Last issue you wrote about St. Johns Wort. Would you discuss another popular herb called kava kava?
(Column: Ask the Pharmacist)
Relaxing with Kava Kava
Steve Kaufman, RPH
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Kava kava has long been used in the South Pacific as a drink in many ritual ceremonies. It is reported to have a calming effect and enhance sociability. The German Commission E monographs list kava kava among herbs approved in Europe to relieve nervous anxiety, stress and restlessness. It has also been shown to reduce some menopausal symptoms such as anxiety and hot flashes.

The active ingredient in kava is believed to be kavalactones (also called kavapyrones). There have been several clinical trials using various formulations of the kava root that have demonstrated effectiveness as an anti-anxiety agent. One study showed it to be as effective as the benzodiazines in treating stress.

Doses of kava in clinical studies have been 60-120mg of kavapyrone daily. No side effects have been reported in clinical trials at recommended levels. At very high doses disturbances in vision and equilibrium have been noted. Prolonged use of kava kava can cause a transient yellowing of the skin or a condition called kava demopathy in which the skin becomes dry and scaly.

Kava kava should not be taken when a patient is using other medications for anxiety without the consent of a physician. Generally, kava kava should never be used for more than three months. Talk to your physician before using kava or any herbal product, and consult your pharmacist about which specific kava kava product to buy.

For more information on kava kava you can contact the American Botanical Council at (512) 331-8868 or the Herb Research Foundation at 800-748-2617.
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