The Academic World and Health Organizations Attest to Kava’s Safety
Kava has been used for thousands of years by the inhabitants of the South Pacific with no ill effects and has become one of the top selling herbal supplements worldwide. Only recently have a few concerns have been reported that Kava may have contributed to liver toxicity. To put this in perspective, hundreds of thousands of men and women use Kava regularly but there have been just 4 reported cases of liver problems where kava may have been the cause, but it is equally likely, that another product such as alcohol, or medicine could have caused the problem.
Dr. Hyla Cass MD stated that you are far likelier to suffer from liver damage by taking the prescription anti-anxiety drug, Valium, as you are kava, yet it is taken by millions daily with little question-and with no major adverse publicity. The over-the counter pain medication, acetaminophen (Tylenol), also has the highest incidence of liver toxicity, especially when combined with alcohol.
A closer examination from the academic world and health organizations reveals that kava is much safer than its prescription and over the counter alternatives.
The World Health Organization performed an extensive assessment published in 2007. Evidence of our review of case reports suggests that kavalactones in any type of product may rarely cause hepatic adverse reactions.
Kava Trade and Use Restrictions May be Based on Inadequate Information. Rolf Teschke, MD, one of the world’s foremost experts on kava and its reported liver toxicity, says the few cases of toxicity related to ingestion of kava products were “most probably a consequence of poor-quality raw kava material employed in the manufacture of a few kava extracts.
Closer examination of the details available on the 30 European cases reveals that the vast majority, 21 cases in all, involved the concomitant use of hepatotoxic drugs and/or alcohol. This is not significant evidence of hepatotoxicity.
The fact is, you are far likelier to suffer from liver damage by taking the prescription anti-anxiety drug, Valium, as you are kava, yet it is taken by millions daily with little question-and with no major adverse publicity. The over-the counter pain medication, acetaminophen (Tylenol), also has the highest incidence of liver toxicity, especially when combined with alcohol.
Kava Extract Appears Safe. Italian and German researchers reporting in the September, 2006 issue of the journal Phytomed, believe such fears are unfounded. They fed rats kava extract at about 10 times the human equivalent dose, and found no signs of organ toxicity, including liver toxicity, after three and six month intervals. They also noted no behavioral withdrawal symptoms from rats.
“Historically, the scientific literature does not show much basis for concern about potential liver toxicity,” said Mark Blumenthal, founder and executive director of The American Botanical Council, a non-profit herbal research and education organization. He is also an associate professor at the College of Pharmacy at the University of Texas at Austin.
“If the coincidence of liver toxicity for kava is correct, then according to German researchers it is very similar to that of conventional pharmaceutical anti-anxiety and antidepressant prescription drugs. These are generally considered to be acceptable (though small) risks,” he said, referring to the risk-benefit comparison by which conventional medicines are evaluated.
In 1990 the German government’s Commission E, a panel of herbal experts in the fields of medicine and pharmacy, evaluated the scientific and medical literature and had approved the use of kava as a nonprescription medicine for “nervous anxiety, stress, and restlessness.” The safe and effective benefits of kava to relieve symptoms of anxiety were supported last year in a meta-analysis, a systematic statistical review of seven human clinical trials published in the Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology and again in a similar critical review this year. The reviews did not find adverse effects related to liver toxicity.
The ADC attests to the safety of kava and they engage in scientific research and also coordinate and provide referrals to researchers. For example, Will McClatchey, Ph.D, board member, is an associate professor of botany at the University of Hawai‘i at Mänoa. H.C. Bittenbender, Ph.D., board member, is the extension specialist for kava, cacao and coffee at the University of Hawai‘i. Both board members conduct scientific research on kava.
The ADC coordinates with professors and researchers to give talks and hold discussions with the public to educate them about the physiological benefits of kava, the safety of its use, its use in Hawaiian religion and culture, and current scientific understanding. The ADC hosts the Kava Festival – an important educational venue for the dissemination of knowledge and understanding of kava.
The IKEC is an international organization consisting of delegates from the Pacific and the EU, focusing on re-establishing the Kava trade between the Kava producing South Pacific Island States and the countries of the European Union. The American Herbal Products Association and the American Botanical Council are associated members of IKEC.
Kava is Safe to Use
The safe and effective benefits of kava to relieve symptoms of anxiety were also supported in a meta-analysis, a systematic statistical review of seven human clinical trials published in 2000 in the Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology, and again in a similar critical review in 2001. The reviews did not find significant adverse effects related to liver toxicity.
In conclusion, the liver is affected by many substances, including prescription and non- prescription drugs, as well as alcohol, which is a major cause of liver damage. We must be aware that herbs are potent medicines, to be treated with the appropriate respect regarding potential interactions and toxicity, including to the liver. On the other hand, Kava kava’s margin of safety far surpasses that of it’s pharmaceutical equivalent.