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Kava Coffee Risks

By Kim Nunley

Kava is a crop that originates from islands in the South Pacific, including Samoa, Fiji, Hawaii and Polynesia, where it is commonly used to create tea and coffee. It is also used in ceremonies. Kava is used as an ingredient in holistic remedies for relieving anxiety, assisting with insomnia, decreasing pain and relaxing muscles. Some adverse effects result from consumption of large amounts of kava.

Effects On Liver

Kava, including kava coffee, has been consumed as a remedy for a variety of ailments, but after liver problems popped up in many of those who consumed the substance, studies were begun on its possible adverse effects. In 2006, Dr. Shang Fu at the University of Sydney found that a specific ingredient in kava, kavain, caused structural changes throughout the liver, narrowing its blood vessels and retracting the lining of its cells. According to Medline Plus, kava has been associated with hepatitis, cirrhosis and liver failure. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued warnings to doctors and consumers about possible liver effects and suggested limiting extreme doses. The adverse results may be linked only to those individuals with pre-existing liver issues.


According to the United States Library of Medicine's MedlinePlus, hypertension is a possible side effect to prolonged consumption of kava. Because kava causes blood vessels to constrict, blood pressure within the blood vessels increases. Individuals who already suffer from hypertension caused by outside factors should not drink kava coffee. On the other hand, MedlinePlus also states that kava has been found to lower blood pressure to dangerous levels in some individuals and may also adversely affect blood-clotting abilities.

Increased Alcohol Toxicity

Alcohol should never be consumed with kava, as the combination of the two significantly increases the toxicity levels within the liver. The digestion of alcohol already requires a strenuous breakdown by the liver, but when the liver is forced to handle both substances, the toxicity potential significantly increases. This effect has been compared to consuming alcohol with pharmaceutical drugs such as acetaminophen. Kava coffee also has the potential to increase the physical effects of alcohol and may cause extreme drowsiness. Similar concern should be applied to consuming kava while taking prescription medications, such as Valium, Prozac and Paxil, because the medications can also increase the toxicity levels when combined with kava.

Other Side Effects

MedlinePlus reports that additional side effects associated with kava use include skin disorders, seizures, nausea, headaches and blood abnormalities. Additional minor, temporary effects from kava coffee include eye irritation, shortness of breath and an increase in heart rate. Some minor shaking has been reported. More serious, according to MedlinePlus, is a significant worsening of symptoms in people suffering from Parkinson's disease, including, in some cases, whole-body convulsions after ingesting high doses of kava.

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