Herbs Scientifically Proven To Ease Anxiety Revealed

Scientists have revealed the herbs that are scientifically proven to ease anxiety and those that lack robust evidence of their effectiveness.

Experts carried out a review of the medical literature and report that the best supplement for treating the mental condition is kava – a plant found on the South Pacific island.

However, the remedy – which commonly comes in the form of pills, teas, and concentrated extracts – is controversial as it has been linked to liver damage.

Sales in the UK were banned by the Government in 2003. It is legal in the US as a dietary aid although the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has expressed concerns regarding its safety.

The team from University of Melbourne also found that chamomile, passionflower, valerian, Indian ginseng, and pennywort reduce stress and anxiety levels in animal and human studies.

They reported that there was no solid proof that maiden hair, hops, lemon balm, and scullcap are effective to treat the condition.

Kava – a plant found on the South Pacific island – was named the best herb but it is not without controversy (stock image)

Best supplement: Kava (known as kava kava)

Other effective ones: Chamomile, passionflower, valerian, Indian ginseng, and pennywort

Ineffective herbs: Maiden hair, hops, lemon balm, and scullcap

Anxiety is a feeling of unease, such as worry or fear, that can be mild or severe. It is the main symptom of several conditions, including panic disorder, phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and social anxiety disorder. 

The researchers from the university’s department of psychiatry looked at studies that investigated the effects of supplements on gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA).

This is one of the body’s primary neurotransmitters that acts to calm the central nervous system. 

Writing in the journal Phytotherapy Research the team said: ‘Although current pharmaceutical treatments are often efficacious, they may cause undesirable side effects including cognitive decrements and withdrawal symptoms. 

‘Plant-based “phytomedicines” may provide novel treatment options, to act as an adjunctive or alternative to existing anxiolytic medications.’

What is kava and why was it banned in the UK?   

Kava, also called kava kava, has been used in medicines on the South Pacific islands for centuries. 

Consumed as a drink there, it is said to elevate mood, well being, and contentment, and produce a feeling of relaxation. Its active ingredients are called kavalactones.

A Cochrane review in 2003 concluded it was likely to be more effective than placebo at treating short-term anxiety – but it noted long-term safety studies of the herb are required.

However, there is serious concern that kava may cause liver damage after more than 20 cases were reported in Europe.

Four resulted in a liver transplant and one was fatal. In all of these instances, kava was used along with alcohol or other potentially liver-damaging drugs.

As a result, some countries have taken kava off the market. While still legal in the US, the FDA issued a consumer advisory in March 2002 regarding the ‘rare’ but potential risk of liver failure associated with kava-containing products.

According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, researchers have not been able to confirm that kava is toxic to the liver. 

On its website it states: ‘It is not clear whether kava itself causes liver damage, or whether taking kava in combination with other drugs or herbs is responsible. 

‘It is also not clear whether kava is dangerous at previously recommended doses, or only at higher doses.  

‘It is impossible to say what, if any, dose of kava might be safe. You should not take kava unless you are under a doctor’s close supervision.’ 

Chamomile is a traditional remedy used for a number of maladies and is most commonly taken in tea form.

Its flowers resembling a daisy, the plant has been used since ancient times for its calming and anti-inflammatory properties.

Chamomile tea is one of the popular varieties of tea in the market and is said to have many health benefits (stock image)

According to a report by researchers from Ohio, published in the Molecular Medicine Reports in 2011: ‘Chamomile is widely regarded as a mild tranquillizer and sleep-inducer. 

‘Its sedative effects may be due to the flavonoid, apigenin that binds to benzodiazepine receptors in the brain.’

Passionflower (passiflora incarnata) was used traditionally in the Americas and later in Europe as a calming herb for anxiety, insomnia, seizures, and hysteria. It is still used today to treat anxiety and insomnia.

Experts from University of Maryland Medical Centre say that passionflower may work as well as tranquiizers for anxiety.

They wrote: ‘Studies of people with generalized anxiety disorder show that passionflower is as effective as the drug oxazepam (Serax) for treating symptoms.

‘Passionflower didn’t work as quickly as oxazepam. However, it produced less impairment on job performance than oxazepam.

‘Other studies show that patients who were given passionflower before surgery had less anxiety than those given a placebo, but they recovered from anesthesia just as quickly.’ 

Valerian – the root from a perennial flowering plant – has been used to ease insomnia, anxiety, and nervous restlessness since the second century A.D. 

Some research – though not all – suggests that it may help people with insomnia, according to the University of Maryland Medical Centre.

Germany’s Commission E approved valerian as an effective mild sedative and the FDA in the US listed the herb as ‘generally recognized as safe’. 

Use of Indian ginseng, also known as ashwagandha, dates back three millennia to the time the Ayurvedic practitioners in India began using it for people with anxiety, low energy, and the ravages of aging.

Indian ginseng, also known as ashwagandha,is said to have healing and calming properties (stock image)

A 2012 study by researchers from Asha Hospital in Hyderabad, India, found that cortisol levels – the so-called stress hormone – were substantially reduced in a group of people taking the herb compared to a control group.

Pennywort, also known as gotu kola, has been used to treat many conditions for thousands of years in India, China, and Indonesia.

It is available in teas and as dried herbs, tinctures, capsules, tablets, and ointments. 

One human study found that people who took gotu kola were less likely to be startled by a new noise than those who took placebo, say the University of Maryland Medical Centre. 

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