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| ||Herbal Medicine: Kava: Is It Safe?||
Clarifying FDA Allegations
The Medwatch site contains numerous "kava toxicity" reports of cases due
to a product sold at a 1996 New Years Eve rave (dance) event, alleged to
contain kava, but in fact, contained a highly toxic industrial chemical,
called 1,4-butane-diol -- and absolutely no kava. The Los Angeles police
department toxicologists within weeks published a report to this effect.
Nonetheless, these spurious claims against kava have remained on the FDA
website ever since.
In general, anyone can report anything to Medwatch: no proof of actual
content is required for a posting, which does not protect the public
from the truly bad products, but may, as in this case, wrongfully malign
In conclusion: More thorough investigation is needed before we can draw
any conclusions about kava's potential toxicity. The entire issue also
points out the importance, and vulnerability of the liver, the chemical
factory that is the site of metabolism of many of the essential body
compounds, and the detoxification center for ingested chemicals.
Ironically, while the topic here is the potential hepatotoxicity of an
herb, the plant kingdom provides us with such life-saving
liver-protective herbs as milk thistle. In fact, in my own clinical
practice, I will add it to the regimen of those who are or have been on
drugs that affect the liver, for protection and restoration of its vital
The current situation does point out that 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's margin of safety far
surpasses that of it's pharmaceutical equivalent. Nothing would be
gained by previously satisfied consumers of kava, out of fear of these
potential side effects, switching to a more toxic prescription
medication, such as a benzodiazepine, in the mistaken belief that they
were making a safer choice.
Hyla Cass, MD
Author of Kava: Nature's Answer to Stress, Anxiety, and Insomnia
i Lichtwer Pharma AG Formulation data sheet, November 1998 Lebot V. et
al.,Kava: The Pacific Drug, Yale University Press, 1992, Page 200
ii Volz et al., 1997, Kava Kava extract WS 1490 versus placebo in
anxiety disorders - a randomized placebo controlled 25 week outpatient
trial', Pharmacopsychiatry 30(1), p1-5.
|Dr. Cass is a board-certified psychiatrist, nationally recognized expert and frequent keynote speaker on holistic medicine, with a focus on enhancing mind, mood, energy, and weight loss. She appears regularly on TV......more