Kava Liver Damage

There has been a concerted effort on the part of pharmaceutical companies to lead the public to believe that the consumption of kava may lead to liver damage.  But, it has backfired on them, as a record number of scientists came to kava's defense and proved kava liver damage claims to be false. See our article called "Kava in a Nutshell" for a broad overview of the curious and tragic story of Kava around the world.

The study in question is a German-Swiss review of the medical literature on kava, conducted in 2002 after kava soared in popularity in Europe as a herbal supplement for relaxation and stress management. Rather than perform a new, clinically controlled study on the safety of kava, the study reviewed around 30 case studies of liver damage in which the subjects had been taking a kava supplement. The cases were collected from a small area of Switzerland.

This study was deeply flawed because it did not exclude subjects who were also heavy alcohol users or who were taking prescription medications known to affect the liver in addition to the kava. Combining alcohol or medications with kava is now strongly recommended against by physicians, as well as any responsible kava supplier.

In recent years, another factor came to light that weakened the German study's allegations of kava liver damage. While traditional South Pacific kava preparations use only the root of the kava plant, some extracts sold in the German-speaking part of Switzerland where the study was conducted may have been made from the leaves and stem peelings of the kava plant. A Fiji kava supplier later reported that European supplement companies bought up large quantities of kava stems and leaves (which are never traditionally consumed) to meet the demand for kava extract in the early 2000s. These aerial parts contain a compound called pipermethystine that has demonstrated liver toxicity in animal studies and which is not present in kava's roots.

Despite its flaws, the German-Swiss study led to many Western countries banning kava, which resulted in kava being outright outlawed. This study frustrated us to no end, but we did not sit idly by; we, with the herbal supplement industry, launched our own counterattack on the kava liver damage claims.

We are happy to report that Germany repealed its kava ban in July of 2006. There was immense pressure to have them retract the reports about liver damage, especially since numerous counter studies have been released that directly conflict with their position.  Canada, although they have not lifted their ban on kava completely, have lifted any restrictions on the importation of kava into Canada for any private individuals.  (In other words, any person can order kava, as long as they are doing it for personal consumption and not to re-sell in a store or kava bar.

It is important to note that the original study was sponsored by a pharmaceutical company, and that the kava plant material used was from the entire plant and not just the root, which is the only part of the plant that is traditionally consumed. Finally, almost all of the study's subjects either had histories of heavy alcohol usage, or had used the kava extracts in combination with prescription medications, both practices that are strongly recommended against when taking kava.

Kava has been used safely for thousands of years in Hawaii, yet somehow a single study was conducted using parts of the plants our people never use, with patients who had long histories of alcohol abuse and/or co-medication with prescription drugs. You should always consult your doctor about your personal health, alcohol use, and any medications you take before starting a herbal supplement; that's just common sense, and kava is no exception. However, used sensibly and in moderation, kava has proven to be a safe, natural route to relaxation and lessening stress*. We think that's worth raising a bowl to!

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to cure, treat, diagnose, or prevent any disease.