Keywords: kava kava, awa, kava pepper, anxiety
On this page
- What It Is Used For
- How It Is Used
- What the Science Says
- Side Effects and Cautions
- For More Information
This fact sheet provides basic information about the herbA plant or part of a plant used for its flavor, scent, or potential therapeutic properties. Includes flowers, leaves, bark, fruit, seeds, stems, and roots. 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. Kava has been used as a ceremonial beverage in the South Pacific for centuries.
Common Names—kava, kava kava, awa, kava pepper
Latin Names—Piper methysticum
What It Is Used For
- Kava has been used to help people fall asleep and fight fatigue, as well as to treat asthma and urinary tract infections.
- Topically, 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 complementary and alternative practices you use. Give them a full picture of what you do to manage your health. This will help ensure coordinated and safe care.
- National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Kava Linked to Liver Damage. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine Web site. Accessed at http://nccam.nih.gov/health/alerts/kava/ on July 10, 2007.
- Kava. Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database Web site. Accessed on July 5, 2007.
- Kava (Piper methysticum G. Forst). Natural Standard Database Web site. Accessed on July 3, 2007.
- Kava kava rhizome (root). In: Blumenthal M, Goldberg A, Brinckman J, eds. Herbal Medicine: Expanded Commission E Monographs. Newton, MA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2000:221–225.
- Kava (Piper methysticum). In: Coates P, Blackman M, Cragg G, et al., eds. Encyclopedia of Dietary Supplements. New York, NY: Marcel Dekker; 2005:373–380.
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Kava-Containing Dietary Supplements May Be Associated With Severe Liver Injury. U.S. Food and Drug Administration Web site. Accessed on July 10, 2007.
For More Information
- What's in the Bottle? An Introduction to Dietary Supplements
- Herbal Supplements: Consider Safety, Too
The NCCAM Clearinghouse provides information on CAM and NCCAM, including publications and searches of Federal databases of scientific and medical literature. The Clearinghouse does not provide medical advice, treatment recommendations, or referrals to practitioners.
Toll-free in the U.S.: 1-888-644-6226
TTY (for deaf and hard-of-hearing callers): 1-866-464-3615
Web site: nccam.nih.gov
CAM on PubMed
Web site: nccam.nih.gov/camonpubmed/
NIH Office of Dietary Supplements
Web site: ods.od.nih.gov
NIH National Library of Medicine's MedlinePlus
Kava Listing: www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/patient-kava.html
This publication is not copyrighted and is in the public domain. Duplication is encouraged.
NCCAM has provided this material for your information. It is not intended to substitute for the medical expertise and advice of your primary health care provider. We encourage you to discuss any decisions about treatment or care with your health care provider. The mention of any product, service, or therapy is not an endorsement by NCCAM.
NCCAM Publication No. D314
Created May 2006
Updated June 2008
Note: The PDF file requires a viewer such as Adobe Reader, which you can download free of charge from the Adobe Web site.