Welcome back kava? Recent toxicological studies confirm the safety of kava, which may pave the way for its return to European markets.Kava has been consumed on a daily basis as a healthy, relaxing traditional beverage for thousands of years in the Pacific without any safety concerns. In Europe, kava extracts have been used for many decades as registered drugs for the treatment of anxiety and depression with excellent success as an alternative to chemical drugs like benzodiazepines, which have a high potential for addiction. About six years ago, kava products in Europe came under observation when several cases of liver toxicity were reported. As a result, the health authorities made a hasty decision to ban all kava products from European markets. However, subsequent thorough analysis of all reported cases revealed that the vast majority could not be linked to kava. In addition, there were many other contributing factors like alcohol abuse or the use of other drugs that were the underlying causes of the resultant liver toxicity, and not kava alone.
Unfortunately, once a product is banned, it is extremely difficult to get it back onto the market--this is the present case with kava. Even though it is well recognized that all other drugs used in the same indications as kava have much higher levels of liver toxicity, the product has yet to return to the market.
When kava was banned, a long process of scientific analyses and information activities commenced. At this time, the International Kava Executive Council (IKEC) was formed to bring the different stakeholders from the Pacific and Western markets together in one initiative. When the new organization was formed, new talks with European health authorities took place.
During these meetings, it became obvious that new science and data were needed for authorities to consider re-evaluating the kava situation. In the meantime, two new toxicological studies were performed, the results of which appear promising.
The first study was conducted by Professor Rolf Gebhardt of the University of Leipzig, who studied different kava extracts on two different models of human liver cells at different concentrations. He used five different assays. There were no cases of toxicity found using relevant dosages.
In a second study, professor Robert DiSilvestro from Ohio State University performed a toxicity study on rats over a period of three months. His study was divided into two parts, the first of which examined chronic toxicity. For this Dr. DiSilvestro measured serum markers for liver damage and performed histological analyses of the organs. No toxicity was found. In the second part of the study, the effect of chronic kava ingestion by rats on the toxicity of a known liver toxin was studied. The question to be answered was whether kava might aggravate the hepatic toxicity of concomitantly taken drugs. The opposite was the case. Kava did not increase the toxicity of the known toxin, rather it showed a tendency to ameliorate the symptoms of liver toxicity caused by the toxin, thus providing a liver-protective effect.
In addition to these newly performed toxicity studies, two further toxicity studies using kava, which have not yet published, have been re-analyzed. They also confirm that there is no sign of toxicity delivered by kava, neither in liver cells nor in animals.
Based on these new scientific studies performed by respected international researchers in the area, many believe the ban on kava needs to be reevaluated by European health authorities as soon as possible. Indeed, all of the scientific evidence suggests that the ban is no longer justified.
The clinical efficacy of kava drugs was never questioned until the ban, which was solely based on suspected toxicity. Now German authorities are asking for new evidence on of the effectiveness of kava drugs. This can be interpreted as an attempt at procrastination so as to not make a decision on kava, especially since the scientific community is in agreement on kava's efficacy, which has already been proven sufficiently in well-controlled clinical trials.
The ban of kava products in Europe has resulted in massive socioeconomic problems in the Pacific, where one-third of the population of the kava-growing islands experienced huge losses, especially since kava is one of their leading crops for export into international markets. The total damage as a result of the ban was calculated at $1.2 billion, a huge amount when you factor in the increasing poverty in the Pacific region.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has also analyzed the kava situation and its perspectives are eagerly awaited. Its report on kava concluded back in December, leaving many to wonder why these results have not yet been shared with the public.
Dr. Joerg Gruenwald is acting as executive director of the IKEC (International Kava Executive Council) and is President of analyze & realize ag, a specialized business consulting company for herbal medicine, dietary supplements and functional food. He is also the author of the PDR for Herbal Medicines. He can be reached at analyze & realize Inc., Waldseeweg 6, 13467 Berlin, Germany; 49-30-40008100; Fax: 49-30-40008500; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, or email@example.com; Website: www.analyze-realize.com.