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The Facts Behind Claims of Liver Toxicity and Kava Use

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the facts behind claims of liver toxicity and kava use
The stress is killing us. Anxiety, panic attacks, insomnia. It seems wherever you turn, people are suffering from more and more stress as a result of our fast-paced lifestyle. So much that anti-anxiety drugs are now one of the most prevalent drugs being prescribed today

Anti-anxiety drugs, more specifically benzodiazipines such as Xanax or Klonopin, have a number of dangerous side effects. The US FDA has started to place black box warnings, noted as the strongest warning the FDA can issue, on many prescription drugs for anxiety. These warnings alert consumers that these medications can result in coma, death, extreme sleepiness, and slowed breathing. There can also be problems if you abruptly stop taking these medications such as withdrawal, insomnia, sweating, increased anxiety, and seizures among other symptoms.

Kava Kava, a Safe Alternative

The toxicity of anti-anxiety medications and the severity of side effects have pushed many people to look for safer alternatives. 

For thousands of years, people in the South Pacific Islands have used kava for medicinal purposes. Today, more and more people around the world are turning to kava for it's relaxing qualities and remarkable ability to relieve anxiety, without the harsh side effects of commonly prescribed medications.

Debunking Myths on Kava Safety

After doing a simple google search, it is apparent that there have been previous concerns regarding liver toxicity with kava use, but the validity of these reports have been called into question. The results of these studies are viewed as invalid because of extraneous variables that are much more likely to contribute to liver damage (ie: subjects were concurrently using alcohol and hepatotoxic drugs.)

The original source of these claims, Swiss and German health officials Interkantonale Kontrollstelle (IKS) & Bundesinstitut für Arzneimittel und Medizinprodukte (BfArM), have since overturned their 12 year ban on kava in Germany with the Federal Administrative court finding it both “Unlawful and inappropriate.” 

Unfortunately much of the misinformation and health warnings still remain top Google rankings, scaring off many of those who could benefit from introducing kava into their lives. 

The Real Safety Risk

  • The World Health Organization (2007) has stated that it is rare for hepatic adverse reactions to occur from the use of Kava. 
  • The National Library of Medicine has stated “Based upon reported cases, the estimated frequency of clinically apparent liver injury due to kava is less than 1:1,000,000 daily doses.”

That's only a 0.000001% chance of liver toxicity with kava use. Compare that to the countless health related problems, accidents, and deaths related to alcohol and other commonly prescribed medications. Also kava root has been safely used in the South Pacific for medicinal and cultural ceremonies for over 3,000 years without record of liver toxicity. 

Quality Control for Safety

There is also concern that the improper harvesting and manufacturing of kava can lead to unsafe products. Kava is a slow growing plant and because of its popularity in the early 2000's, it is believed that not enough kava was being produced. At the time, suppliers included leaves and stems to increase the amount of kava available for export. The leaves and stems of a kava plant contain alkaloids that can potentially be dangerous, which is why it is important to purchase kava from a reputable supplier. 

Evidence for Kava Safety

A number of studies have shown that kava is safe to consume.

A meta-anaylsis of seven clinical studies report there were very few adverse reactions associated with kava use, and all were mild, transient, and infrequent. 

Another study showed that there was no difference in liver functioning between the subjects who received kava and the subjects who did not. There were also no symptoms of withdrawal or addiction between the two groups, but there was a significant reduction in anxiety in the group taking kava. Compared to other anti-anxiety drugs, the risk-to-benefit ratio of Kava use was very good.

A number of professionals are also coming out in support of kava. Some professionals, such as Dr. Hyla Cass and Jerry Cott, the former Chief of the Psychopharmacology Research Program at the National Institute of Mental Health, report that a person will have a greater chance of experiencing liver toxicity as a result of taking acetaminophen than from taking kava. Anti-anxiety drugs as well as anti-depressants also give a person a higher risk of liver toxicity than kava use.

How to Safely and Responsibly Use Kava

Kava is safe and can be very beneficial, but the proper dosage and quality matters. Concerns about the possibility of liver toxicity from kava use are for the most part a result of improper kava extraction, mixing kava with hepatotoxic drugs or heavy alcohol use. 

Here are some guidelines set by the American Botanical Council in regards to safe kava usage:

  • Do not use Kava if you have liver problems
  • Do not use Kava if you're taking any drugs that have adverse effects on the liver
  • Do not use Kava if you regularly drink alcoholic beverages
  • Discontinue Kava use immediately if there are any signs of liver damage such as: yellowing of eyes or skin, or dark urine.
  • Consult your Primary Care Physician prior to kava use especially if you have history of liver problems or suspect liver damage. 
 
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About the Author

Adam Meyers

Adam Meyers

Growing up in the back country of Northern California it felt only natural that I would lead a life built around being outdoors. A few years ago, I started my own tour and adventure company, and I feel grateful every day that I get to share these grand moments of life with other people. I hope to inspire others to seek opportunities that push themselves outside of their comfort zone.

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