The mental health benefits of kava

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Research shows evidence of the how kava helps lower levels of depression and anxiety

This study is one of, if not the first study, looking at the mental health benefits of kava., particularly in anxiety and depression. This is a randomized, placebo controlled, double-blind cross over study, which means that people who participated were put into groups without any order, both participants and their doctors didn’t know treatment they were getting, and each group was put into the other after the first wave so all participants got all treatments.  This is one of the highest quality types of studies that can be done. 

What they did

Sixty adults with consistent anxiety symptoms participated in the 3-week trial. Participants had to have had at least 1 month of persistent worry or anxiety and score more than 10 on the Beck Anxiety Scale (a 21-item scale that measures different aspects of anxiety), along with a variety of other anxiety and depression measurements. These were given at the start of the study (baseline) as well as after the first week (placebo pre-treatment) and after each study treatment phase. The group was split into either Kava treatment first followed by placebo (kava-placebo) or vise versa (placebo-kava). They used organic kava root from a nobel variety from Vanuatu that was dried from the watery solution into a pressed pill form. The placebo was an identical pill that was made of different vegetable glycerides. 

How they did it

The first week was a placebo run-in where participants took placebo pills for 5 days, then completed a checklist to make sure they were able to follow instructions and didn’t have any bad reactions. Each treatment phase lasted 1 week. Participants took five tablets of either Kava (each containing 50mg of kavalactones, the active ingredient of kava) or placebo. After the first week, participants returned to go all anxiety and depression assessments again before starting the second treatment. Phase 2 was exactly the same as phase one, except they took the opposite treatment. They went through all assessments again after the second phase. 

What they found

The researchers did an in depth analysis to compare the different layers of the study. First, the study found that anxiety levels dropped more when kava (-9.9) was taken first compared to placebo (-0.8). During phase 2, anxiety levels dropped even more (-10.3) vs +3.3 of placebo. When the two phases were combined, kava was significantly better at reducing feelings of anxiety (from the Beck Inventory Scale)  and depression (from the Montgomery-Asberg depression rating scale). There were no side effects reported during the study

Why it matters for mental health

This study is important because it is the first to suggest that mental health benefits of kava. The study shows that it could be a safe and effective treatment alternative for depression and anxiety. It even appeared to be just as effective as conventional treatments like benzodiazepines when anxiety and depression present together. The hope is that these results spur more research into the potential of kava as a medicinal therapy for anxiety and depressive disorders.

Link to original article

The Kava Anxiety Depression Spectrum Study (KADSS): a randomized, placebo-controlled crossover trial using an aqueous extract of Piper methysticum

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The mental health benefits of kava

person reaching black heart cutout paper


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