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Concerns About Kava And Liver Damage

16 January 2002

Ministry Looking At Overseas Concerns About Kava And Liver Damage

The Ministry of Health is looking into concerns expressed by overseas authorities about a reported link between kava consumption and liver damage in some people.

Several European countries, including Germany and France, have suspended sales of kava products, while the United States Food and Drug Authority has sent a letter to health professionals seeking information to help them monitor the situation, said Director of Public Health Dr Colin Tukuitonga.

"We are currently investigating these overseas actions as well as monitoring information about the alleged link between kava consumption and liver damage."

At this stage, it appeared the evidence for liver damage was poor as it was taken from a series of cases of liver disease possibly linked to kava consumption, Dr Tukuitonga said.

"There is a problem with this evidence because factors other than kava can cause liver damage, for example people who drink kava or take kava supplements may also drink more alcohol and alcohol is known to cause liver damage."

Kava in our part of the world is mostly consumed in its natural state as a drink, whereas kava in Europe is consumed as a prepackaged dietary supplement.

The Ministry has been working with the Australia New Zealand Food Authority (ANZFA) since it became aware of this issue in early January to gather relevant information. It has also examined a number of products available on the New Zealand market.

"A limited toxicological review has been undertaken by Ministry toxicologists but we are still looking for more information from Europe before reaching a conclusion on whether any action is warranted," Dr Tukuitonga said.

"We want to find out from the European authorities what levels of kava lactones have been implicated in the products available overseas and compare this with what is available here, as well as follow-up exactly what products they have withdrawn and why.

Several companies do market processed kava as a dietary supplement in New Zealand.


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