Kava: herbal panacea or liver poison?

Med J Aust. 2003 May 5;178(9):451-3. doi: 10.5694/j.1326-5377.2003.tb05289.x.


Following reports of liver toxicity, including liver failure, associated with extracts from the Pacific islands plant kava (Piper methysticum), these have been banned from sale as a herbal anxiolytic in many Western countries, to the detriment of Pacific island economies. Pacific Islanders have used kava extensively for centuries, without recognised liver toxicity. However, the population is small, and there has been no systematic evaluation of possible liver damage. For both economic and public health reasons, it is important to determine if kava is inherently hepatotoxic, and what the mechanisms of toxicity are. Such research could lead to safer kava extracts for sale in Western countries, or identification of a subpopulation who should not consume kava.

MeSH terms

  • Australia
  • Chemical and Drug Induced Liver Injury / etiology*
  • Chemical and Drug Induced Liver Injury / genetics
  • Chemical and Drug Induced Liver Injury / metabolism
  • Europe
  • Herbal Medicine / economics
  • Herbal Medicine / methods
  • Humans
  • Internationality
  • Kava / adverse effects*
  • Liver / drug effects*
  • Liver / metabolism
  • Pacific Islands
  • Plant Preparations / adverse effects*
  • Technology, Pharmaceutical / methods


  • Plant Preparations