Staff writer Jerry Hirsch reports today on the growing popularity of slow-down, or anti-energy, drinks such as Mary Jane's Relaxing Soda, Slow Cow and Ex Chill. They use ingredients such as kava, chamomile and valerian to create a purported calming effect. Here's the full story.
Kava kava -- When it comes to treating anxiety, the herb gets an A. Some studies have found it to be as effective as Valium. Not bad. If you have liver problems, however, it might be best avoided. It's been linked to severe liver toxicity and failure.
Chamomile -- This herb, used for centuries to treat a variety of conditions (not just anxiety and sleep disorders but also eczema, teething pains and hemorrhoids), doesn't actually get any A's in the scientific-evidence department. But, in fairness, there seems to have been few large studies of it, and millions of pre-bedtime tea drinkers are firm believers.
Valerian -- Again, no A's here, but the root has been used as a sedative for about 2,000 years now.
Much depends on the amount, of course. And the drinks' calming effects might have much to do with belief in their calming effects.
But if this new beverage trend piques your curiousity about potentially soothing herbs, the National Library of Medicine includes information about dosages and -- of course -- all the caveats about safety and side effects and interactions. Such caveats are worth reading.
Here's a bit more, for example, about valerian: "Based on animal and human studies, valerian may increase the amount of drowsiness caused by some drugs, although this is an area of controversy. Examples include benzodiazepines such as lorazepam (Ativan) or diazepam (Valium), barbiturates such as phenobarbital, narcotics such as codeine, some antidepressants, and alcohol. Caution is advised while driving or operating machinery. In one human study, a combination of valerian and the beta-blocker drug propranolol (Inderal) reduced concentration levels more than valerian alone. A brief episode of confusion was reported in one patient using valerian with loperamide (Imodium) and St. John's wort (Hypericum perforatum L.)."
Not that anyone would think of combining valerian or other herbs with antidepressants or alcohol.
For more herbs and treatments commonly used to treat anxiety, here's a list from the University of Maryland Medical Center's website.
And check out the insomnia list too.
-- Tami Dennis
Photo (top): A villager in the Pacific island country of Vanuatu prepares kava root for a traditional drink. Credit: Marc Le Chelard / AFP / Getty Images
Photo (bottom): The chief executive of Mary Jane's soda offers a more modern version. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times