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Sunday, March 27, 2005

Kava Kaper

SPIN by any name is still spin...just another trumped up objection to nautral remedies by Big Pharma used to clamp down on your access to a well respected healing herb. YODA.

A team of University of Hawaii scientists may have solved the mystery of why some Europeans who used products containing kava extract suffered severe liver damage, prompting a number of nations to ban sales of the herbal supplement. The traditional kava drink consumed by Pacific Islanders for the last 2,000 years has not been associated with such problems. It has been a popular herbal remedy for anxiety.

The difference, according to UH-Manoa molecular biosciences professor C.S. Tang, is that only the root of the kava plant is used in the traditional beverage, whereas manufacturers of the capsules sold in Europe purchased (and undoubtedly used) stem peelings and leaves regarded as waste products by traditional kava drinkers.

Supplements containing kava are promoted as remedies for sleeplessness and menopausal symptoms. In Europe, where most of the health problems occurred, kava extract is used in capsule form, and the cases of liver damage apparently involved people who took the capsules, the scientists reported.

Bans in Singapore, Germany, Canada, the United Kingdom and elsewhere wiped out pharmaceutical sales of kava and virtually destroyed it as an export crop in Hawaii. While kava supplements are not banned in the United States, the Food and Drug Administration issued an advisory in March 2002 warning of the potential risk of severe liver injury from dietary supplements containing kava. The health alarms left farmers in Hamakua and elsewhere with crops that were hardly worth harvesting.

Kava stem bark peelings may be to blame for the reported cases of liver failure, hepatitis and cirrhosis. Tang and his team learned from a trader in Fijian kava that European pharmaceutical companies eagerly bought up the peelings when demand for kava extract soared in Europe in 2000 and 2001.

In a research paper accepted for publication in the scientific journal Phytochemistry, researchers Klaus Dragull, W.Y. Yoshida and Tang report they found an alkaloid called pipermethystine in tests of stem peelings and kava leaves. Pipermethystine also was present in lower concentrations in the bark of the stump but was not found in the root itself. Preliminary tests by researcher Pratibha Nerurkar show pipermethystine has a "strong negative effect" on liver cell cultures. If peelings containing the alkaloid were used to make kava capsules, as the scientists suspect, that could explain the liver damage in some of the people who took the capsules.

The UH researchers also learned that the analysis method used by some companies to test plant products could not detect the difference between pipermethystine and kavalactones, "and therefore they mistakenly thought there's no problem, that it's similar stuff," Tang said.


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