Kava hepatotoxicity solution: A six-point plan for new kava standardization

Phytomedicine. 2011 Jan 15;18(2-3):96-103. doi: 10.1016/j.phymed.2010.10.002. Epub 2010 Nov 26.


Kava-induced liver injury has been demonstrated in a few patients worldwide and appears to be caused by inappropriate quality of the kava raw material. When cases of liver disease in connection with the use of kava emerged, this was an unexpected and challenging event considering the long tradition of safe kava use. In order to prevent kava hepatotoxicity in future, a set of quality specifications as standard is essential for the preparation not only of kava drugs and kava dietary supplements in the Western world but also for traditional kava drinks in the South Pacific Islands. For all these purposes a uniform approach is required, using water based extracts from the peeled rhizomes and roots of a noble cultivar such as Borogu with at least 5 years of age at the time of harvest. Cultivated in Vanuatu for centuries, noble varieties (as defined in the Vanuatu Kava Act of December 2002) are well tolerated traditional cultivars with a good safety record. At present, Vanuatu kava legislation is inadequately enforced to meet quality issues for kava, and further efforts are required in Vanuatu, in addition to similar legislation in other kava producing South Pacific Islands. Future regulatory and commercial strategies should focus not only on the standardization of kava drugs, kava dietary supplements, and traditional kava extracts, but also on thorough surveillance during the manufacturing process to improve kava quality for safe human use. The efficacy of kava extracts to treat patients with anxiety disorders is well supported, but further clinical trials with aqueous kava extracts are necessary. We thereby propose a six-point kava solution plan: (1) use of a noble kava cultivar such as Borogu, at least 5 years old at time of harvest, (2) use of peeled and dried rhizomes and roots, (3) aqueous extraction, (4) dosage recommendation of ≤250mg kavalactones per day (for medicinal use), (5) systematic rigorous future research, and (6) a Pan Pacific quality control system enforced by strict policing. In conclusion, at different levels of responsibility, new mandatory approaches are now required to implement quality specification for international acceptance of kava as a safe and effective anxiolytic herb.

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Anxiety Agents / adverse effects
  • Anti-Anxiety Agents / standards*
  • Chemical and Drug Induced Liver Injury / prevention & control*
  • Dietary Supplements / adverse effects
  • Dietary Supplements / standards*
  • Humans
  • Kava / adverse effects*
  • Plant Extracts / adverse effects
  • Plant Extracts / standards*
  • Quality Control


  • Anti-Anxiety Agents
  • Plant Extracts