Andrew Procyk is co-owner of Vanuatu Kava Bar in Asheville, N.C; managing partner of Kava Terra LLC; a Florida-based kava import company, and founder of NAKAMAL, the North American Kava Merchant Advocacy League. Here’s what he submitted to Xpress:
Consumer Reports magazine recently published an article detailing the so-called “Dirty Dozen” herbal supplements. The article was picked up by major national news media outlets, going viral in short order. Among the “dirty dozen” was the herb, kava — a perfectly legal substance said to cause a relaxing effect.
The article cited a 2002 statement by the Food and Drug Administration that issued a warning about the herb at about the same time the European Union banned the import of kava altogether, in reaction to several dozen cases of liver toxicity in which kava supplements were suspected. To be fair, the FDA’s response was cautionary and mild compared to that of the the E.U.
When the events of the “Kava Liver Scare of ‘02” unfolded, it crippled many South Pacific economies that rely on kava export as their major cash crop. The predicament led to the formation the International Kava Executive Council.
A copious amount of peer-reviewed research has been published by the group, much of it turning the liver-toxicity claims on their head. Research conducted by Vincent LeBot, a specialist in Pacific tuber botany, was particularly convincing.
A World Health Organization paper published in 2007 concluded that kava-related liver toxicity is rare and suggests a possible link between ethanolic- and acetonic-based extracts (as opposed to kava tea or water-based extracts, for which further research is suggested). The same paper goes on to state that “None of the events reported were classified as certain.”
In November of 2008, not long after the W.H.O. findings were published, the E.U. lifted the import ban on kava. It seems ludicrous that, after an entire continent removes a product ban as a result of demonstrated safety in current research, the fear-mongering continues in the U.S.
In researching the organization from which CR got their information, the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, billed as “Unbiased” and “Independent,” I learned that the organization’s funding has come from subscribers to the database in recent years — the bulk of which are medical professionals.
As far as the safety of non-extract based natural kava tea, it’s interesting to note the kava-related health problems — or rather the lack thereof — of the kava-consuming South Pacific. There, women are not allowed near kava, while men often drink it in excess. If kava tea caused serious liver toxicity issues, one would expect to see difference in hepatotoxicity rates between the male and female population of the islands.In fact, a difference does not exist.
Kava shows some promise to treat several of the conditions (anxiety for one) usually treated by best-selling pharmaceutical drugs. Is there an ulterior motive driving the claims against the herb? A patent for a naturally-occurring molecule cannot be obtained. Are there perhaps related powers who would like you to consume their lab-created molecules instead? It seems the failure of the 2010 McCain herbal regulatory bill did not make Pharma very happy. Perhaps this is another salvo in an attempt to get the government to protect you from (gasp!) killer herbs. It seems the headline CBS attached to the article implies that to be the solution: “Why Won’t Government Protect you from Dirty Dozen.”
Do the people of the U.S. need the government to protect them from the decision to put naturally occurring substances into their bodies, as humanity had done for thousands of years prior to medicinal regulatory agencies? With roughly 50 deaths a year directly related to herbs in the U.S., and 120,000-plus related to pharmaceuticals, I would think, and hope, that answer to be a resounding “no.”