Kava Named in Consumer Report's List of Supplements to Avoid

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Consumer Reports magazine has just come up with a list of what they are calling, "the dirty dozen" of dietary supplements which they are recommending people avoid. They came up with this list by working with an independent research group called the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database.

Here are the twelve supplements they are telling consumers to avoid due to the potential for serious health side effects:

Aconite, Bitter Orange, Chaparral, Colloidal Silver, Coltsfoot, Comfrey, Country Mallow, Germanium, Greater Celandine, Kava, Lobelia, and Yohimbe.

Of these dangerous supplements there are two mentioned which are used for treating mental health related disorders. One is Kava used to treat anxiety and the other is Yohimbe which has been used to treat a wide variety of ailments including depression, erectile dysfunction, weight loss, and diabetic nerve pain. We will be focusing on Kava for the purposes of this post.

Kava goes by many names including: Ava Pepper, Ava Root, Awa, Gea, Gi, Intoxicating Long Pepper, Intoxicating Pepper, Kao, Kavain, Kavapipar, Kawa Kawa, Kawa Pepper, Kawapfeffer, Kew, Long Pepper, Maori Kava, Malohu, Maluk, Meruk, Milik, Piper methysticum, Rauschpfeffer, Rhizome Di Kava-Kava, Sakau, Tonga, Wurzelstock, Yagona, Yangona, Yaqona, and Yongona.

Kava is a supplement made from the root of the Kava plant which is native to the South Pacific. People have primarily used Kava to treat the symptoms of anxiety but there are many other reported uses including treating insomnia, symptoms of ADHD, epilepsy, psychosis, depression, migraines, and chronic fatigue syndrome among others.

Consumer Reports recommends that you avoid taking Kava due to the possibility of liver damage. We have talked about Kava here before on Anxiety Connection and our Eileen Bailey warned of the possible serious medical side effects of using Kava to treat anxiety.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued an advisory to consumers using Kava of the potential for severe liver injury. Some countries, such as Germany, Switzerland, France, Canada and the United Kingdom have banned products containing Kava because of the possibility of liver damage. Symptoms of liver damage include:

- Jaundice (yellowing of skin or whites of eyes)

- Brown urine

- Nausea or vomiting

- Light-colored stools

- Fatigue or weakness

- Abdominal pain

- Loss of appetite

Here are the latest warnings from Consumer Reports magazine about Kava:

Don't use it. Serious illness, including liver damage, has occurred even with short-term use of normal doses. The use of kava for as little as one to three months has resulted in the need for liver transplants, and even death.

Consumer Reports also warn that if you are taking Kava to treat depression that it may make your depression worse.

I remember researching supplements to help with my anxiety and I made the decision not to take Kava based upon the warnings of possible liver damage and death. That was far too risky for me. Yet there has been so much conflicting information about this supplement over the years that it makes it difficult for consumers to know what information to trust. For example, health blogger Harriet Hall from Science-Based Medicine, cited the fact that just several years ago, the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) was recommending Kava to anxiety sufferers. In August 2007 the AAFP published an article in the American Family Physician, entitled "Herbal and Dietary Supplements for Treatment of Anxiety Disorders" where they state:

Short-term use of kava is recommended for patients with mild to moderate anxiety disorders who are not using alcohol or taking other medicines metabolized by the liver, but who wish to use "natural" remedies.

Not only that, the AAFP gave it an "A" rating for evidence of effectiveness.

In contrast, they discouraged the use of St. John's wort, valerian, and omega-3 fatty acids for having little therapeutic value for anxiety disorders. Yet none of these supplements carry a life threatening warning like Kava. In addition, there are studies which conclude that these three supplements can be beneficial in treating symptoms of mental health disorders. In fact St. John's Wort is one of the supplements Consumer Reports has on their current "Supplements to Consider" list.

It becomes quite confusing for the consumer to know which sources to trust. If there is any conclusion that I have come to over the years is that there is quite often conflicting information about the use of supplements. One of the primary reasons for this is that supplements are not FDA regulated. It makes it extremely difficult for the consumer to know which supplements are safe and effective and which ones are not only ineffective but pose serious health risks. In a subsequent post we will discuss this topic in greater detail as well as the latest research on supplements which have been recommended to treat anxiety and/or other mental health symptoms.

What do you make of the latest warnings about supplements? How do you make the decision to take or avoid a particular supplement? Have any of you ever tried Kava to treat your anxiety? Did you experience any adverse effects? Will this latest warning affect your decision to continue to take this supplement? Thank you to all who participate in our discussions. We greatly rely upon your insights and opinions.