Kava products get MCC chop

Johannesburg - The Medicines Control Council has warned that preparations containing kava (piper methysticum) are a serious health risk and should be withdrawn from use immediately.

The council is backed up on this by the Pharmaceutical Society of South Africa which is also concerned about the use of kava.

The society supports the MCC in its decision to investigate the safety and quality of complementary medicines.

According to the society's spokesperson Lorraine Osman, consumers sometimes believed that, because a product was of natural origin, it was safe.

This, she said, was not always the case.

"Nature has provided many therapeutic substances, but these are sometimes accompanied by toxic effects. Natural does not necessarily equal safe."

She said medicines or preparations containing kava should be clearly labelled.

Other names for kava are: ava pepper, awa, intoxicating pepper, kava kava, kava pepper, kava root, kawa, kew, piper methysticum, forst, rauschpfeffer, sakau, tonga, wurzelstock and yangona.

Kava is a plant indigenous to the islands in the South Pacific where it is commonly used to prepare a traditional beverage.

Regulatory agencies taking action

It is prescribed for, among other things, relaxation - to relieve stress, anxiety, and tension - and for sleeplessness and menopausal symptoms.

Osman said those using products containing kava risked severe liver damage, a situation which had prompted regulatory agencies in Germany, Switzerland, France, Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom to take action.

This has ranged from warning consumers about the potential risks of kava, to removing kava products from the marketplace.

"Although liver damage appears to be rare, the Pharmaceutical Society agrees with the Medicine Control Council that consumers should be informed of the potential risks and that it is inadvisable to continue to use preparations containing kava," said Osman.

Consumers and health-care professionals were urged to report any problems related to the use of kava to the National Adverse Drug Event Monitoring Centre.

Members of the Pharmaceutical Society can help consumers in this regard.

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