Kava and Liver Disease: Fighting Its Myths With Studies

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As kava continues to gain popularity across the U.S., more and more people discover the benefits of its relaxing, focused, and happiness-inducing effects. Despite this, many old myths about this centuries-old traditional tea remain in popular culture. At Kavahana, the first kava nectar bar in Los Angeles, we remain committed to sharing the truth about kava and dispelling long-reigning myths. 

wooden bowls for kava
kava bowls – shutterstock

Where do these myths about kava and liver disease come from?

Our research indicates that the misconception on kava’s impact on the liver largely stems from case reports associated with a pharmaceutical product known as Laitan, developed by Schwabe Pharmaceuticals in Germany in the early 2000s. It was this specific product that was implicated in liver toxicity issues, not traditional kava. The generalization of these findings to all kava products is akin to banning a staple crop like lettuce because of an isolated incident of contamination.

Authoritative bodies such as the World Health Organization and the Codex Alimentarius Commission have revised their stance on kava, suggesting the risks of liver damage are not as significant as previously believed, especially when consumed in its traditional form (a kava beverage). Kava, in its traditional brewed tea form, is not chemically the same as the kava pills that caused so much concern. Studies included in the WHO’s investigation show that this old and natural tea does not increase the chances of liver damage. 

It takes time to dispel alarming myths ingrained in popular culture. At Kavahana, we are committed to educating the world about kava as we serve delicious, relaxing, and happiness-inducing kava to Southern California. 

What about the native peoples in Polynesia who drink it all the time?

indigenous people drinking kava
indigenous people drinking kava

A study (Malani 2005) looked into the occurrence of liver disease in Fiji, where the native peoples drink an average of 100,000 cups of kava over an average lifetime. They found no increase in liver disease in these people who drink kava in such heavy quantities over their lives. 

The study concluded that when prepared by brewing in the traditional way using 100% natural kava plant root, kava does not cause an increase in liver disease.  

Has the World Health Organization studied kava?

In 2008, the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) conducted an in-depth study into kava in all forms. They looked at each of the reports of liver disease following kava use in detail. 

By studying the detailed information of each case, they saw similarities in patients’ pre-existing conditions, heavy alcohol use, drug interactions, and the form of kava they used. This extensive study was the biggest study ever completed into kava and its safety. 

What did the World Health Organization conclude?

After studying kava W.H.O. concluded the problem appears to be a difference in chemical composition between traditionally prepared brewed kava tea, and kava in pill and tablet form. Although using organic extracts, the majority of patients suffering from acute liver problems were taking kava in the form of pills or tablets. 

The truth about kava allows more people to discover its benefits

Kava provides so many benefits for people living and often struggling with stress in our modern world. It is important that we provide true, study-based information so that people do not miss out unnecessarily. 

More people are discovering kava can help with relaxation, focus, and connection, without alcohol and its downsides. As we battle stress and overwhelm, traditional kava is a wonderful tool to help us live our best lives. Kava can help us to break some of the negative cycles of alcohol and drinking culture. 

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Kava and Liver Disease: Fighting Its Myths With Studies

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