American Botanical Council Writes on Kava

Kava Safety Questioned Due To Possible Link To Liver Toxicity

Expert analysis of case reports says there is insufficient evidence to make causal connection.

The biggest subject on the front burner in the herb community in the past six months is the potential hepatotoxicity of kava. European regulatory officials have begun investigating kava based on case reports of liver toxicity associated with the popular South Pacific herb. News stories first began surfacing in November, increasing in December culminating at the end of the year with a front-page article in USA Today (Rubin, 2001); in mid-January after The New York Times (Burros, 2002) and Washington Post (Packer-Tursman, 2002) published articles, things started picking up again, culminating in an Associated Press article that was carried in presumably hundreds of papers across the country (Neergard, 2002).

The American Botanical Council (ABC), has been very interested in the issue surrounding the case reports of hepatotoxicity associated with ingestion of kava since isolated reports became known in 1999 (Strahl, 1998). Subsequently, news of possible European regulatory action began to surface as increased reports became available last fall. ABC has been collecting an extensive volume of data on this subject and has been in contact with German regulatory officials, leading scientists at universities and phytomedicine manufacturers here and in Europe, and industry trade organizations in Germany and the United States. What follows is an attempt to put some of the kava situation into a chronological perspective. This article will not, however, attempt to evaluate the safety issue itself; since that task is being addressed by more qualified experts.