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Researchers at the University of Queensland in Australia have found a
traditional extract of Kava, a medicinal plant from the South Pacific,
to be safe and effective in reducing anxiety.
To be published online this week in the Springer journal Psychopharmacology,
the results of a world-first clinical trial which found that a
water-soluble extract of Kava was effective in treating anxiety and
improving mood. The Kava was prescribed in the form of tablets.
Lead researcher Jerome Sarris, a PhD candidate from UQ’s School of
Medicine, said the placebo-controlled study found Kava to be an
effective and safe treatment option for people with chronic anxiety and
varying levels of depression.
“We’ve been able to show that Kava offers a natural alternative for
the treatment of anxiety, and unlike some pharmaceutical options, has
less risk of dependency and less potential of side effects,” Mr. Sarris
Each week participants were given a clinical assessment as well as a
self-rating questionnaire to measure their anxiety and depression
levels. The researchers found anxiety levels decreased dramatically for
participants taking five tablets of Kava per day as opposed to the
placebo group which took dummy pills.
“We also found that Kava had a positive impact on reducing depression
levels, something which had not been tested before,” Mr. Sarris said.
In 2002 Kava was banned in Europe, UK and Canada due to concerns over
While the three-week trial raised no major health concerns regarding
the Kava extract used, the researchers said larger studies were required
to confirm the drug’s safety.
“When extracted in the appropriate way, Kava may pose less or no
potential liver problems. I hope the results will encourage governments
to reconsider the ban,” Mr. Sarris said.
“Ethanol and acetone extracts, which sometimes use the incorrect
parts of the Kava, were being sold in Europe. That is not the
traditional way of prescribing Kava in the Pacific Islands. Our study
used a water-soluble extract from the peeled rootstock of a medicinal
cultivar of the plant, which is approved by the Therapeutic Goods
Administration of Australia and is currently legal in Australia for
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