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Kava extract is an effective anxiolytic

; Monmouth Junction Vol. 46, Iss. 7,  (Jul 2001): 118.

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A standardized extract of the kava plant can safely relieve anxiety, according to a meta-analysis of seven doubleblind, placebo-controlled trials.1 The herb, which is popular as a beverage in the South Pacific, has been used for centuries to induce relaxation and relieve insomnia.

In the RCTs analyzed in this systematic review, patients received tablets containing 300 to 800 mg a day in divided doses in various regimens that lasted up to 24 weeks. Several of the studies used a formulation that yielded 210 mg a day of kavapyrones, believed to be among the pharmacologically active compounds. Relatively mild adverse reactions were reported in five of the seven trials, and included upset stomach, restlessness, drowsiness, tremor, headache, and tiredness.

Unfortunately, this analysis didn't address possible drug-herb interactions. Independent sources suggest that kava may potentiate the CNS-depressing effects of barbiturates and increase the hypnotic effects of alcohol. Anecdotal reports also suggest that it may cause coma in patients taking alprazolam and interfere with the therapeutic effect of levodopa. The herb is contraindicated in pregnancy and lactation.2


1. Pittler MH, Ernst E. Efficacy of kava extract for treating anxiety: systematic review and meta-analysis. J Clin Psychopharmacol. 2000;20:84-89.

2. Gruenwald J, Brendler T, Jaenicke C. PDR for Herbal Medicines. Montvale NJ: Medical Economics Company, Inc; 2000.