Nature's Answer to Stress and Anxiety

Kava is increasing in popularity around the world. For this reason, dietary supplements containing efficacious preparations of kava extract are available in both health food stores and pharmacies. Maybe we'd all be better off moving to Oceania, living under swaying coconut trees, catching fish for dinner, and knocking coconuts down from trees for a snack. Instead, many of us live in a strung-out, anxiety-riddled world.

Even the word "anxiety" can conjure up a groundless fear that makes the stomach knot and the palms start to get sweaty. Unfortunately, for many people stress and anxiety are daily phenomena in modern life, and it can be difficult to know where to find solutions that are both effective and safe. The good news is that people from all walks of life are finding relief from chronic stress--the kind that often produces anxiety--in kava kava, a South Pacific plant-based beverage that has been safely consumed in ceremonial and social settings for thousands of years.

Before you can get a handle on any kind of anxiety, it's important to have a clear definition of the word. Anxiety and chronic stress are different from ordinary nerves and work differently on the body over time. A formal definition of anxiety is "a groundless fear without a clear source; a feeling of being worried or frightened without knowing why" (Merriam Webster Online Dictionary). Anxiety is usually accompanied by clear physical symptoms such as tension and trembling in the body; upset stomach and/or diarrhea; sweating or flushing; heart palpitations; rapid breathing or difficulty breathing; numbness or pins and needles in the limbs; headache and backache.

Of course, everyone gets nervous or anxious in certain situations, and a little bit of anxiety can actually be beneficial by helping us perform at our peak ability and alertness in demanding situations. While occasional stress and anxiety act as survival mechanisms, problems arise when anxiety arises without a clear inciting incident, and when it continues after the demanding or threatening situation has passed. Even anxiety that seems to have a clear trigger, such as social situations or demands at work, can spread to other situations and quickly become generalized, interfering with a healthy, happy life. And in our fast-paced, demanding Western world, a state of chronic stress and anxiety has become the norm for many people.

In recent years, groundbreaking studies have come out showing kava's efficacy in treating chronic stress and anxiety in clinical trials. The first such systematic review of these studies, conducted in 2000 by MH Pittler and E Ernst, examined randomized double-blind placebo-controlled studies--the gold standard in medical research--that measured the efficacy of an extract of kava kava root against placebo in treating symptoms of anxiety. The kava extract showed a statistically significant reduction of anxiety symptoms compared to placebo in all seven studies reviewed, as measured by the Hamilton scale, a questionnaire that measures symptoms of anxiety in test subjects.

A kava supplement seems to be helpful in managing stress and anxiety in two ways: first of all, it reduces two of the associated physical symptoms of anxiety, muscle tension and trembling*, through its action as a muscle relaxant. Extracts of kava have also been shown to be directly effective in reducing feelings of nervousness* and mental stress*, allowing the body and mind to relax.

Other natural methods can go a long way toward reducing your feelings of chronic stress and help you to establish a healthier mood. In addition to kava, herbal supplements such as passionflower, chamomile, valerian, and eleuthero (Siberian ginseng) all have calming properties that can help soothe stress away*. Maintaining a healtlhy diet, getting adequate sleep, and making time for regular exercise have all been studied as natural and effective ways to reduce your stress levels. Take breaks from work or study to engage in a relaxing activity like reading, gentle exercises such as yoga, or meditation; something as simple as a few minutes of deep breathing can do wonders to reduce your anxiety and help you feel calm and balanced.

One last thing therapists recommend is to make an effort to change your "tapes": those circular, often negative thoughts that can arise when you feel yourself entering an anxious state. For instance, if you have a large project to complete for work or school, you might catch yourself thinking, "I can't do this"; try putting a positive spin on this self-defeating tape by changing it to something like, "It is a lot of work, but if I just do a little bit each day, I'll get through it." Though it sounds simple, replacing your negative thought patterns with positive ones can help you master your anxiety.

Chronic or severe anxiety should never be ignored. Consult a physician if you have or suspect you have chronic anxiety to learn about appropriate avenues for treatment. Kava should not be taken long-term without the advice and consultation of a holistic healthcare practitioner. Used appropriately, we believe the wonderful relaxing properties of kava root can bring balance, peace, and calm to those in need.

References: Pittler, MH and E Ernst. February 2000. "Efficacy of Kava Extract for Treating Anxiety: systematic review and meta-analysis." Journal of Clinical Pharmacology 20(1):84-9.

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to cure, treat, diagnose, or prevent any disease.