Is Kava Bad for Your Liver?

Is Kava Bad for Your Liver?

Exploring the Myth: Kava and Liver Damage


If you're here, you probably know a little bit about kava being a traditional beverage originating from the South Pacific islands. Kava has gained both popularity and controversy due to concerns surrounding kava being safe for your liver. In this blog, we'll delve into the science and shed light on the often-misunderstood relationship between kava consumption and liver damage. Let's explore why kava might not be as bad for your liver as some believe.

kavapros kava in the sun drying
Kavapros Kava Drying in the Sun

Understanding Kava

Kava, scientifically known as Piper methysticum, has been a staple of cultural and social rituals in the South Pacific for centuries. It is prepared by grinding the roots of the kava plant and mixing them with water to create a soothing, mildly sedative drink. Traditionally consumed in social settings, kava has been praised for its relaxation-inducing properties without causing a loss of mental clarity.

The Controversy

Controversy surrounding kava revolves around reports of liver toxicity in individuals who consumed kava supplements or extracts, leading to concerns about its safety. However, it's crucial to differentiate between traditional kava consumption and the use of concentrated kava extracts.

This controversy all started in Germany when a pharmaceutical company decided to make an extract from a non-noble variety of kava also known to Vanuatu people as "tudei kava". Given this name for the 2-day hangover you get after drinking it. Now besides making you feel like crap for the the following 2 days after drinking it tudei kava is generally quite safe. 

On the other hand if you take the tudei kava and make an extract from it, extracting a single concentrated kavalactone such as dihydromethysticin (DHM) the safety of things begin to change.

The pharmaceutical company that was associated with the extraction of kava products linked to liver toxicity was Merck KGaA, a German multinational pharmaceutical, chemical, and life sciences company. In the early 2000s, Merck KGaA was producing and marketing a kava-based supplement known as "Livr-52," which contained a concentrated kava extract. Reports of liver toxicity and adverse effects in individuals using this product led to concerns about the safety of kava extracts in general and eventually led to the ban of kava in Germany in 2002. 

Traditional Preparation vs. Extracts

The key distinction lies in the preparation. Traditional kava preparation involves water-based extraction, which is less likely to concentrate potentially harmful compounds. The active compounds in kava, known as kavalactones, are better extracted by water than by alcohol or other solvents. On the other hand, some cases of liver toxicity have been attributed to the consumption of kava extracts that use non-traditional extraction methods or are taken in excessive doses.

Waka root from Kadavu Fiji

Scientific Studies

Numerous scientific studies have been conducted to better understand the relationship between kava and liver health. While early studies raised concerns, more recent research has shed new light on the subject. Some key points to consider include:

1. Traditional Use: Research suggests that when consumed traditionally and in moderation, kava is less likely to have adverse effects on the liver.

2. Dose-Dependent Response: High doses of kava extracts may increase the risk of liver issues. However, moderate consumption of traditional kava beverages appears to be associated with fewer concerns.

3. Quality Matters: The quality and source of the kava product play a significant role. Poorly processed kava or products with contaminants can contribute to negative outcomes such as hangovers.

4. Individual Variability: Just like any substance, individual susceptibility to potential liver effects can vary based on factors such as genetics and overall health.

Regulations and Safety Measures

Several countries have implemented regulations to address potential risks associated with kava products. Some have banned or restricted the sale of kava extracts, while others have allowed controlled use of traditional kava. These regulations aim to ensure consumer safety while respecting the cultural significance of kava.

bad kava
Shady kava dealers selling kava stem to bulk up kava powder
This is why some kava is so cheap - Buyer Beware

Consulting a Healthcare Professional

As with any dietary supplement or herbal remedy, it's important to consult a healthcare professional before consuming kava, especially if you have pre-existing liver conditions or are taking medications. A healthcare provider can offer personalized guidance based on your health history and circumstances.


In conclusion, would you not agree that hundreds of years of traditional use should have shown up some degree of damage to the liver? Or even nowadays with the sheer amount of kava being consumed in the Pacific we would see staggering cases of liver disease? Yet it's only when science and big Pharma decided to put its hand into this traditional root, making extracts using solvents was where problems started to arise. 

When consumed traditionally and in moderation, kava appears to pose zero risk to liver health. Even though now we have safer forms of extraction such as C02. I for one stay right away form extracts purely because its hard to tell exactly what kava has been used in the extraction process. 

Stay safe and use traditionally prepared kava from a reliable source, and always drink responsibly.

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