Possible Side Effects of Kava Kava
We are constantly asked questions about side effects of kava kava. The two most common questions are:
In short, the answer is yes to both of those questions for most people. Here are some possible kava kava side effects as well as some updated information about kava kava and the liver.
UPDATE- In late 2007 The World Health Organization (WHO) has released a report entitled Assessment of the Risk of Hepatotoxicity with Kava Products. The conclusion of this report is that traditional kava products that are made with water do not seem to be a problem. We recommend you buy yourself a copy and read the whole thing.
Possible Kava Kava Side Effects
"Acute effects of kava drink, as prepared in the south Pacific countries, may lead to such reversible conditions as anesthesia of the mouth (especially the tongue and oral mucosa), sedation, euphoria, muscle weakness, and ataxia". (Singh, 2003)
Excessive Kava drinking might also result in kava dermopathy, or dry skin rash, which is also reversible. The user should simply stop using kava kava and the rash will go away. Experience has taught us that taking a Niacin (Vitamin B3) supplement regularly will help to safeguard regular kava drinkers skin against kava dermopathy.
Another possible kava kava side effect is the possibility of an allergic reaction to it. While it is rare, it does happen. Literature suggests that less than one half of one percent of people that consume kava kava have an allergic reaction to it. We believe that this estimate is accurate based on our serving out thousands of doses and only having a few people show signs of an allergic reaction. We have noted 2 types of allergic reactions from kava kava ingestion in people over the years. The first is mild and the second is more severe.
Kava Kava Allergic Reaction #1 has symptoms of skin becoming itchy or the throat becoming itchy. Light hives may form.
Kava Kava Allergy #2 is more severe. The person develops hives and there is noticeable swelling of fingers. The hives are prevalent in the stomach region and we have seen them form a belt around the person.
The good news is that if the user stops consuming kava kava, the allergy side effects will go away within a few days.
From our experience we recommend that anyone that knows they have an allergy to any relative of the pepper family, such as black pepper, Piper nigrum, should consult their physician or allergist before consuming kava kava products. We are not doctors but we have seen cases where people who were allergic to black pepper had an allergic reaction to the kava kava. The Latin name of the kava plant is Piper methysticum.
If you believe that you are having an allergy to a kava kava product, you should see a physician as soon as possible. If you believe that you are experiencing a side effect of kava kava after taking some, consult your physician at once and stop taking the kava kava supplement immediately.
Kava Kava and the Liver - An Insiders View
Kava kava has been consumed as a beverage in the south Pacific for about 3000 years. Now due to technological globalization, kava kava drinking is spreading as far the United States . Sometime in the late 1990's some consumers in European countries experienced liver problems while taking kava kava supplements. Doctors were quick to blame the kava kava naturally because it was easy. After many years of blaming kava for a handful of hepatotoxic reactions in Europe no real evidence has ever emerged that kava kava was the cause of the controversy and not the processes by which the herbal supplements were prepared. As a result of this media misinformation, kava kava was banned in several countries just to be safe. Was this justified? Based on personal experience and up to date information about the controversy, NO the kava kava bans of the world were unjustified and kava kava is a safe herbal supplement if used properly. Arguments follow.
Because no one was ever able to offer any real proof that kava was the culprit in the European liver scare a movement has started to lift the kava kava bans http://www.newmediaexplorer.org/sepp/2003/12/01/wales_reverses_kava_ban.htm . The International Kava Executive Council met with the German deputy health minister, Dr Klaus Theo Schroeder, earlier this month to discuss particularly the German ban on kava and the requirements that will have to be met in order for patients suffering from stress to be able to have access to the herbal remedy once again. All participants to the meeting were in complete agreement that it would be possible to re-evaluate kava from the point of view of safety within 6 months. And Dr Schroeder called on representatives of the German ministry, IKEC and independent experts in pharmacology and toxicology to come together to plan the new data required.
In November 2003, the National Assembly of Wales reversed the ban on kava kava as reported by Nutraingredients.com http://www.nutraingredients.com/news/news-NG.asp?id=48027 ?Dr Joerg Gruenwald, executive director of the International Kava Executive Committee (IKEC) said it is expected that the other UK regions will follow in the same way.
Also an article in the Honolulu Advertiser on April 7, 2003 entitled UH Scientists may have Solved Kava Mystery escaped national headline news http://the.honoluluadvertiser.com/article/2003/Apr/07/ln/ln03a.html . University of Hawaii researchers Klaus Dragull and C.S. Tang report they found an alkaloid called pipermethystine in tests of stem peelings and kava leaves. Pipermethystine also was present in lower concentrations in the bark of the stump but was not found in the root itself. The root is what is used to make the traditional drink. Now researchers led by Tang believe they may have found the key: Peelings from the stem bark of kava kava plants apparently were used to create the extract for the herbal supplements, and may be to blame for liver failure and liver-related injuries that included hepatitis and cirrhosis.
Traditional kava kava drinkers discard the peelings, but Tang and his team learned from a trader in Fijian kava kava that European pharmaceutical companies eagerly bought up the peelings when demand for kava kava extract soared in Europe in 2000 and 2001.
A report entitled Kava Report 2003- In Depth Investigation into EU Member States Market Restrictions on Kava Products surfaced in late 2003. Very few people have ever heard of this report much less read it. It can be viewed in entirety on the Internet at:
In short an independent phytopharmacology consulting company was hired to do an independent study and determine whether or not the kava kava bans were medically justified. The severe hepatotoxic effects of kava kava, claimed by drug regulation authorities, cannot be regarded as proven. From the 76 reported cases we have examined and evaluated, only 4 of them may possibly be related to the intake of kava.
In New Caledonia where my partners are from there are now over 200 nakamals in the capital city. There are about 75,000 people here. This is a first world nation governed by France . As a matter of fact people drink so much kava in New Caledonia that they would all be dead by now if there was a health problem. And here is the kicker: Kava kava is banned in New Caledonia! Because of the fact that kava kava has been banned in France it has also been banned in New Caledonia. The government has somehow allowed the nakamals all to remain open. http://18.104.22.168/archive/2002/January/01-17-03.htm Only the kava pills/extracts/pharmaceuticals have been banned.
Here are some of my aggregated thoughts on the kava kava liver issue. In my opinion it is not the kava kava that is the problem, but the method in which it is ingested.
Kava kava in beverage form has NEVER been shown or thought to give anyone liver problems in any culture where it is drank. They have been drinking kava kava for 3000 years now so that is time tested.
Only kava kava pills/extracts/pharmaceuticals have ever given anyone liver problems. These extracts are made with acetone and ethanol. They are typically 30-90% kavalactone content. Kava beverage is 5-8% kavalactone content. In fact they just had a huge medical conference about this crisis in Fiji and determined that the high concentrations of kava resins alone could have been the culprit
Inside of the kava kava plant is an amino acid called glutathione. This substance is also (coincidentally?) produced by the human liver to buffer it against free radicals. Research has shown that when glutathione is soaked in an acetone or ethanol solution it degrades instantly. The researchers believe that the absence of glutathione in kava kava pills/extracts/pharmaceuticals could have added to the liver problem. It also explains why nobody has ever had liver problems from drinking kava. Glutathione does not degrade in water which is what we use to make the kava kava we serve.
Out of the 50 people worldwide that have had some type of problem, almost all of them had been taking kava kava pills and extracts and mixing them with alcohol and pills that are certainly bad on ones liver. The mixing of these substances is not advised and we warn people of that heavily before giving them kava kava. In America any day about 50 people experience liver problems from acetaminophen and this stuff is legal as can be.
There has not been 1 case of kava kava pills harming anyone in America as of yet. Much less from kava beverage. I have given kava to over 2000 people thus far with no problems yet.
Kava kava is non addictive, non toxic and has never destroyed any society anywhere, ever.
Statements on this site have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). These products are not intended to diagnose, prevent, treat, or cure any disease. Please consult a qualified health care practitioner for medical advice.We are not medical doctors and are not authorized to give medical advice about kava so don't ask.