"All Natural" is Not Always "All Good"
National Institutes of Health–Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine
This fact sheet provides basic information about the herb kava–common names, uses, potential side effects, and resources for more information. Kava is native to the islands of the South Pacific and is a member of the pepper family.
Common Names–kava kava, awa, kava pepper
Latin Names–Piper methysticum
What It Is Used For
Kava has been used as a ceremonial beverage in the South Pacific for centuries.
Kava has also been used to help people fall asleep and fight fatigue, as well as to treat asthma and urinary tract infections.
Topically (on the skin), kava has been used as a numbing agent.
Today, kava is used primarily for anxiety, insomnia, and menopausal symptoms.
How It Is Used
The root and rhizome (underground stem) of kava are used to prepare beverages, extracts, capsules, tablets, and topical solutions.
What the Science Says
Although scientific studies provide some evidence that kava may be beneficial for the management of anxiety, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a warning that using kava supplements has been linked to a risk of severe liver damage.
Kava is not a proven therapy for other uses.
NCCAM-funded studies on kava were suspended after the FDA issued its warning.
Side Effects and Cautions
Kava has been reported to cause liver damage, including hepatitis and liver failure (which can cause death).
Kava has been associated with several cases of dystonia (abnormal muscle spasm or involuntary muscle movements).
Kava may interact with several drugs, including drugs used for Parkinson’s disease.
Long-term and/or heavy use of kava may result in scaly, yellowed skin.
Avoid driving and operating heavy machinery while taking kava because the herb has been reported to cause drowsiness.
Tell your health care providers about any herb or dietary supplement you are using, including kava. This helps to ensure safe and coordinated care.