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Back To Vidyya Alternative Medicine Watch:

Kava Safe When Used Appropriately

In response to an Associated Press story by Jean Christensen released today, the nonprofit American Botanical Council (ABC) clarified the safety surrounding the traditional South Pacific herb kava (Piper methysticum). It is generally safe when used responsibly according to label directions, said the research and education organization.

A leading academic expert expressed concern that recent press reports about people driving while using the herb kava are potentially misleading. According to noted herb expert Varro E. Tyler, Dean and Professor of Pharmacognosy Emeritus at Purdue University and author of several leading herbal medicine books for health professionals, "Kava has been used safely in moderation in its South Sea culture for thousands of years. The enormous doses for recreational purposes referred to in the AP article are much higher than the appropriate doses found in dietary supplements used for anxiety and insomnia."

The Associated Press story points out that the kava being consumed in Hawaii is a beverage that is four times stronger than the kava dietary supplements consumers can buy in retail stores, noted ABC founder and executive director Mark Blumenthal. Yet Blumenthal cautioned that kava users must be careful when considering driving a car or operating heavy machinery.

The herb industry has also recognized the potential problems associated with driving. The American Herbal Products Association, the leading herb industry trade group, issued a recommendation in 1997 for the labeling of kava products to include the following warnings: kava should not be used by people under 18 or by pregnant or nursing women without professional advice, people should not exceed the recommended dose, excessive consumption may impair ability to drive or operate heavy equipment, and kava is not recommended with consumption of alcohol.

ABC stressed that moderate use is the general rule in Europe, where the majority of clinical research on kava has been conducted to date. "The German government cautioned people that using kava, even at recommended dosage levels, can potentially lead to impaired operation of a car or machinery," said Blumenthal, referring to the famous Commission E, a panel of medical and pharmacy experts that reviewed herbal medicines for their safety and benefits in Germany. The German government approved the use of kava as a nonprescription medicine for "nervous anxiety, stress, and restlessness."

Blumenthal also pointed out that the safe and effective benefits of kava to relieve symptoms of anxiety were confirmed last year in a meta-analysis, a systematic statistical review, of seven clinical trials published in the Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology.

Blumenthal, who is also adjunct associate professor at the College of Pharmacy at the University of Texas at Austin, emphasized that "the problem in this case is one of dosage and degree."

Currently, kava ranks ninth in sales of all herbal dietary supplements sold in mainstream retail markets, with total mainstream sales of approximately $15 million. This statistic does not include sales in health food stores, multi-level marketing companies, mail order, or sales by health professionals, which account for an additional $15 million, or more, said Blumenthal.

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Editor: Susan K. Boyer, RN
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