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Table of Contents > Articles > The Soothing Power of Kava: A Root for ...
The Soothing Power of Kava: A Root for Anxiety Disorder Sufferers

If you are one of the more than 19 million adults in this country who suffer from an anxiety disorder, you may be familiar with the commonly prescribed benzodiazepine drugs. While these are effective and fast acting, you may also be familiar with their undesired side effects, primarily, their tendency to cause severe drowsiness and to lead to dependency. Fortunately, researchers are examining the herb kava, or kava kava as it is popularly known, as an alternative treatment.

The Polynesians of the South Pacific have used kava for more than 3,000 years. They discovered that a concoction made from the root of the kava plant could help calm a person without reducing mental sharpness. The results of several clinical studies have now backed up the Polynesians' practices. Kava has been shown to significantly reduce anxiety as effectively as some common benzodiazepine-type drugs, but without the side effects. In fact, any side effects of using kava seem slight, although they have not been thoroughly researched yet (so far experts have determined that chronic abuse of kava can lead to liver damage and yellowing of the skin).

So consider taking kava as an alternative treatment if you suffer from an anxiety disorder. If you are currently taking a prescription, talk to your doctor about kava as an alternative. A standardized capsule of kava containing 60 mg to 120 mg of kavalactones is the recommended dosage. It may take a month before you notice a change in your condition. If you do not see results after three months, seek further medical advice.

Note: Low doses of kava can help you stay aware and active but not tense; at higher dosages, however, you may become sleepy. Since kava is known to depress the nervous system, until it is better researched, do not take it with alcohol or other depressants.


Anxiety disorder: Acute feelings of fear, uneasiness, or distress for no apparent reason. Panic attacks or various phobias, such as a fear of heights, may characterize an anxiety disorder.

Benzodiazepine: Family of drugs commonly used to treat anxiety.

Kavalactones: The active ingredient in kava. The amount of kavalactones per kava capsule may vary from one manufacturer to another, so look at the label to make sure the percent of kavalactones in one dose is equal to 60 to 120 mg kavalactones. For example, a 100 mg capsule of kava containing 70% kavalactones has 70 mg of kavalactones.

Suggested Resources

Kava: Nature's Answer to Stress, Anxiety, and Insomnia by Hlya Cass and Terrence McNally (Prima Publishing, 1998)

Kava: The Miracle Antianxiety Herb by Ray Sahelian (St Martins Press, 1998)

All About Kava (Frequently Asked Questions) by Earl Mindell (Avery Publishing Group, 1999)


Blumental M, senior ed. The Complete German Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. Austin, Tex: The American Botanical Council and Boston, Mass: Integrative Medicine Communications; 1998.

Integrative Medicine Access: Professional Reference to Conditions, Herbs & Supplements. Newton, Mass: Integrative Medicine Communications; 2000.

Jussofie A, Schmiz A, Hiernke C. Kavapyrone enriched extract from Piper methysticum as modulator of the GABA binding side in different regions of the rate brain. Psychopharmacology. 1994; 116:469-474.

Volz HP, Kieser M. Kava-Kava extract WS 1490 versus placebo in anxiety disorders-a randomized placebo-controlled 25-week outpatient trial. Pharmacopsychiat. 1997, 30:1-5.

Woelk H, Kapoula O, Lehrl S, et al. Treatment of anxiety patients. Kava special extract WS 1490 in anxiety patients is comparable to the benzodiazepine oxazepam a double-blind study. Zeitschrift Allgemeined. 1993; 69:271-277.

Review Date: December 1999
Reviewed By: Integrative Medicine editorial

Copyright © 2004 A.D.A.M., Inc

The publisher does not accept any responsibility for the accuracy of the information or the consequences arising from the application, use, or misuse of any of the information contained herein, including any injury and/or damage to any person or property as a matter of product liability, negligence, or otherwise. No warranty, expressed or implied, is made in regard to the contents of this material. No claims or endorsements are made for any drugs or compounds currently marketed or in investigative use. This material is not intended as a guide to self-medication. The reader is advised to discuss the information provided here with a doctor, pharmacist, nurse, or other authorized healthcare practitioner and to check product information (including package inserts) regarding dosage, precautions, warnings, interactions, and contraindications before administering any drug, herb, or supplement discussed herein.

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