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Highly regarded by native cultures in the Pacific Islands, kava root contains kavalactones, compounds that may help reduce anxiety. "Kava is said to promote easy conversation and story telling, and to help resolve conflict, all of which helps hold Pacific Island communities together," Balick says. "The initial effects are similar to alcohol but without the negative side effects—people on kava are mellow and calm, not aggressive." In fact, one German study showed that kava reduced symptoms of anxiety as effectively as a pharmaceutical drug during the course of six weeks.
While islanders pound the root to make a water extract, you can find it in capsules, extracts, or tinctures.
Photo courtesy of the New York Botanical Garden
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