Institutions and scientific articles are often making the claim that it is still unclear whether or not kava is toxic while juxtaposing it next to the fact that within Pacific Islander communities “kava is considered to be a safe and enjoyable beverage based on a long tradition of use and little evidence of harm.”
The FDA issued a warning that “kava-containing dietary supplements may be associated with severe liver injury” which the National Institutes of Health (NIH) translated to meaning “kava linked to liver damage.” It is worth pointing out the somewhat obvious fact that kava is not at all the same thing as kava-containing dietary supplements as well as the fact that a “linking” kava to liver damage is virtually meaningless because of its vagueness—correlations do not equate causations. This “link” is doubly worrisome when the alternatives to herbal medicinal products containing kava are far more dangerous pharmaceuticals and is a warning that can possibly restrict the population’s access to safer pharmaceutical alternatives.
In some cases, negative health reports surrounding kava-containing products are the result of shoddy investigations. An example this was the former German kava ban was found to be the result of a case of ill-defined herbal drug identity, a lack of quality control, and misguided regulatory politics. As a result, the ban was eventually declared illegal and overturned. The ban did not refer to the familiar and traditional kava beverage but rather herbal medicinal products that contained kava. The difference between the two cannot be emphasized enough.
The “kava” that has been consumed safely in the Pacific Islands for thousands of years refers to the traditional kava beverage made with Noble kava root and water and refers to nothing else. As kava spread outside the Pacific Islands, some saw the opportunity to market kava in various ways including herbal medicinal products containing kava and kava extracts containing high concentrations of kavalactones (the main active ingredient in kava).
Furthermore, quality control possibly suffered with the advent of kava. Negative health reports have been attributed to possible contamination from inedible and toxic parts of the kava plant (like the leaves and stems) or from Tudei kava—a species of kava distinct from Noble kavas and well-known within the Pacific Islander nations for being inedible and resulting in negative side effects. Regardless of the well-known undesirable effects of Tudei kava, it has still found its way outside of the Pacific Islands and in kava products either unconsciously (through contamination, low quality-controls, etc.) or consciously.
Why would a vendor put tudei kava in their product? One specialist in phytochemical analysis points out that “many kava retailers are not kava consumers, and they fail to make any distinction between these two classes of kava, noble and two day. The Islanders have known for over 3000 years, but when the Western merchants insisted they wanted two day kava because it grows faster, the Natives just shook their heads in amazement and complied with these supposedly knowledgeable buyers.”
Tudei kava grows faster than noble kava, is resistant to pests, and is much cheaper than noble kava. These kava can also give the illusion of being “stronger” in that they “do something”—that something being resulting in unpleasant side effects. Negative health effects reported from kava has indeed been attributed to the usage of tudei kavas in dietary supplements.
Negative health effects reported from kava have also been attributed to the use of kava extract—even if it is noble kava—that has been extracted with organic solvents like acetone and ethanol. This issue will be presented in subsequent kava conversation.
End of Part 2/3
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