GABA-modulating phytomedicines for anxiety: A systematic review of preclinical and clinical evidence

Phytother Res. 2018 Jan;32(1):3-18. doi: 10.1002/ptr.5940. Epub 2017 Nov 23.


Anxiety disorders are chronic and functionally disabling conditions with high psychological stress, characterised by cognitive symptoms of excessive worry and focus difficulties and physiological symptoms such as muscle tension and insomnia. Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is an inhibitory neurotransmitter within the central nervous system and is a key target of pharmacotherapies in the treatment of anxiety. 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. As such, we conducted a systematic review to assess the current body of literature on anxiolytic phytomedicines and/or phytoconstituents. An open-ended search to 5 July 2017 was conducted using MEDLINE (PubMed), Scopus, and Cochrane library online databases and performed in a stepped format from preclinical to clinical investigations. Eligible studies must have had (a) in vitro evidence of GABA-modulating activity, (b) animal studies using anxiety models to test an anxiolytic effect, and (c) human clinical trials. Ten phytomedicines were identified as having preclinical investigations showing interaction with the GABA system, in addition to human clinical trials: kava, valerian, pennywort, hops, chamomile, Ginkgo biloba, passionflower, ashwagandha, skullcap, and lemon balm. Collectively, the literature reveals preclinical and clinical evidence for various phytomedicines modulating GABA-pathways, with comparative anxiolytic effect to the current array of pharmaceuticals, along with good safety and tolerability profiles.

Keywords: GABA; anxiety; anxiolytic; herbal; phytomedicine; phytotherapy.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anxiety Disorders / drug therapy*
  • GABA-A Receptor Agonists / pharmacology
  • GABA-A Receptor Agonists / therapeutic use*
  • Humans
  • Phytotherapy / methods*


  • GABA-A Receptor Agonists