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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Health Note: Herbal Liver Toxicity

Air Date: Week of

Living on Earth’s Diane Toomey reports on claims out of Europe that incidents of liver toxicity might have been caused by herbal supplements containing kava.


CURWOOD: Just ahead, modern science takes a look at ancient mushroom medicine of Asia and finds encouraging news for some cancer patients. First, this Environmental Health Note from Diane Toomey:


TOOMEY: A few weeks ago, Living on Earth reported on the resurgence of kava in Hawaii. On the islands, the root of the fresh herb is made into a traditional drink that produces a calming effect. Kava is also widely available in manufactured supplements. But recent developments in Europe have called into question the safety of the supplements.

Regulators in Germany have reported more than two dozen incidents in which people taking kava supplements developed liver disease. Germany is now considering rescinding these products' over the counter status or banning them entirely. It hasn't been proven yet that kava is the cause of liver disease.

For one thing, a majority of these patients were also taking pharmaceutical drugs with known liver toxicity effects. In the U.S., the FDA is looking into 26 reports of liver damage linked to kava. Advocates of the traditional use of kava maintain the herb is safe, and point to possible dangers in the modern processing methods that may be the cause of the toxicity.

While this issue is being researched, the American Botanical Council advises people with liver problems or those who are taking any kind of drug or alcohol to avoid kava. That's this week's Health Note. I'm Diane Toomey.


CURWOOD: And you're listening to Living on Earth.

[MUSIC - Aimee Mann "Nothing is Good Enough" "Magnolia" soundtrack]



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