Can Kava Help Social Anxiety?

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • Studies have shown that Kava can help in reducing some symptoms of anxiety disorders, including social anxiety disorder. Kava is native to the South Pacific and is from the pepper family. It is used in a ceremonial beverage in the islands of the South Pacific.


    According to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), Kava is helpful for patients with mild to moderate anxiety when used short-term (less than 24 weeks.)


    The AAFP reported on a study comparing Kava to a placebo. In the study, patients receiving Kava showed a greater reduction of anxiety symptoms than those taking the placebo. One study indicated that, like antidepressants, relief was not immediate but appeared around the eighth week of taking Kava.

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    Kava blocks an enzyme in the liver and is not recommended for people with liver disease, liver problems, or those taking medications that affect the liver. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued an advisory to consumers using Kava of the potential for severe liver injury. Some countries, such as Germany, Switzerland, France, Canada and the United Kingdom have banned products containing Kava because of the possibility of liver damage.  Symptoms of liver damage include:

    • Jaundice (yellowing of skin or whites of eyes)
    • Brown urine
    • Nausea o r vomiting
    • Light-colored stools
    • Fatigue or weakness
    • Abdominal pain
    • Loss of appetite

    If you are taking Kava and experience any of these symptoms, you should immediately consult your physician.


    In addition, Kava is not recommended for:

    • Women who are pregnant or nursing
    • Children under the age of 18
    • People taking prescription monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)

    Kava should not be combined with benzodiazepines, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or selective nerophinphrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs.) Kava should also not be combined with alcohol. Combining these medications or alcohol with Kava can increase the risk of liver damage.


    Side Effects


    Although studies showed mild and infrequent side effects, you should be aware of the following possible reactions:

    • Drowsiness
    • Headache
    • Stomach upset
    • Dizziness
    • Sensitivity to ultraviolet light

    As with all medications, you should speak with your doctor before beginning Kava. In addition, if asked what medications you are taking, you should include Kava.




    It is recommended that you not exceed 250 mg. in a 24 hour period of time.



    "Consumer Advisory: Kava-Containing Dietary Supplements May be Associated with Severe Liver Injury", 2002, March 25, U.S. Food and Drug Administration


    "Herbal and Dietary Supplements for Treatment of Anxiety Disorders", 2007, Aug 15, Sy Atezaz Saeed, M.D. et al, American Family Physician, 76(4) 549-556


    "Kava", Date Unknown, Author Unknown, National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine 


Published On: July 13, 2010