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By Zane Yoshida

What’s the Risk-Benefit of Kava?

Remember the European kava ban and the effect it had on the kava industry in the years that followed? It’s worth looking at the risk-benefit of kava to consider whether that ban was fair.

The German government’s ban, finally reversed in June 2014 after 12 years, imposed an immediate withdrawal of marketing authorizations for products containing extracts of kava.

We argued all through that this ban made no sense, pointing out that we (and many people we know) had been taking kava for decades without any ill effects; and, going back further, Fijians had been drinking kava for centuries without problems. Quite the reverse in fact: kava is not only considered very safe, but has significant health benefits.

While the German authorities eventually came to the conclusion that there was no justification for the ban, some interesting statistics illustrate the risk-benefit of kava and the absurdity of the ban in the first place…

Kava dose numbers

An article on the HerbalEGram website, written by a prominent German herbal medicine researcher who was involved in the German court case on kava, says the following:

“By 2001, the overall retail sales of medicinal products containing kava had reached approximately 10% of that of benzodiazepines (conventional pharmaceutical anti-anxiety drugs), with a total of 450 million daily doses sold between 1991 and 2000, and no significant risks were observed. It therefore came as a surprise when, in 1999 and 2000, there were case reports of potential liver toxicity associated with ingestion of kava products, which then led to a so-called graduated plan procedure with the aim of examining risks and benefits of kava-containing preparations.”

That’s worth repeating: “450 million daily doses sold between 1991 and 2000, and no significant risks were observed.”

Which medicines out there could claim the same?

Risks and benefits of kava

Normally when the safety of pharmaceutical products is considered, there is an assessment of the risk-benefit. This was clearly not done in the case of the kava ban imposed in 2002:

“Benefit-risk assessments address not only the risk but also the efficacy of a pharmaceutical agent: when a benefit to the patient’s health is demonstrated, a risk may be deemed acceptable. This part of the equation led to misunderstandings on the international level with respect to kava.”

If the German government had considered the risk-benefit of kava around the world, then surely the above statistics would have prevented a ban?

Though there were, no doubt, complex regulatory issues at play, the 12-year ban had knock on effects around the world: kava farmers in Fiji, Vanuatu, Tonga, Samoa and elsewhere in the South Pacific rely heavily on exports for their livelihood.

The author of the above article believes that the German government did not examine the universal risk-benefit of kava, but only the few “specific medicinal products with German marketing authorizations”.

It was later proposed that these products may not have contained pure kava root/stem (the leaves contain toxins) or the preparation of the kava in these products may have released toxins not found in traditional preparations.

The court agreed and ended up ruling that the risk of liver toxicity from kava was considered “rare” or “very rare”. It also recognised its important role in relieving anxiety and stress.

We may not be able to draw a line under this issue yet, as the reversal of the ban has been appealed in Germany; but hopefully the relevant authorities start looking at the worldwide numbers as they consider the risk-benefit of kava in future.

By Zane Yoshida

Producing Nations Set To Up Quality of Kava

In the coming months and years we expect to see a gradual rise in the quality of kava coming out of the South Pacific kava producing nations.

That’s not just because we, at South Pacific Elixirs, have been pioneering our elite kava nurseries in Ovalau, Fiji, to grow the highest possible grade of disease-free kava. It’s also because this message is being broadcast loud and clear to all the major producers in the region.

One bad kava story…

With the world becoming more interested in kava, and the message finally getting out that kava is not only safe, but promotes good health and lowers stress, it’s a timely reminder to keep the quality of kava up for exports.

Since the German ban was overturned in February 2014, there has been a rise in demand, as new markets have become interested in importing the root in supplement form. The EU has even agreed to conduct a new kava study.

As demand is set to boom, there is a rush to produce more. At the same time, one bad story can ruin the industry. It was a very few cases of liver damage reported in Europe (from inferior quality of kava) that previously led to the kava ban on Europe and lots of adverse publicity.

The calls for an increase in quality are to avoid the type of ‘image’ problems that kava has suffered from recently.

Maintaining quality of kava for export

Radio New Zealand International reported at the end of April:

“Kava-producing countries have been put on notice that nothing less than top quality exports are crucial in ensuring the industry thrives.

Scientists are now analysing kava from across the Pacific to formulate a gold standard and find easier ways of weeding out kava varieties of a lesser quality described as “non-noble”.

The chair of the International Kava Executive Council, Tagaloa Eddie Wilson, says there will always be importers looking for cheaper varieties and governments need to get tough.

‘There are certain traders in the industry that are still finding their way to get hold of this and export them. That is a no-no, industry in the Pacific has met several times and they have agreed that this kava which is non-noble must never be used in the trade.’”

Keeping kava ‘noble’

‘Noble’ kava is another name for the ‘elite kava’ that Taki Mai supplements are made from. It is the highest grade available, and countries like Vanuatu have already passed legislation (the ‘Kava Act’) to outlaw exports of inferior or ‘non-noble’ kava.

Failure to prevent export of these ‘non-noble’ varieties of kava is perhaps what led to some of the problems in the past.

It is important for customers of Taki Mai to know that we take kava cultivation seriously – as shown by the previously-referenced article on our kava nurseries in Ovalau, Fiji.

Not only is the quality of kava the best available, we have received good manufacturing practice (GMP) accreditation; and we produce medicinal grade kava that is certified in Australia as a therapeutic good. So you can feel perfectly safe taking our kava shots, powder, or capsules.

By Zane Yoshida

EU Announces New Kava Study

Following the lifting of the German ban on kava in February last year, the European Union recently announced that it would carry out a new kava study.

This should comes as welcome news to kava fans everywhere, who have seen the reputation of their beloved root dragged through the mud in the past decade or so; until recently a ban in Germany, and restrictions placed in Europe, the US, and Australia, have hampered exports of our prized crop.

What is the proposed kava study for?

Radio New Zealand reported that the Vanuatu Ambassador, Roy Mickey Joy, announced that the European Union has agreed to carry out a study into kava with the aid of a legal firm, and that it will “consider a submission to the Technical Barriers to Trade programme”.

A two-day conference is planned in Brussels involving all the key stakeholders in the Pacific who are leaders in kava, and its outcome will be shared with the firm conducting the kava investigation.

The 7-month investigation will look at the “legal, scientific and trade aspects of kava” and lead to a ministerial conference in order to discuss a roadmap that would address the issue of the kava ban.

Depending on the results of this study, more export markets may be opened up globally for kava, so it is an important event for the economies of the South Pacific island nations.

The importance of raising the quality of kava

An important initiative for the future of kava in the South Pacific is raising its quality.

The Samoan government was recently urged to help support a plan for controlling the quality of exported kava by a German scientist and European kava expert. He was visiting kava-producing countries in the region as part of a study, encouraging them to focus on producing “noble” kava, which is of a very high quality.

Zane Yoshida and South Pacific Elixirs, makers of Taki Mai kava supplements, have been involved in several kava quality initiatives recently:

Let’s hope that the EU study finds what we all know already – that kava is not only safe, but has many relaxation and anti-anxiety benefits too.

Perhaps the name of kava will be cleared once and for all. Its health benefits have already been proven in many studies and the isolated cases of adverse effects of kava are dwarfed millions of times over by those of alcohol: a commonly-accepted substance on sale almost everywhere around the world.

What’s the Risk-Benefit of Kava?
Producing Nations Set To Up Quality of Kava
EU Announces New Kava Study