Kava Maybe the King of Tranquilizers, But Use With Caution

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Suzy-Cohen-1_2Dear Pharmacist,

I get very anxious and nervous over the smallest things. I can’t help myself, so I take Xanax to calm down.  Sometimes I have a few glasses of wine (not with the Xanax though). It’s one or the other. What do you think about the dietary supplement Kava for relaxation?  –D.W.  Long Island, New York

Answer: Xanax is one of the safer anti-anxiety medications on the market, and if it’s working for you, that’s great. I would not drink alcohol on the days that you take Xanax because that’s a very dangerous combination. I’m also against taking Kava if you’re currently taking any anti-anxiety or antidepressant medication, prescribed or OTC.

Kava comes from the South Sea Islands, where it has been used for centuries to induce relaxation and a sense of harmonious connection with the earth. Sensitive people might feel “intoxicated” .  much the same way Americans feel after 2 Martinis. I had to laugh when I learned some states  have Kava bars, where you can go in for a drink!

Now why would I recommend against taking Kava if you’re taking Xanax? Actually, I think you should avoid this herb if you’re taking any anti-anxiety, anti-depressant pharmaceutical or drink alcohol. We know that the active ingredients in Kava—called “kavalactones”—are helpful in relieving pain and these compounds have a profound action all over your body, not just your brain. Never combine your anti-anxiety meds or antidepressants with Kava because it can over-sedate you. There have been fatalities from people who misused this herb which -for the record- has been enjoyed for centuries. Literally millions of people have tried Kava, and it has a relatively good track record, but over the past decade there have been several reports of liver damage. While Kava is readily available in this country, it has been banned in others. I think the problems arise because people combine herbs with drugs or alcohol!

So what herb would I recommend if you’re also taking Xanax or some other medication to help you deal with anxiety or depression? Chamomile, either German or Roman.

Chamomile is a safe, gentle-acting herb that has been helping people for ages. It’s so safe you can even give it to children to help soothe a tummy ache. Its traditional use for relaxation has been validated by modern science. While you can take chamomile in capsules, I’m not sure why you’d want to. The tea has a sweet, flowery aroma and a pleasant, apple-like taste. It’s perfect to keep on hand for those occasions when you’re feeling anxious and simply want to unwind.

There are no known safety issues with chamomile, with one small exception, avoid chamomile if you’re allergic to anything else in the daisy family, such as ragweed.

Did You Know? Tell your physician about any herbal supplements that you take because herbs are just plant-derived medications and can interact with your prescribed medications.