Kava tea is a beverage brewed from the root of the Piper methysticum plant. While kava has been used for centuries in some regions, recent links to liver damage have raised serious questions about its safety. Understanding the risks of kava is necessary to make an informed decision about its use. Before using kava tea or supplements, consult your doctor to help prevent adverse health effects.
The oldest known use of kava tea is in the South Pacific, where it has been consumed traditionally for centuries as an alcohol-like beverage. It is also sold as a dietary supplement in other places for its purported ability to treat insomnia, restlessness and other nervous disorders. The tea is traditionally brewed from the chopped root of the plant, though supplements sometimes contain foliage or other parts.
Common Side Effects
As with other sedatives, kava tea can cause a host of unpleasant side effects. According to E Med TV, side effects that may occur while taking kava include dizziness, stomach upset, dry mouth and drowsiness. For this reason, attempting to drive or perform other hazardous tasks under the influence of kava may result in injury. Some heavy users of kava develop a scaly skin condition known as dermapothy, according to an article published in the September 2006 issue of Pacific Health Dialog. Other minor side effects that may occur include headache, red eyes and pupil enlargement.
As unpleasant as kava’s side effects can be, the most serious risk is liver damage. Over 25 cases of cirrhosis, liver failure and other types of liver damage have been reported in kava users from several different countries. According to Science Daily, a component of kava has been shown to cause blood vessel constriction, retraction of cellular lining and other structural changes within the liver. While the exact cause is not known, kava users should be aware of the possibility for liver problems when using the plant.
Because of links to liver damage, kava is best avoided altogether until more is known about its health effects. If you have a liver condition or take medications that affect the liver, you may be at an increased risk for developing serious health problems when using kava. Never combine kava with other liver toxins like alcohol. Avoid driving until you know how the supplement affects you. To prevent life-threatening side effects, ask your doctor before using kava tea or supplements. Symptoms like yellowing of the skin or eyes, severe abdominal pain and weakness may signal liver problems and require immediate medical attention.
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