Alternative medicine

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Several herbal remedies have been studied as a treatment for anxiety, such as kava, valerian and passionflower, but more research is needed to understand the risks and benefits. Here's what researchers know — and don't know:

  • Kava. Kava appeared to be a promising treatment for anxiety, but reports of serious liver damage — even with short-term use — caused several European countries and Canada to pull it off the market. The Food and Drug Administration has issued warnings but not banned sales in the United States. Avoid using kava until more rigorous safety studies are done, especially if you have liver problems or take medications that affect your liver.
  • Valerian. In some studies, people who used valerian reported less anxiety and stress, but in other studies, people reported no benefit. Discuss valerian with your doctor before trying it. Some people who have used high doses or used it long term may have increased their risk of liver damage, although it's not clear if valerian caused the damage. When it's time to stop using valerian, it must be tapered down to prevent withdrawal symptoms.
  • Passionflower. A few small clinical trials suggest that passionflower might help with anxiety. In many commercial products, passionflower is combined with other herbs, making it difficult to distinguish the unique qualities of each herb. Passionflower is generally considered safe when taken as directed, but some studies found it can cause drowsiness, dizziness and confusion.
  • Theanine. This amino acid is found in green tea and may be found in some supplements. Preliminary evidence shows that theanine may make some people feel calmer, but there is no evidence that it helps treat anxiety.

Before taking herbal remedies or supplements, talk to your doctor to make sure they're safe for you and won't interact with any medications you take.

Apr. 09, 2014