Keep calm and kava on

MEDICINAL: Kava claimed to have health benefits for anxiety sufferers.
MEDICINAL: Kava claimed to have health benefits for anxiety sufferers.

Fiji's national drink, Kava - famous for its reputed recreational effects - could be a natural treatment for those suffering from anxiety.

A world-first clinical study by the University of Melbourne has revealed the South Pacific plant could significantly reduce the symptoms of people suffering from Generalised Anxiety Disorders (GAD).

In Fiji, Kava is a ceremonial symbol used to bring two groups together, and is one of the most important crops and exports for the country.

According to lead researcher Dr Jerome Sarris of the Department of Psychiatry the natural alternative could also offer less risk of dependency and less potential for side effects than other options.

Dr Sarris said GAD was a complex condition that significantly affected people’s day-to-day lives, and new effective options were needed in order to attempt to reduce the common problem.

During the eight-week study, 75 patients with clinically diagnosed GAD were given Kava or placebo, and anxiety levels were regularly assessed.

Results showed a significant reduction in anxiety for the Kava group compared to the placebo group at the end of the study.

“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,” Dr Sarris said.

Participants in the Kava group were given tablets twice per day consisting of water-soluble Kava extract taken from peeled rootstock.

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.

Another finding of the study, which is set to be researched in more detail, is that Kava increased women’s sex drive compared to those in the placebo group.

This is believed to be due to the reduction of anxiety, rather than any aphrodisiac effect.