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Kava, Passion Flower and Amino Acids Effective for Anxiety


If you are among the estimated 40 million adults in the United States who suffer with an anxiety disorder and you want an alternative to prescription medications, a new review finds that kava, passion flower, arginine, and lysine can be effective treatments.

Anxiety disorders can respond well to natural remedies

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States, according to the Anxiety Disorders Association of America. The term “anxiety disorders” includes generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), social anxiety disorder, and phobias. Although these disorders are highly treatable, only about one-third of people who have an anxiety disorder seek treatment.

The new systematic review was conducted by Shaheen Lakhan and Karen Vieira from the Global Neuroscience Initiative Foundation (GNIF), a nonprofit organization that promotes the advancement of neurological and mental health. The investigators reviewed 24 studies that involved more than 2,000 participants who used herbal remedies and dietary supplements for anxiety.

Twenty-one of the studies were randomized controlled trials, and of these, 15 revealed positive results from either an herbal or nutritional remedy, with mild to moderate side effects. Lakhan noted that “while passionflower or kava and L-lysine and L-arginine appeared to be effective, St. John’s wort and magnesium supplements were not.”

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The researchers point out, however, that “more research needs to be done to establish the most effective dosage and to determine whether this varies between different types of anxiety or anxiety-related disorders.”

In a recent study from Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center, researchers there reported that “only kava has high-quality evidence for use in the treatment of anxiety disorders,” although they also noted that its use is discouraged because of safety issues. Use of kava has been associated with liver problems.

A Cochrane Database review in 2007 reported there were too few randomized controlled trials involving passion flower and anxiety to come to any conclusions about its effectiveness. However, another 2007 study found the combination of lysine and arginine to be helpful in otherwise healthy adults who had high stress and anxiety.

Although the results of the new review by GNIF concerning kava, passion flower, lysine, and arginine as natural treatment options for anxiety disorders do not provide definitive answers, they do provide some support for alternative treatments for anxiety and may serve to encourage some patients to seek treatment.

Anxiety Disorders Association of America
Lakhan SE, Vieira KF. Nutrition Journal 2010 Oct; 9(42)
Larzelere MM et al. Primary Care 2010 Jun; 37(2): 213-36
Miyasaka LS et al. Cochrane Database Systematic Review 2007 Jan 24; (1):CD004518
National Institute of Mental Health