Study Finds Kava Significantly Reduces Anxiety Symptoms

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Pacific plant offers natural treatment for chronic anxiety

By Avinesh Gopal

SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, May 22, 2013) – A clinical study by an Australian team has found that kava or yaqona significantly reduces the symptoms of people suffering from anxiety.

Led by the University of Melbourne and published in the Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology this month, the study revealed that kava (piper methysticum) could be an alternative treatment to pharmaceutical products for the hundreds of thousands of Australians who suffer from Generalized Anxiety Disorders (GAD).

Dr. Jerome Sarris from the university's Department of Psychiatry, who was the lead researcher, said GAD was a complex condition that significantly affected people's day-to-day lives.

"Based on previous work, we have recognized that plant-based medicines may be a viable treatment for patients with chronic anxiety," he said in a statement from the University of Melbourne.

"In this study, we've been able to show that kava offers a potential natural alternative for the treatment of chronic clinical anxiety.

"Unlike some other options, it has less risk of dependency and less potential for side effects."

According to the statement, the study also found that people's genetic differences (polymorphisms) of certain neurobiological mechanisms called GABA transporters may modify their response to kava.

Dr. Sarris said, "If this finding is replicated, it may pave the way for simple genetic tests to determine which people may be likely to have a beneficial anxiety-reducing effect from taking kava."

The statement said during the eight-week study, 75 patients with clinically diagnosed GAD were given kava or placebo, and anxiety levels were regularly assessed.

It said results showed a significant reduction in anxiety for the kava group compared to the placebo group at the end of the study.

Placebo is a simulated or otherwise medically ineffectual treatment for a disease or other medical condition intended to deceive the recipient.

"In participants diagnosed with moderate to severe GAD, kava had an even greater effect in reducing anxiety," the statement read.

"Following the completion of the controlled phase, 26 percent of the kava group was classified as in remission from their symptoms compared to six percent of the placebo group."

The statement said kava was well-tolerated and results showed no significant differences across the two groups for liver function which had previously been a concern for kava's medicinal use.

"In addition, there were no considerable adverse reactions that could be attributed to kava and no difference in withdrawal or addiction between the groups."

Furthermore, the statement said future studies confirming the generic relationship to therapeutic response and any libido-improving effects from kava was now required. Dr Sarris said these significant findings were of importance to sufferers of anxiety and to the South Pacific region which relied on kava as a major export.

Fiji Kava Council chairman Rupeni Koroi said the research findings was good news, saying it could open the doors for Fiji kava to be exported.

Health Ministry spokesman Shalvin Deo said the ministry would comment later on the findings by the University of Melbourne.

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