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Anxiety & Panic Disorders Health Center

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Kava for Anxiety: Is Short-Term Use Safe?

Study Shows Supplement Was Safe and Effective in People Using Supplement for 1 Week

Kava Under Scrutiny continued...

As measured by standardized anxiety and depression questionnaires, the participants reported much less anxiety when they were taking the kava than when they took placebo pills, Sarris says.

Depression levels also dropped among many patients who reported depression and no serious side effects were associated with kava use.

Because the patients took the kava for only one week, the study did not address the long-term safety of the water-extracted, kava root formulation.

Sarris hopes to conduct a longer study comparing kava to drugs that are widely prescribed for the treatment of anxiety.

"What we can say is the evidence supports the use of this [formulation] for short periods for acute anxiety and stress," Sarris says.

Let the Buyer Beware

But East Carolina University professor of psychiatric medicine Richard Bloch, PhD, tells WebMD that the lack of regulation of dietary supplements like kava in the U.S., means consumers can never be sure what they are getting.

"The FDA doesn't monitor the ingredients used, how these products are prepared, or even if the doses are accurate," he says. "Manufacturers can say whatever they like and you don't know for sure if it is accurate because nobody is really checking."

Bloch recently reviewed the research examining the safety of kava for the treatment of anxiety. He says not enough high-quality, long-term studies have been done to truly understand the effect that kava has on the liver.

"This study suggests that kava is very effective for treating generalized anxiety disorder, but it was just a three-week trial," he says. "It does not address the long-term safety of kava or its long-term efficacy. We simply do not know if this treatment would be safe and effective if used for six months or a year."

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