When a 34-year-old bicyclist was found collapsed on a roadside and rushed to the University of Rochester Medical Center emergency room on the verge of kidney failure and muscle breakdown, doctors were surprised to discover that a trendy tea derived from the kava plant was the cause of his ills.
The URMC team reported the case study, believed to be the first of its kind in the scientific literature, in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine. They described it as a cautionary tale, emphasizing the importance of taking a thorough medical history, including the use of any and all herbal remedies and pharmaceuticals.
In this instance the patient recovered; and doctors noted that adverse effects are somewhat rare. However, across the country the number of kava bars is on the rise a recent article noted at least three new businesses in Palm Beach, Fla., -- despite several documented health problems due to kava ingestion.
"With the increased use of herbal remedies, we in the medical field have become accustomed to asking patients about their use," said URMC Department of Emergency Medicine Chair Michael F. Kamali, M.D. "What concerns us is the lack of controls in producing and distributing these products as well as some lack of knowledge of the potential harm by those people using the product."
Kava (Piper methysticum) is a plant in the pepper family that grows naturally throughout the western Pacific. Hawaiians have been using it for 3000 years for its sedating properties and as a celebratory drink. Regular drinkers of kava tea claim it eases anxiety, insomnia, and menopause symptoms. Some people drink it in place of alcohol.
The sale of kava root and its extract in pill form are legal in the United States and can be found on the Internet. However the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have issued warnings due to concerns about liver and kidney toxicity.
|Contact: Leslie Orr|
University of Rochester Medical Center