Trying to make ends meet, waiting to hear back from your doctor about test results, family drama, heck, even trapped miners…
I don’t have to tell you, there are plenty of reasons to have anxiety. But we all react differently, producing anxiety levels that range from the everyday variety to full-blown phobias.
And as many different ways as there are to react, there are just as many to cope with it.
My husband has recently taken to climbing mountains. And that’s actually a very good coping mechanism. (For him. For me, it adds anxiety!) But most of us don’t have the time or ability (or interest) to spend several days scaling Rainier.
So for those of us more comfortable just a bit above sea level, what are our options for coping with our anxieties, large and small?
Well, if they’re not too large, two exotic herbs have been shown to produce very relaxing results.
It’s known as kava kava–or just plain "kava." It grows wild in Tahiti, Hawaii, and other Pacific Islands where it’s been used for centuries in religious ceremonies, and to relieve anxiety and depression. And now kava and passionflower (another relaxing herb) are at the center of new research from the Global Neuroscience Initiative Foundation in Los Angeles.
GNIF researchers analyzed 24 studies (nearly all were randomized, controlled trials) that tested kava, passionflower and other natural interventions on more than 2,600 subjects with mild anxiety or anxiety disorders.
In their conclusions, the GNIF team wrote this about the combined research: "Strong evidence exists for the use of herbal supplements containing extracts of passionflower or kava and combinations of L-lysine and L-arginine as treatments for anxiety symptoms and disorders."
L-lysine and L-arginine are amino acids that play a major role in protein production.
Some of the studies in the GNIF analysis included St. John’s wort and magnesium. Both were found to have little effect in relieving anxiety.
If you have a long memory, the thought of using kava to reduce anxiety might actually increase your anxiety.
In 2002, a report from Europe linked kava use with about 30 cases of liver toxicity. In four cases, liver transplants were required.
Kava was banned in the UK, and widely branded as dangerous when this report hit the mainstream media. But I had a hunch that some key details might be missing from the sensational reaction. And that hunch was confirmed by HSI Panelist Hyla Cass, M.D.
Dr. Cass is an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine, and author of several books, including "Kava: Nature’s Answer to Stress, Anxiety, and Insomnia."
She told me that the media’s kava scare neglected to highlight one very important detail: The majority of kava-related liver injuries in Europe involved the simultaneous use of hepatotoxic drugs (drugs that stress the liver) and/or alcohol.
In short, there was no evidence that kava was the primary cause of any of the liver problems.
That said, Dr. Cass cautions that kava should not be used by anyone with a history of liver distress, or by anyone who takes drugs (such as acetaminophen or Valium) that have adverse effects on the liver. Regular consumption of alcohol should also be avoided while using kava.
So no worries–kava will not cause liver toxicity when used responsibly. But it might help take the edge off anxiety and general restlessness. And if you’re still concerned, try passionflower first.
Jenny Thompson is the Director of the Health Sciences Institute and editor of the HSI e-Alert. Through HSI, she and her team uncover important health information and expose ridiculous health misinformation, most notably through the HSI e-Alert.
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