Native to the Pacific Islands, the kava plant has always been a popular plant for ritualistic and ceremonial use. Now, scientists are finding, this plant might also be helpful to improving chronic anxiety.

In a study performed by Australian researchers, patients that took kava extract pills for six weeks showed marketed improvement in their levels of anxiety as opposed to their counterparts with placebos. This led researchers to question: could such a plant lead to a breakthrough in the treatment of anxiety disorders?

The Study

For this study, researchers gave 75 participants with diagnosed anxiety disorders either kava extract or a placebo pill to take and observed their progress over a six week period. They measured the progress of each patient by implementing a common psychological test that measures levels of anxiety.

At the end of a month and a half, 26% of patients that took the kava extract pill were in remission from their symptoms, showing marketed improvement. In the placebo group, only 6% of the participants showed improvement.

The Effects

The chemical compounds in the root of the kava plant (known as kavalactones) have been shown to induce a mild sedation, euphoria, enhance social interaction, and a numbing effect, all of which are useful to patients with anxiety. The kava plant is also less addictive and has fewer side effects than traditional anxiety medications, such as Xanax.

While previous studies have suggested that kava might have negative effects on the liver, this was not observed in the latest study. What was observed, however, were increased sensitivity to headaches in some patients. Researchers also concluded that a genetically encoded chemical called GABA plays a role in the overall effectiveness of the drug. But a simple genetic test can determine how much of this chemical is present in a patient and, as a result, the predicted effect of taking kava.

The next step in the research process is to further test the possible effect kava might have on the liver. If kava passes that test, however, it very well might be harnessed for prescription-level use.

Taking Kava

Right now, kava extract is an over the counter medication for relaxation. It comes in liquid, pill, or tea form at many drug and vitamin stores. Before investing in this remedy, talk to your doctor about the advantages or disadvantages to adding this to your daily regimen.

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