Harvard Women's Health Watch

From the Journals: Herbs and supplements for anxiety: Kava, inositol may help

From the Journals

Herbs and supplements for anxiety: Kava, inositol may help

Anxiety disorders are among the most commonly diagnosed psychiatric illnesses, affecting some 40 million adults each year in the United States, women more often than men. They encompass a wide variety of diagnoses, including generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and phobias. Anxiety disorders can be treated effectively with psychotherapy and drugs such as benzodiazepine tranquilizers, antidepressants, and beta blockers. But major surveys suggest that many people seek complementary and alternative medicine to relieve their symptoms.

Various studies have found some herbs and dietary supplements helpful for mild to moderate anxiety. But a review of the evidence published in the August 15, 2007, issue of American Family Physician found little or no scientific support for the use of most such treatments. One notable exception was the herbal supplement kava. Here's a rundown on the evidence for and against the top contenders:

Kava (Piper methysticum). Usually prepared as a tea, kava is made from the dried rhizome (root) of a shrub found throughout the South Pacific, where it is used for social, ceremonial, and medicinal purposes. Kava is reported to have a relaxing effect without impairing mental and physical function. Several randomized controlled trials have shown that kava is slightly superior to a placebo in relieving anxiety. One trial indicated that it was as effective as the anti-anxiety drug buspirone (Buspar).

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