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Why do people think kava causes liver toxicity?

Johann Forster, a naturalist aboard Captain James Cook’s Endeavor gave us Piper methysticum, kava’s scientific name. Piper is Latin for pepper and methysticum is Latinized Greek for intoxicating, making it intoxicating pepper.  Forster’s understanding gave kava the toxic image which was further made worse with the adamant belief of kava being a liquor by many Europeans. This was just the beginning of dwindling kava’s image. 

Today questions such as is kava bad for your liver or is kava addictive are on everyone’s mind. Despite the rumbling questions, its popularity continues to grow. The kava cafes are surging in the US especially in Florida. 

Fiji’s Minister For Industry and Trade, Premila Kumar even revealed the success story of kava in the US market. According to Kumar, the kava market has increased 400% in the US since 2015. 

So, why do people have the intoxicating image of the natural shrub with doubts of liver damage? Despite the doubt, why is it still swaying the market every year?

We will answer these questions in this article, beginning with a brief history. Let’s go! 

The Curious Case of Western Europe 

In the early 2000s, 83 reports of liver damage first surfaced in Western Europe. During this time, doctors in Europe were prescribing 70 million tablets every day, the majority administered to alleviate anxiety issues. 

The liver damage case reports lead to the European ban on kava for over a decade. The ban wave reached South Africa, Canada, Japan, and Australia. 

The worldwide ban led to an economic disaster for the South Pacific areas. It equally created a therapeutic ban for consumers around the world too. 

However, the ban was criticized and rigorously debated. With persistent efforts from people and scientists, a wave of change came in 2014. The court of Cologne, Germany ruled that the available data alleging kava hepatotoxicity was inconclusive. Therefore, lifting the ban not only in Europe but in other countries too.

After the ban got lifted, the German court also ruled that the “de facto” ban by Europe was illegal. The decision was a result of a detailed analysis of the original documentation. Several cases were duplicated, thereby indicating kava kidney damage. Further investigations revealed that no causality between liver toxicity and kava existed. The court also noted that the possible liver toxicity was a result of co-medications or alcohol abuse. 

As of today, kava is not banned in Germany or the USA. But the early 2000 ban stirred the timeless debate – is kava harmful to your liver? 

Kava and The Liver Connection 

Kava, the rhizome, and roots of Piper methysticum form the social fabric of many Oceania countries such as Vanuatu, Fiji, Samoa, Solomon Islands. It has 1000 years of history and has been used for social gatherings, anti-anxiety effects. 

So why did the debate start, especially when it has a heritage of a thousand years? Is there truly a link between liver toxicity and kava consumption? 

According to the human genetic variability theory, a small subgroup of the European Caucasian population may be lacking the digestive power to process the liver enzyme found in kava. Though this hypothesis does not have enough evidence, it is one way of looking at the toxicity debate. 

The organic solvent theory explains the toxicity may be a result of how kava extracts are processed. Traditionally, the roots and rhizomes are extracted with water. However, the supplements created, medicinal or otherwise, are generally prepared with ethanol-water mixtures or even acetone. This procedure is used to extract extra kavalactones (the compound that gives anti-anxiety effects). This extraction method may cause hypertoxicity but much like variability theory, the organic solvent has debatable evidence. 

The most relevant and acceptable theory is the adulteration theory. It states that in a quest to boost kava’s effect artificially, many manufacturers add sawdust, flour, and dregs from the extraction of sugarcane. The unethical practices may result in the kava’s liver toxicity effects. Therefore, it becomes important  to ensure the safety and efficacy of any kava extract product and choose the right manufacturer who follows strict state guidelines. 

Kava Kava CandyHere, at Ozia safety, efficacy and quality remain our top priorities as we build adequate quality controls and insist on the highest standards in manufacturing practice with our products such as our kava candy - we only use noble kava root!
We highly recommend checking out our affordable and premium range of Kava extract products blended with the delightful taste of orange, ginger and mint. Choose a product type based on your daily regime. Start with a small pack of 4 or get a monthly subscriptions and save 20%.

In conclusion, each theory is still under investigation as it should be. If manufacturers intoxicate kava for profits then it should be investigated but the fact remains that no strong causal effects exist between pure kava and liver toxicity. 

So, what is the bottom line? 

Melt Away Your Anxiety the Right Way

Is coffee good or bad? 

You will agree that it’s brilliant and is an integral part of our lives. Work and coffee go hand in hand, right? What if you drink it too much on an everyday basis? The probability is you’ll suffer from caffeine overdose leading to major health issues such as irregular heartbeat or headaches or diarrhea or even convulsions. 

What we’re trying to say- have kava in moderation and in a way that suits your body needs. Or you can follow Vanuatu kava expert Dr. Vincent Lebot suggestion too:

Kava is kava; it is the traditional beverage prepared by cold water extraction of the ground organs of the plant Piper methysticum, and nothing else. 

Follow Dr. Lebot and drink it the traditional way. Don’t worry. You don’t have to travel anywhere to procure your kava plant. 

We’ve got you covered with our proprietary blend straight from Fiji, just click here and buy your first batch. All you need to do is use 1 part kava in a strainer bag per 4 parts water. Knead bag in water for 10 minutes. Remove the bag and enjoy!

Are Kava and its Supplements Safe Then?

To understand safety is to understand the context too. Kava has shown to be effective in situational anxiety but its impact on serious mental health conditions such as generalized anxiety disorder is still under investigation.

Similarly, kava’s interaction with many medications such as anti-anxiety or other prescription drugs is under the microscope for possible contraindications. Scientists are trying to figure out the kava consumption plan including its dosage for serious medical conditions.

Kava is helpful but it has hundreds of compounds within it and we need to know more. It has proven its effectiveness in relaxation and anxiety-relieving situations well. But if you have any existing medical conditions including liver concerns or are taking any form of drugs, be on the safer side and talk to your doctor. 

Want to know more about kava?

Click here to know about its taste and feel; click here to know different ways to take it for anxiety, and in case you’re curious where it is grown, click here 🙂

References:

Anke, J., & Ramzan, I. (2004). Pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic drug interactions with Kava (Piper methysticum Forst. f.). Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 93(2-3), 153–160. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jep.2004.04.009

Aporosa, S. A. (2019). De-mythologizing and re-branding of kava as the new “world drug” of choice. Drug Science, Policy and Law, 5, 205032451987613. https://doi.org/10.1177/2050324519876131

Bian, T., Corral, P., Wang, Y., Botello, J., Kingston, R., Daniels, T., Salloum, R. G., Johnston, E., Huo, Z., Lu, J., Liu, A. C., & Xing, C. (2020). Kava as a Clinical Nutrient: Promises and Challenges. Nutrients, 12(10). https://doi.org/10.3390/nu12103044

Kuchta, K., Schmidt, M., & Nahrstedt, A. (2015). German Kava Ban Lifted by Court: The Alleged Hepatotoxicity of Kava (Piper methysticum) as a Case of Ill-Defined Herbal Drug Identity, Lacking Quality Control, and Misguided Regulatory Politics. Planta Medica, 81(18), 1647–1653. https://doi.org/10.1055/s-0035-1558295

Reece, L. (2019, October 15). Trade between Fiji and the USA in 2018 was worth $510.4M. Fiji Village. https://fijivillage.com/news/Trade-between-Fiji-and-USA-in-2018-was-worth-5104M—Kumar-s95k2r/

Sarris, J., Byrne, G. J., Bousman, C. A., Cribb, L., Savage, K. M., Holmes, O., Murphy, J., Macdonald, P., Short, A., Nazareth, S., Jennings, E., Thomas, S. R., Ogden, E., Chamoli, S., Scholey, A., & Stough, C. (2019). Kava for generalised anxiety disorder: A 16-week double-blind, randomised, placebo-controlled study. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 54(3), 288–297. https://doi.org/10.1177/0004867419891246

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