With Christmas just around the corner life tends to get a little busy and stress levels can rise leading to heightened anxiety! Herbal medicines are wonderful to support the nervous system and adrenal glands through stressful periods and help our bodies to adapt to the increased load on the system.
There are numerous herbs used in traditional medicine for the treatment of anxiety. Today we are going to talk about one of our favourites – Kava. Kava is known in traditional medicine circles as the herbal valium due to its wonderful anxiety reducing effects. It is seen as the circuit breaker and works wonderfully alone or in synergy when combined with other herbal anxiolytics. If you suffer with anxiety, we don’t however recommend that you go out and buy kava over the counter, there can be a variety of reasons why you might feel anxious and underlying causes should be investigated as part of a holistic health plan. The quality of the products on the market may vary greatly and it’s essential to use herbal medicine safely as prescribed by a qualified naturopath or herbalist. That said let’s look at some of the fascinating science surrounding kava and evidence of its therapeutic effect.
Kava exerts anxiolytic activity by alteration of the lipid membrane and function of sodium channels, monoamine oxidase B (MAO-B) inhibition, and inhibits reuptake of noradrenaline and dopamine. By blocking sodium ion channels inhibition of excitatory neurotransmitters occurs due to blockage of calcium ion channels, thus allowing increased binding of ligand to gamma aminobutyric (GABA A) receptors. 6 Kavalactones including methysticin, dihydromethysticin, kavain, dihydrokavain, demethoxyyangonin and yangonin have been found to be the constituents in kava responsible for 96% of the pharmacological action. Primary actions of kava include the following: anxiolytic, sedative, anti-stress, spasmolytic, analgesic, neuroprotective, anti-thrombotic, hypnotic, anticonvulsant and mild analgesic.
A Cochrane review of 11 RCT’s (60-280 mg of kava lactones) confirmed statistically significant anxiolytic effects of kava compared to placebo in 10 of the 11 studies.
The weight of evidence is in favour of kava use for anxiety. Regular liver function tests are recommended to monitor liver function when kava is used regularly (Sarris, LaPorte & Schweitzer 2011, pp.27-35).
Information you read here is general in nature and not a substitute for personal health advice. Refrain from self-prescribing herbal medicines and seek professional health advice for your individual health case. Herbal medicines may interact with medications and cause side effects. Ensure you discuss the use of kava with your health practitioner.
Jean is an accredited member of the Australian Traditional Medicine Society and a university degree qualified Australian naturopath with clinics in the Sydney CBD, Glen Innes on the Northern Tablelands of New South Wales and an Australia wide telehealth service to bring natural and integrative health services to rural and regional Australia. Clinics service Deepwater, Emmaville, Armidale, Tenterfield, Red range, Tamworth, Stanthorpe, Warwick, Glencoe, Guyra and the New England area.
Sarris, J, LaPorte, E, & Schweitzer, I 2011, ‘Kava: a comprehensive review of efficacy, safety, and psychopharmacology’, Australian & New Zealand Journal Of Psychiatry, vol. 45, no. 1, pp. 27-35, CINAHL Plus with Full Text, EBSCOhost, viewed 14 August 2015, http://eds.b.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.endeavour.edu.au/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=33&sid=7460a1b9-c0e5-459e-bbd4-2403570c9ebb%40sessionmgr113&hid=108