceberg in terms of how many lives are wrecked because of prescription opiates. It’s a huge problem.” About the opioid epidemic that has taken the U.S. by storm since the mid-1990s, the CDC says:4,5

  • More than 11 million Americans abused prescription opioid medications during 2016
  • From 1999 to 2016, more than 630,000 people died as a result of a drug overdose
  • About two-thirds of the more than 64,000 drug overdose deaths in 2016 involved an opioid
  • The number of overdose deaths involving opioids was five times higher in 2016 than it was in 1999
  • Drug overdoses have become the leading cause of death among Americans under age 506

About the issues related to opioids, Kolodny asserts, “The reason the U.S. is in the midst of a severe epidemic of opioid addiction is because the medical community began to prescribe opioids very aggressively. And as the prescriptions went up, rates of addiction and overdose deaths went up right along with the increase in prescribing.”

Prior to the release of the documentary, Kolodny told The New York Times, “We have roughly two groups of Americans that are getting addicted … an older group that is overdosing on pain medicine, and … a younger group that is overdosing on black market opioids.”7

The Opioid Crisis Is Damaging Society and Costing Us Millions

While the issue is multifaceted, Kolodny suggests drug makers and physicians play a big role in the opioid crisis. After all, without pharmaceutical companies, the painkilling medications in question would not exist, and doctors are the ones responsible for putting prescriptions into the hands of their patients.

“The only way you can do well financially and have a blockbuster drug is to get the medical community to prescribe your medication for common conditions and long-term conditions,” says Kolodny. “And if it’s a drug that is very difficult for people to discontinue using, then you’ve got a pretty good recipe for a blockbuster.”

Over the years, several states have filed lawsuits against drug manufacturers related to misleading marketing campaigns and failure to disclose addiction risks for drugs such as OxyContin. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates the economic cost of opioid abuse to average about $75 billion annually — with $55 billion attributed to health and social costs and $20 billion to emergency department and inpatient treatment associated with opioid poisonings.

The majority of these costs are borne by Medicare, Medicaid, the Veteran’s Administration and private insurance companies. In most cases, these organizations pay twice — once for the opioid medications themselves and a second time when the patient seeks treatment for an addiction or overdose. Notably, alternative pain-relieving treatments such as acupuncture, chiropractic, massage, physical therapy and others are not well understood and are even less often covered by insurance.

Better Solutions Exist Beyond the Prescription Pad

For some doctors, writing a prescription is simply a faster way to address a patient’s concern. For some patients, taking a pill or two a day seems more convenient than scheduling alternative therapy appointments or participating in weeks of physical rehab. Regardless, painkillers are not a long-term solution. Dr. Daniel Alfred, director of the Safe and Competent Opioid Prescribing Education (SCOPE of Pain) program at Boston University School of Medicine, claims he has a solution to make the opioid crisis go away. He states:

“… If the insurance industry would pay for comprehensive pain-management services under one roof where you can get massage therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, acupuncture, medication management and — you name it — things would change.

I want patients to start demanding multimodal, comprehensive pain-management treatment. I want them to say to their doctors, ‘I need something better.’ They should be calling their insurance companies asking, ‘Why do I not have access to these therapies?’”

Kolodny suggests the best approach to dealing with the opioid crisis is prevention. Similar to Alfred, as a secondary measure, Kolodny notes we need new and better treatment approaches to support those who have become addicted, especially with respect to preventing overdoses. In addition, and most assuredly, education is an important factor to stem the tide of opioid addiction.

Students, parents, doctors, educators, policy makers, public health officials and others need to better understand the risks associated with taking (and prescribing) opioid medications. Education was one of the premises for making the documentary. Concludes Blondell, “It doesn’t have to be like this. Our society doesn’t have to be riddled with addiction. We don’t have to read about all these people who overdosed. We can do better. We know what to do. It’s just getting the will to do it that is the hard part.”

What Can You Do to Avoid Painkillers and Overcome Opioid Addiction?

If you’re struggling with opioid addiction, please seek professional help immediately. At the same time, a major step toward health when dealing with chronic disease of any kind, including opioid addiction, is to make dramatic changes to your diet and lifestyle. Below are four areas to address as a primary strategy:

  • Eliminate or radically reduce your consumption of grains and sugars
  • Increase your intake of animal-based omega-3 fats
  • Optimize your production of vitamin D
  • Radically reduce your intake of processed foods

Beyond that, if you suffer from chronic pain of any kind, you need to know there are many natural, safe and effective alternatives to over-the-counter and prescription painkillers, including the following:

Astaxanthin: As an oil-soluble antioxidant, astaxanthin has very potent anti-inflammatory properties; you may need 8 milligrams or more per day for pain relief

Boswellia: Also known as “Indian frankincense,” this herb contains powerful anti-inflammatory properties, which worked well for many of my former rheumatoid arthritis patients

Bromelain: This protein-digesting enzyme, found mainly in the core of pineapples, is a natural anti-inflammatory; it can be obtained from the fruit or taken in supplement form

Cayenne cream: This spice comes from dried hot peppers and alleviates pain by depleting your body’s supply of substance P, a chemical component of nerve cells known to transmit pain signals to your brain

Cetyl myristoleate (CMO): This oil, found in dairy butter and fish, acts as a joint lubricant and anti-inflammatory; it has been useful to relieve ganglion cysts and mild cases of carpal tunnel syndrome

Curcumin: A therapeutic compound found in the spice turmeric, curcumin has been shown in more than 50 clinical studies to have potent anti-inflammatory activity; it is best taken in capsules and you can take two to three every hour as needed

Evening primrose, black currant and borage oils: These oils contain the fatty acid gamma-linolenic acid, which is useful for treating arthritic pain

Ginger: This herb is anti-inflammatory and offers pain relief and stomach-settling properties

Kratom: Mitragyna speciose, also known as kratom, is a plant remedy and psychoactive substance that has become a popular opioid substitute,8 but only when used carefully; it can also be addictive so use it only under the guidance of qualified medical personnel

Low-Dose Naltrexone (LDN): An opiate antagonist originally developed in the early 1960s to treat opioid addiction, today’s prescription LDN triggers endorphin production, which can boost your immune function and ease pain

I highly recommend “Understanding the Opioid Epidemic.” It’s well worth your time to watch this engaging and informative documentary about one of the biggest social issues of our time. Now more than ever, you must become educated about opioids and the harmful effect they are having on the U.S. and Americans of all ages and from all walks of life.