by Lynn Hinderliter CN, LDN

“With all of the horror stories lately about the dangers of using kava, what was your reaction?” Kava Kava

“The fact is, you are far likelier to suffer from liver damage by taking the prescription anti-anxiety drug, Valium, as you are kava, yet it is taken by millions daily with little question – and with no major adverse publicity. The over-the counter pain medication, acetaminophen (Tylenol), also has a high incidence of liver toxicity, especially when combined with alcohol.” Kava Kava

This and other eye-opening statements are in the article “Kava: Is It Safe?” by Hyla Cass M.D Kava Kava

This points up the importance of looking into the details of any Adverse Event Reports (AERs) making headlines.  In the case of Kava, two thirds of the 30 cases (yes, only 30) reported by German and Swiss health authorities involved abuse of drugs and/or alcohol. Yet based on these 30 cases entire nations are banning kava as an unsafe herb. Kava Kava

Amazing, isn’t it!  So this article is mainly academic:  insurance considerations mean most companies have taken their Kava Kava products off the market.

Actually, now there is an emerging explanation for the baffling connection between Kava Kava and liver problems:  and as usual the explanation is GREED.

Some companies, unable to find supplies of the roots traditionally  used to make this supplement at a price they liked, began buying the cheaper stem peelings  and leaves which are usually thrown away.  It appears that these were always traditionally avoided by the native cultures who first developed this relaxant because – wait for it- the peels were harmful.  Yes, it turns out University of Hawaii researchers have determined the presence of  a toxic element called Pipermethystine, which has a “strong negative effect” on liver culture cells !  See RESOURCES at right. Kava Kava

I once attended a lecture  given by Dr. Harold Bloomfield, M.D., author of Herbs for Anxiety. I was extremely eager to hear him speak in person, since his approach to anxiety and depression is one that I have supported and espoused for many years. However, his closely argued and scientifically supported presentation was hugely augmented by his personal charm, and by the many pertinent case histories he brought up. It was an instructive afternoon. Kava Kava

His interest in herbal approaches to depression and anxiety began because of his discomfort with having to prescribe the limited number of pharmaceutical drugs available, finding that even minor episodes of depression all too often ended with the patient dependent on a chemical fix. He points out that even though such drugs as Xanax, Valium and Ativan are only supposed to be taken for short periods, extended use is all too common. Kava Kava

Not only that, studies suggest that Prozac actually causes atrophy of the dendrites in the limbic system, damage which can take up to 6 months after cessation of use to heal. He wanted to find an approach which was effective, but much less potentially harmful. The work being done in Europe caught his attention, and he soon found that the scientific research supporting the use of plant antidepressants was compelling enough to justify trying them. He was extremely impressed and pleased with the results. He emphasizes throughout his book that these gentler remedies are only appropriate for mild to moderate forms of depression and anxiety, though some research is being done now on the proper methods necessary to use them for more serious f mental disorders. Kava Kava

His first interest was St. John’s Wort: recently, however, he has been very impressed with the herb Kava Kava – something which doesn’t surprise me at all, since I am very impressed with its effects myself! He recommends it particularly for the kind of nervous worry and anxiety that is accompanied by tense muscles , since Kava is excellent for relaxing musculo-skeletal tension. Some chiropractors find it helpful to use before adjustments to help relax their patients. Kava Kava

Dr. Bloomfield cited studies which show that Kava Kava (in the proper concentrations) is as effective as the benzodiazepine drug called Serax in treating anxiety. The strength used in the studies was three 100 mg doses of Kava, standardized to 70% kavalactones. This strength of kavalactones is not yet available in the U.S.A., but there are preparations available standardized to 55% or 30% which can be manipulated to get the proper dose. He suggests starting with 70 to 84 mg of the kavalactones, because if that is effective in relieving your anxiety, you will not need to take more: however, if it is not, he says it is safe to increase the dose gradually until you reach three times that amount. though he cautions that Kava should not be used at that level for more than 6 months without a break. He also does not recommend its use for people with Parkinson’s disease, since some cases of increased muscle twitching have been reported, nor should it be taken with alcohol. Kava Kava

He stresses that Kava Kava is an alternative to pharmaceutical drugs, not something that you can safely take in addition to them: he is very insistent that anyone already using a tranquilizer, antidepressant or sleeping pills work with their Doctor to substitute the natural remedy for the chemical. However, his account of the results obtained using Kava Kava make it quite clear that this is an enormously effective and safe natural alternative for a problem that is sometimes seriously overmedicated. In Germany, England and Switzerland, among other countries, health boards have approved Kava for use in the treatment of insomnia and anxiety. Kava Kava

There is much controversy in Germany at the moment about the safety of Kava Kava, some cases of liver damage leading to death being attributed to the herb.  However, in these cases, heavy-duty medical drugs were also being used.  There is no doubt, that Kava Kava is not intended to be an everyday herb, but rather one to use occasionally as the need arises.  It would also be wise not to combine it with other liver unfriendly substances, to include alcohol.

Interestingly, he gave a short report on the use of Kava Kava together with GABA (an amino acid) and Valerian (another herb with calming effects on the nervous system) on ADHD, saying that while research results are not yet in, preliminary reports suggest the combination can be very helpful.  Kava Kava

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