The South Pacific Plant Kava May Help Treat Anxiety

An Australian clinical study has shown Kava, a medicinal South Pacific plant, may be an alternative treatment for those who suffer from Generalized Anxiety Disorders (GAD), according to an AsianScientist report.

“Based on previous work we have recognized that plant based medicines may be a viable treatment for patients with chronic anxiety,” said lead researcher, Dr. Jerome Sarris from Department of Psychiatry at the University of Melbourne. “In this study, we’ve been able to show that Kava offers a potential natural alternative for the treatment of chronic clinical anxiety. Unlike some other options, it has less risk of dependency and less potential for side effects.”

The study, led by the University of Melbourne and published in the Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology, found people’s genetic differences (polymorphisms) of certain neurobiological proteins called GABA transporters, may modify their response to Kava, and if the finding is replicated, “it may pave the way for simple genetic tests to determine which people may be likely to have a beneficial anxiety-reducing effect from taking Kava,” Sarris said in the report.

During the eight-week study, 75 patients with clinically diagnosed Generalized Anxiety Disorder were given Kava or placebo, and their anxiety levels were assessed on a regular basis. Those participants in the Kava group were given tablets 2 times per day consisting of water-soluble extracted Kava (peeled rootstock) for a total dose of 120 mg of kavalactones for the first three-week controlled phase.

In cases of non-response this dose was increased to a double-dose twice per day for the second three-week controlled phase. Participants in the placebo group took matching dummy tablets in the same manner.

Results showed a significant reduction in anxiety for the Kava group compared to the placebo group by the end of the study, and for those diagnosed with moderate to severe GAD, Kava had an even greater effect in reducing anxiety.

Following the completion of the controlled phase, 26 percent of the Kava group were classified as in remission from their symptoms compared to six percent of the placebo group.

According to the study, Kava was also well tolerated. Results showed no significant differences across the two groups for liver function, which had previously been a concern for Kava’s medicinal use. In addition there were no considerable adverse reactions that could be attributed to Kava and no difference in withdrawal or addiction between the groups.