Medicinal plant: kava fights generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)

An Australian study showed a significant effectiveness of kava against anxiety and in particular generalized anxiety disorder or generalized anxiety disorder, a term that qualifies a state of almost permanent or chronic anxiety.

Kava (Piper methysticum), also called kava kava is a plant known in herbal medicine to treat anxiety. Other studies had already shown, at least partially, its effectiveness against this indication, but none in the event of GAD versus a placebo.

Kava is a plant originating mainly from the islands of the South Pacific Ocean (Vanatu for example), its rhizome is mainly used. The inhabitants of the Pacific Islands use this plant in the form of juice with sedative and anesthetic properties. This plant clearly belongs to the local culture of these island regions.

It is therefore perhaps no coincidence that Australian researchers from Melbourne have looked into this plant in more detail, given their geographical and cultural proximity. The study was carried out by Dr Sarris from the Department of Psychiatry from the University of Melbourne (Department of Psychiatry – University of Melbourne) in Australia and published in the Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology.

Kava: Symptoms completely disappeared in 30% of participants

This study involved 75 patients with generalized anxiety disorder and lasted 8 weeks. Participants received either kava or a placebo. In each group the level of anxiety of each participant was regularly assessed for the purposes of the study. In the kava group, the participants received two tablets per day of a water-soluble extract of kava, with a total dose of 120mg of kavalactones (active ingredients of kava), during the first 3 weeks of the study.

For participants in the kava group who did not react (no effect), their dose was doubled during the 2nd phase of the study, ie from the 4th to 6th week. The placebo group followed the same dosing pattern as the kava group, the only difference of course being that instead of receiving a kava tablet, it was a placebo drug.

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At the end of the study, the researchers observed a significant reduction in generalized anxiety in the kava group. Indeed, 26% of participants in the kava group saw their symptoms disappear, the researchers use the term remission, compared to only 6% in the placebo group.

No side effects noted except on the improvement of female libido

The study revealed other interesting points. Patients with moderate to severe GAD benefited even more from the effects of kava, compared to those with mild GAD.

Scientists have found no liver-like side effects, often a criticism leveled at kava. In fact, no difference was noted in liver function between the kava and placebo group. The risk of side effects was quite measured and acceptable. They also did not identify a risk of addiction in the kava group. This last point is crucial, because we know that the classic treatments used against GAD often cause a lot of dependence, this is particularly the case with benzodiazepines.

Better libido in women

The study also showed that women in the kava group could benefit from a beneficial effect on sexual desire. It is assumed that this is not an aphrodisiac action but a reduction of anxiety with an indirect effect on female sexuality.

Kava: A credible alternative in the treatment of GAD

Kava is, thanks to this study, a credible alternative at the scientific level to treat chronic anxiety with fewer side effects and risk of dependence than most anxiolytics of conventional medicine (eg benzodiazepines). TAC is a disease of our “modern” and increasingly urban era, an often complex condition, because it is linked to other mental illnesses such as stress and depression. Kava is probably not a miracle recipe in increasingly stressed and lonely societies, but certainly a useful plant to relieve some of the millions of patients around the world who suffer from generalized anxiety disorder. However, you should always seek advice from your pharmacist or doctor before starting a kava treatment, especially in the event of regular consumption for several months.

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Kava in the Treatment of Generalized Anxiety Disorder: A Double-Blind, Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Study. Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology.


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