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Kava hepatotoxicity with Western herbal products: does it occur with traditional kava use?

Med J Aust 2003; 178 (9): 421-422.

Differences in kava extraction methods may affect hepatotoxicity

In this issue of the Journal, Gow and colleagues (page 442) report the first Australian case of fulminant hepatic failure attributed to a herbal product containing kava,1 while Moulds and Malani (page 451) note the cultural and economic importance of kava for Pacific island nations, and provide a balanced overview on kava safety and availability.2 For centuries kava has been widely consumed in Pacific island countries as a ceremonial beverage and for its mood-altering and stress-relieving properties. It is prepared as an aqueous emulsion of the crushed fresh or dried roots or lower stems of the kava shrub Piper methysticum ("intoxicating pepper").3 Pharmacological properties, such as anxiolytic activity, are attributed to a poorly characterised group of compounds termed kavalactones.3,4

  • Bart J Currie1
  • Alan R Clough2

  • Menzies School of Health, Darwin, NT.

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