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Kava is indigenous to the South Pacific and has been used in ceremonies there for thousands of years. But there are significant concerns about kava and the adverse effects it might have on the liver, and it has been the subject of numerous medical studies. There were movements in Australia and Europe to ban or restrict the sale of the product, although Germany has lifted its ban.

Why Is Kava Used? reports that there are numerous uses for kava. More recently, it has become a popular holistic remedy for anxiety and insomnia. It is also known to be an effective muscle relaxant. Drinking kava has been credited with relieving back pain and other muscle aches. Some even consider it an alternative for popular over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen.

Kava can be chewed like tobacco and used as an oral anesthetic, providing temporary numbing of the area. Kava has also been credited as effective in treating certain female ailments, such as vaginitis and menstrual cramps.

Kavain in Kava

According to the February 2008 issue of Science Daily there is new evidence to indicate that kava might have a negative effect on the liver.

The University of Sydney studied kavain, which is the component in kava believed to damage the liver. This study included the effects the chemical had on the structure of the liver, and it was discovered the structure was changed. This included contraction of blood vessels, seriously affecting the liver function.

Other Reported Risks

Many medical professionals suggest that you never consume alcohol while taking kava because it increases the toxic properties of the kava. It is also suggested to use caution if you are taking certain prescription drugs such as Paxil, Prozac or Valium.

Long- term use of this substance is said to increase your chances of suffering from hypertension and developing issues with your immune system. There is no existing data as to whether the effects of kava are reversible.

The FDA's Input

The herbal information site says the Food and Drug Administration reports kava used with daily limits of 500 grams or less is not toxic and can be safely consumed. This means a person can drink up to 3.78 gallons each day.

Are Kava Dangers Overstated?

Kava producers maintain that the studies against the supplement are not to be trusted, as they were performed on behalf of the pharmaceutical industry, which opposes any supplement that might cut into their business.

Kona Kava Farmers said, "We are happy to report that Germany has repealed its ban in July of 2006. There was immense pressure to have them retract the reports about liver damage, especially since numerous counter studies have been released that directly conflicts with their position."