As we strive to be the best internet resource we can regarding all things kava, we get the question “Is kava safe?” all the time. There’s a general bias in Western civilization to regard the exotic or unfamiliar as dangerous, even when—as with kava—there are abundant studies demonstrating its general safety when used responsibly. For instance, many more people tend to be afraid of flying than of driving, even though car accidents are responsible for far more injury and death than plane accidents. This same wariness of the unfamiliar is at work when newcomers ask us, “Is kava safe?”
The short answer is that kava, when prepared or extracted from only the root and used at the appropriate dosage, has been shown to be a very safe substance. The long answer has to do with the checkered past of kava research in the early 2000s, when herbal companies across Europe and North America were first marketing kava kava as a herbal supplement for relaxation and stress management. Despite the existing evidence that kava kava used appropriately does not cause liver damage—including thousands of years of safe kava use in the South Pacific—a series of flawed case studies from a small region of Switzerland were trotted out to claim that kava was harmful to the liver. Later research revealed that almost all the case studies cited involved people who had been using kava in combination with alcohol or benzodiazepine drugs; in some cases, kava preparations containing the nonedible and potentially toxic stem peelings and leaves were used.
Contrary to misinformation that is still floating around on the internet, in no way is the herbal supplement market “unregulated”. Although herbal products are generally not tested in trial phases before sale the way prescription drugs are, the Food and Drug Administration still monitors the herbal supplement market. The FDA flags herbal products that generate a high rate of adverse reaction reports and will take action to ban such products. Herbal supplement manufacturers are required to adhere to Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP), which stipulate that herbal products must be free of contaminants such as heavy metals, and must contain the herbal product listed on the label. Standardized herbal extracts must contain the percentage of active ingredient listed on the label.
As a consumer, you should only buy from kava vendors that offer a guarantee that their kava products are made using root-only extracts and powders. The root is the only part of the kava plant traditionally used. For those who plan to use kava as a daily supplement for managing stress*, the FDA recommends a period of daily use no longer than 3 months, after which users should take a 2-week break. Afterward, daily use can be resumed for 3 months. Always consult a health care professional before using any kava product if you take prescription medications, are pregnant or breastfeeding, have an existing liver condition or if you believe you are at risk of developing one.
There is now more scientific evidence available than ever before that kava is safe when used appropriately. Furthermore, what is known beyond a doubt are the detriments to your health caused by chronic, unmanaged stress. Evolved to help humans cope with short-term threats, the stress response increases some physiological functions—breathing, heart rate and reflexes—at the expense of others. Nonessential functions such as immune response, digestion, and reproductive processes are impaired when you’re under stress. If the stress becomes chronic, this can lead to serious health problems including anxiety, depression, sleeping problems, heart disease, weight gain, and impairments in memory and concentration. Being under stress all the time due to financial, work, or social pressures can feel like being constantly under attack.
This is where kava comes in: by helping the body and mind to relax*, kava kava can help users reduce their load of daily stress*. Along with a balanced diet, exercise, adequate sleep, and time-tested mindfulness techniques such as guided meditation, a kava supplement can be a very helpful component of your stress-fighting toolbox. All in all, we love kava and believe it can be a truly beneficial helper for people dealing with chronic stress*, as well as those who simply want to relax*. Yet kava is also a powerful tool and should always be approached with respect in the way you use it.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to cure, treat, diagnose or prevent any disease.