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Kava: herbal panacea or liver poison?

Med J Aust 2003; 178 (9): 451-453.

Summary

  • Following reports of liver toxicity, including liver failure, associated with extracts from the Pacific islands plant kava (Piper methysticum), these have been banned from sale as a herbal anxiolytic in many Western countries, to the detriment of Pacific island economies.

  • Pacific Islanders have used kava extensively for centuries, without recognised liver toxicity. However, the population is small, and there has been no systematic evaluation of possible liver damage.

  • For both economic and public health reasons, it is important to determine if kava is inherently hepatotoxic, and what the mechanisms of toxicity are.

  • Such research could lead to safer kava extracts for sale in Western countries, or identification of a subpopulation who should not consume kava.

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  • Robert F W Moulds1
  • Joji Malani2

  • The Fiji School of Medicine, Suva, Fiji.

Correspondence: 

Competing interests:

None identified.

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