Kava-kava based food supplements

Fig. 1 Piper methysticum Forst. (Piperaceae)
© F.&K.Starr/Wiki Commons

Piper methysticum Forst. (Piperaceae), has been cultivated by the indigenous population of the South Pacific islands for more than 3000 years. For the preparation of the drink "Kava-Kava", the roots and the rhizome are chewed or crushed and suspended in water. Traditionally, this preparation was drunk on ceremonial occasions due to its known calming and soothing properties. Several clinical studies have demonstrated an anxiolytic effect in humans. The active ingredients are considered to be the kavalactones (Fig. 2).

Fig. 2 Kavalactones
© IPBP/Lechtenberg

Kava found widespread medicinal use as a herbal alternative to benzodiazepines in the treatment of anxiety disorders. Because of individual, not insignificant side effects described (above all liver damage), the authorisation of medicines containing kava was revoked. This decision was discussed controversially among experts [1].

As a result of the situation, many patients had to look for sensible drug or non-drug alternatives. In the present case, we examined a "dietary supplement" purchased on the internet for equivalence to the drugs previously used:

Kava preparations in internet trade - be careful when buying dietary supplements.

With a specific capillary electrophoretic method for the determination of kavalactones in kava extracts, no kava-typical compounds could be detected in the case described. The negative result was confirmed by an independent method (GC/MS). This finding may represent an isolated case, but nevertheless - as far as the quality (and thus also the effectiveness) of the preparations offered is concerned - a healthy mistrust seems appropriate in any case when buying kava preparations on the internet. Furthermore, from a legal point of view, it should be noted that importing kava preparations is not permitted. Since the marketing authorisation for kava preparations has been revoked, there is a clear ban on importing them into the Federal Republic of Germany, even if the preparation is declared as a "dietary supplement".

However, products with detectable amounts of kavalactones are also offered for sale on the internet. Investigations have shown "that products with pharmacologically effective concentrations of kavalactones, which can be classified as medicinal products, continue to be illegally sold to German consumers via internet trade as alleged dietary supplements. [2]" Legal caution is required, as these products are classified as medicinal products without a valid marketing authorisation in Germany.

Conclusion: It is not advisable to buy kava preparations on the internet, both for quality aspects and for legal reasons.