Should You Be Worried About Kava?

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Sometimes health news worth reporting here isn't all positive. That is the case here with a herb that seems to be forever dodging question marks. Here is a strange story of one person for whom this particular herbal cure turned out to be no cure at all.Sometimes health news worth reporting here isn’t all positive. That is the case here with a herb that seems to be forever dodging question marks. Here is a strange story of one person for whom this particular herbal cure turned out to be no cure at all.

A 34-year-old bicyclist collapsed on a roadside and was rushed to the ER on the verge of kidney failure and muscle breakdown. Doctors were surprised to discover that a tea derived from the kava plant was the cause. This case is believed to be the first of its kind in all of medical literature.

The patient did recover, thankfully. Doctors noted that adverse effects are somewhat rare with kava, but across the U.S. there are many “kava bars” on the rise despite questions about the herb’s safety.

Kava is a plant in the pepper family that grows naturally throughout the western Pacific. Hawaiians have been using it for 3,000 years for its sedating properties and as a celebratory drink. Regular drinkers of kava tea claim it eases anxiety, insomnia, and menopause symptoms.

The sale of kava root and its extract in pill form are legal in the U.S. But the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have issued warnings due to concerns about liver and kidney toxicity.

The bicyclist had been a longtime user, drinking kava tea a couple times a week for anxiety. On the day he collapsed, he had drunk twice the usual amount. At the hospital, he displayed severe agitation, muscle weakness, and fatigue. They discovered he had very high creatine kinase (CK) levels, meaning there were major issues with the muscles. Abnormally high levels typically indicate heart and brain damage and kidney failure.

The bicyclist said he had ridden a normal distance, but was overcome with fatigue and lay down in the road. Doctors found he had breakdown of muscle fibers, as well as a dangerous protein released into his bloodstream. Here, the kava may have caused direct muscle toxicity or maybe contained a foreign impurity.

While this case is very unusual, it marks another question for kava. For now, if you choose to take kava in any form, the least you can do is ensure your doctor is aware.

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