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Kava ˈkäv-ə

By Ara DerMarderosian, PhD, Professor Emeritus of Biology and Pharmacognosy, University of the Sciences

Kava comes from the root of a shrub that grows in the South Pacific. It is ingested as a tea or in capsule form.

Medicinal Claims

People use kava mostly to reduce anxiety, restlessness, or stress and to aid sleep. Some people use kava for asthma, menopausal symptoms, and urinary tract infections.

Possible Side Effects:

Over 20 people in Europe developed liver toxicity (including liver failure) after taking kava. Thus, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has required a warning label on kava products, and safety is under continuing surveillance.

When kava is prepared traditionally (as tea) and used in high doses or over long periods of time, a scaly rash (kava dermopathy), vision problems, changes in blood (such as an increased number of red blood cells), and changes in movement disorders (such as worsening of Parkinson’s disease) may occur. Also, kava may prolong the effect of other sedatives (such as barbiturates) and affect driving or other activities requiring alertness.