The great kava witch hunt

One headline, just one headline, engineered by the FDA for press consumption, killed the market for one of the safest and most effective herbs overnight: "The popular herbal supplement kava may be linked to serious liver injury, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has warned" That's all it took. Sales were halted in Switzerland, France, and Britain. And Germany is moving to make kava a prescription drug, the ultimate aim in all these countries, as well as the U.S.

This is the final blow in a long line of huffing and puffing from the FDA about the dangers of kava, an herb proven effective for alleviating anxiety and depression.

But the real kicker? The FDA admits the whole thing is still a mystery and has no idea if kava is really involved at all.

Kava, a member of the pepper family, has been used by South Sea natives for hundreds of years. In modern-day herb therapy it is used for insomnia, stress and anxiety. It works better than a psychiatrist and is a heck of a lot cheaper.

A liver reaction to kava, if it exists at all, is extremely rare. If aspirin, anti-cholesterol drugs, blood pressure medications, and antibiotics were treated with the same caution and criticism kava is receiving, they would all be taken off the market. But money talks, and the drug companies regulate the FDA, not the other way around.

If you don't drink excessively and don't have liver disease, you shouldn't worry about toxicity to kava. If the FDA has managed to scare you, then I recommend you have some liver function tests taken. When they come back normal, and you realize that kava has helped you without doing an ounce of harm, you can continue to take this excellent herb for your anxiety.

What you don't know CAN hurt you

According to a study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers reporting on the effectiveness of new drugs give short shrift to information on their safety and side effects.

Out of 192 articles giving the results of randomized drug trials that compared drugs against each other and against placebo, only about a third of the studies gave specific information about toxicity levels or the severity of side effects. Only about half spelled out details about the reactions that led patients to drop out of the trial. This is called "selective filtering."

On average, less than a third of a page was devoted to side effects and safety. The same amount of space was taken up by the listings of contributor names and institutional affiliations. Coincidence?