Kava and Liver Damage: Uncovering the Truth | Botanic Tonics

Kava and Liver Damage: Uncovering the Truth | Botanic Tonics

Reviewed by Jamal Bouie

Debunking Myths: The Truth About Kava and Liver Damage

Kava—a Polynesian plant that’s become a leading trend in the alternative wellness realm—has been linked to plenty of physical and mental perks…and just as many myths.[1]

Chief among them? That kava use may lead to hepatotoxicity, or what most of us plainly know as liver damage.[2] While kava kava was temporarily banned and/or restricted in Canada and parts of Europe two decades ago, the answer to “Does kava cause liver damage?” is more nuanced than you might imagine.[3]

Here’s why the kava liver damage myth exists, the truth behind it, and how you can relish the benefits of kava sensibly.

The Origins of the Kava Liver Damage Myth

Kava may have exploded in the States in the last decade, but its royal status has been part of the South Pacific fabric for centuries.[4] Classically consumed in cultural and religious ceremonies, its entrance into the Western World naturally invited interest in its potentially therapeutic properties—and its potential consequences.

Studies on the effects of kava explain its appeal in Pacific Rim countries like Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, and Vanuatu. In addition to having anti-inflammatory properties, it’s been found that kava may:[5,6]

  • Organically promote relaxation
  • Boost cognitive function
  • Mitigate feelings of discomfort
  • Enliven mood, especially in social settings

In the early aughts, however, one-hundred-plus cases of liver toxicity, presumably due to kava consumption, not only made headlines but also prompted many to question kava’s safety.[7] Understandably so: According to some reports, several of the kava hepatotoxicity cases were severe, while in 2005, a woman in her late-fifties died of liver failure after ingesting kava supplements.[8]

Analyzing the Evidence: Kava’s Safety Profile

Over time, the “kava liver damage myth” began to be thought of—at least in some informed circles—as precisely that: a myth. 

In the twenty-plus years since kava root has been connected with liver issues like cirrhosis and hepatitis, a mounting body of research indicates the following key facts:

  • By some estimates—or, rather, estimates based on the number of reported cases—the chances of experiencing liver “injury” is 1 in 1 million daily kava doses. Put simply, the risk of liver damage or other liver problems may be exceptionally low.
  • It remains unclear if other underlying factors, such as preexisting liver problems or consuming kava alongside other substances (like alcohol and other drugs), contributed to the cases of kava hepatotoxicity.[9]
  • It also remains unclear if contaminants were featured in the kava supplements that were connected to liver damage.
  • How kava root is prepared and what it’s consumed with may be the fine line between “my liver is fine” and liver toxicity: some research suggests that your vulnerability to negative side effects may increase if you drink alcohol, or if the kava product was prepared with acetone as an extraction solvent.[10,11]
  • In 2014, two courts in Germany determined that the link between kava consumption and liver complications was not “well-established” in most instances.[12] The same year, the ban on kava in Germany was lifted (although restrictions remain in place).
  • A clinical study on the efficacy of the kava plant for Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) reported that kava is safe when consumption doesn’t exceed 280 mg per day.[13]

The bottom line? Liver damage from kava is negligible and may be present only in people who: 

  • Use kava for prolonged periods and at high dosages, or 
  • Have liver complications that predate their kava consumption

World Health Organization Findings on Kava

The World Health Organization (WHO) falls in line with the most recent findings: while the FDA hasn’t revised its “consumer advisory” on kava use since 2002, the WHO insists that pure kava (aka, kava that hasn’t been adulterated with contaminants) poses only minimal potential side effects.[14,15]

How to Consume Kava Safely and Responsibly 

So, is kava safe? All that being said, we still don’t have adequate evidence to suggest that kava is perfectly safe for all populations. What we can suggest, however, is how to reap the rewards of kava kava prudently:[16]

  • Consult with your PCP – Underlying health conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease, certain mental health conditions, blood disorders, and liver disease may preclude you from being able to use kava dietary supplements safely, period. The same holds true for pregnant women and those who take certain medications, such as Xanax. Ensure your physician approves before you pop into a kava bar—or take a kava capsule.

  • Heed the recommended dosage — As discussed, kava is generally thought to be well-tolerated when it falls under 280 mg per day. However, this doesn’t mean you should start at 280 mg or use the strongest kava you can find. The wisest way to savor kava is to start slowly, get a sense of how it impacts you, and gradually increase the amount until you feel its desired effects.

  • Opt for a trustworthy manufacturer – Because we have yet to obtain clarity on whether kava mixed with contaminants has resulted in liver damage, you should actively seek out kava extract products that are third-party lab-tested for heavy metals and other toxins. In other words, go with a manufacturer that has a stellar reputation.

  • Lastly, you may want to refrain from consuming kava if you’ve already—or plan to—toss back a few beers or cocktails (which, let’s face it, are notorious for taxing the liver).[17]

    Be Well With Botanic Tonics

    Myths abound with nearly everything that hits the market—particularly products that have attracted a massive following. The kava liver damage myth is one of the most stubborn, to be sure, in part because of the uncertainties surrounding it. 

    Ultimately, what we do know is that the link is rather tenuous but the risk of damage may increase with the presence of other factors. 

    Luckily, Botanic Tonics lets you delight in kava’s advantages without concerns about contaminants. Made with plants from Vanuatu, and subjected to rigorous testing, our feel free kava tonic and feel free capsules may offer you that relaxation and enhanced concentration you’ve been after.

    Bula smartly with Botanic Tonics.


    1. Food & Wine. For a booze-free buzz, Americans are heading to kava bars. https://www.foodandwine.com/kava-bars-7500103
    2. Research Outreach. Demythologizing and rebranding the traditional drink kava.  https://researchoutreach.org/articles/de-mythologizing-traditional-drink-kava/
    3. Poison Control. Kava kava. https://www.poison.org/articles/kava
    4. LiverTox. Kava kava. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK548637/
    5. Nutrients. Kava as a clinical nutrient: promises and challenges. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7600512/
    6. Healthline. Kava kava: benefits, side effects and dosage. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/kava-kava#TOC_TITLE_HDR_5
    7. UCLA Health. Ask the doctors—what are the risks and benefits of kava? https://www.uclahealth.org/news/ask-the-doctors-what-are-the-risks-and-benefits-of-kava
    8. The Verge. Kava, with caveats: is this popular psychoactive tea bad for your liver? https://www.theverge.com/2016/9/14/12902342/kava-psychoactive-drink-relaxant-liver-toxic-research
    9. Mount Sinai. Kava kava information.https://www.mountsinai.org/health-library/herb/kava-kava
    10. Very Well Health. Kava: everything you need to know. https://www.verywellhealth.com/kava-uses-risks-and-more-7481255
    11. Alcohol and Drug Foundation. https://adf.org.au/drug-facts/kava/
    12. Journal of Clinical Medicine. An updated review on the psychoactive, toxic and anticancer properties of kava.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9315573/
    13. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. Kava for generalized anxiety disorder: a review of current evidence. https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/full/10.1089/acm.2018.0001
    14. FDA. Dietary supplement ingredient directory. https://www.fda.gov/food/dietary-supplements/dietary-supplement-ingredient-directory
    15. World Health Organization. Kava: a review of the safety of traditional and recreational beverage consumption. https://www.fao.org/3/i5770e/i5770e.pdf
    16. Cleveland Clinic. When it comes to kava, ‘natural’ doesn’t mean safe. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/what-is-kava/
    17. Mount Sinai. Alcoholic liver disease. https://www.mountsinai.org/health-library/diseases-conditions/alcoholic-liver-disease

    About The Author

    Jamal Bouie Botanic Tonic

    Jamal Bouie

    Jamal Bouie is an accomplished professional with a Bachelor’s Degree in Chemistry from Lemoyne-Owen College in Memphis. Currently, he is pursuing his PhD in Biomedicine at Salus University. Jamal has worked in several industries; he began his career in pharmaceutical manufacturing and transitioned to the cannabis industry, where he specialized in analytical testing and manufacturing, playing a vital role in ensuring product safety and compliance. Now, Jamal has turned his attention to the dietary supplement field, combining his scientific acumen with his passion for health and wellness.

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