Kava-kava: anxiety herbal treatment

This newly popular herb — also called kava-kava — has earned the nickname “nature’s Valium” for its ability to relieve anxiety and induce relaxation. In general, I don’t usually go for quick-fix solutions to conditions such as anxiety and stress. But for the 65 million Americans who suffer from anxiety and related insomnia, I see this calming herb as a much better alternative than prescription tranquilizers, which can have serious side effects and are highly addictive.

HISTORY AND RESEARCH: Derived from the knotty root of a large tropical shrub in the black-pepper family, kava has a rich history. In cultures of the South Pacific, it has been cultivated for centuries as a traditional psychoac-tive drug believed to have religious significance. In that part of the world, it is generally prepared as a drink made from the fresh or dried root and consumed at religious ceremonies and social gatherings. Today the herb is widely used in Europe as a natural relaxant and sleep aid, and Germany’s Commission E — the national agency that evaluates and regulates botanical medicines — gave kava its stamp of approval in 1990 for conditions of nervous anxiety and stress.

Studies have shown that kava’s relaxing properties are due to some 15 chemical compounds known as kavalactones (also called kavapy-rones), which act on the central nervous system and serve as muscle relaxants. Several well-designed German studies have demonstrated the herb’s positive effects. One double-blind randomized trial in 1996 showed that a standardized extract of kava improved symptoms of anxiety after just one week of use, with no adverse effects. An earlier study, which used EEG monitoring to measure the effects of kava versus Valium and a placebo, found that kava caused significant changes in brain activity that suggested a sedative mechanism different from that of the synthetic drug. Interestingly, the subjects who took kava showed improved performance on reaction-time tests of mental acuity, while those taking Valium did not.

HOW TO USE IT: For times of particularly high anxiety, such as that caused by a death in the family or a job crisis, start by taking one capsule of standardized kava extract a day and building slowly to three a day if necessary.

If you’re having insomnia due to anxiety and muscle tension, try taking a single dose of two or three capsules maybe an hour before going to bed (but don’t take more than three capsules in any given day).

While https://arbuthnotdrug.com does not appear to be addictive, I would limit its use to no longer than two months without medical supervision. If you’re still suffering from significant anxiety after that time, I recommend that you consult a mental-health professional.

CAUTIONS: Some people who take very large doses of the herb for longer than two months develop a yellowing and thinning of the skin (which goes away when they stop using it), so be sure to keep to recommended doses. Don’t mix kava with other depressants such as alcohol, prescription sedatives, or valerian, as it may intensify their effects, and monitor kava’s effects on you before driving. Kava is not recommended for Parkinson’s patients, as it may cause increased muscular twitching in people with this disease.


Look for kava extract in capsule form.

The kavalactone content of kava root can vary widely, so be sure to select a reliable brand of the extract that is standardized to 70 to 85 mg of kavalactones (or kavapyrones) per capsule.