Dangers of Kava Extracts and What you Should Know

Dangers of Kava Extracts and What you Should Know

March 18, 2019

6 Hidden Dangers of Kava Extracts

Author Kyle Shigekuni / Category Kava / Originally Published: March 11th, 2019

UPDATED 2.23.22

"I search for the strongest extracts with the highest percentage of kavalatones. You can get a whole bottle of them with 30% kavalactones at half the price without the bad flavor. After all, all forms of kava are the same, right? "

I get emails and comments like this all the time. And every time I do, I want to bash my head on the keyboard. 🤦🏻‍♂️

Kava (Piper Methysticum) has been proven on multiple cases to be a potent natural anti-anxiety supplement. Over the last couple decades, methods of extracting the active ingredients have become commonplace in the commercial market. However, Kava was and still is, recommended to be taken via traditional methods.

Kava extracts in pills or tinctures are some forms of non-traditional methods.

Yes. Kava extracts are cheap.

Yes. You can find some with 30% kavalactones.

Yes... Again... They are cheap.

Have you ever stopped to wonder, why?

I'm sure you're aware of kava's murky past. There were a whole lot of questions back then when the kava scare was booming in the early 2000's and countless investigative hours have been spent researching the truth. Most of which, the public does not yet know.

There are a couple points I hope to go over with you and nestled within them, are the 6 major dangers of kava extracts you must know, as well as the guidelines to make sure you don't become a victim.

(If you want to just skip to the condensed information of the dangers that I've pulled from a stack of research articles, CLICK HERE)

Kava Extracts and The Birth of DrinkRoot ☺️

DrinkRoot Connoisseur - Premium Vanuatan Kava

"When commercial interests intervene with traditionally proven practices, problems often occur." - Wise sage

DrinkRoot was created in mid 2015, by a group of friends looking to make a change in the world. We saw first hand how kava could help us in our own lives, and sent out on a mission to spread it with the world.

We wanted to sell a traditionally brewed kava in a form that could be consumed immediately without the whole kava sock meshing process. After some experimenting, we began brewing kava in small batches and bottling them to sell out of small bodegas around Brooklyn. The blend was doing well, but it certainly wasn't scaleable and there was no chance of our beloved dream kava bar being opened up anytime soon from this.

We started working on a possible solution of dehydrating kava juice or trying out kava kava extracts. We ran into a problem (which still exists) on the first method. It is not super scaleable, and it's expensive.. more expensive then you would believe.

So a kava extract version was very attractive to our young budding entrepreneurial minds.

What is a Kava Extract? 🤷🏻‍♂️

For the sake of this blog post, a "Kava extract" refers to the final product of non-traditional processes using organic or synthetic methods to extract the active kavalactones from the kava root, with the extracted material being packed into pills, capsules, tinctures and pastes. Using these methods one can pull much higher percentages of the active materials compared to traditional methods. P. Zhou and others showed in 2010 a common organic extract method using a solvent of 95% ethanol can pull 11.76x the amount of kavalactones more from the same 1 gram of kava powder, than the traditional water brewing method can.

Traditional? - No, but VERY efficient!

Inexpensive? - Yup! Super scaleable!

Worth investing in? - I THINK so... Let's see...

Below is a quick summary of the points I made from a business point of view while sourcing kava extracts around the world. While these opinions are my own, this is NOT the whole story

Kava Extract Pros and Cons ☝️

The Pros 👍

  • It is dirt cheap. Like a 10th of the price of actual ground noble kava and sometimes less than that. Profit margins are enormous (Hence many brands popping up)
  • It has high kavalactone percentages. Great selling point to people who don't know much about kava
  • It's easier to sell. Most people don't actually want to drink kava. The flavor is considered repellent.
  • It's very easy to package. Get some capsules, a plastic pill packer, and extract. Fill capsules on both sides, pour extract and close. Repeat.

 

The Cons 👎

  • Tudei sneaked in at times and origin is unknown (Consequence of not working directly with farm)
  • They use solvents to extract the kavalactones (More on this later)
  • Lack of transparency in chemotype (Not all kavalactones are desired. Tudei kava can have the same kavalactone percentage compared to a Noble blend, but undesirable chemotype)
  • Lack of essential antioxidant "glutathione" - kava has natural anti-oxidants, one being glutathione, which is a beneficial constitutent to helping your body process free radicals

Moral Decisions and the Vanuatu Extract That Never Existed

From a business standpoint, kava extracts make a whole lot of sense. We're supposed to do what we can to cut costs and increase profit. We've been running borderline break-even with very low margins while selling pre-batched bottled kava, with hopes to grow a company that is focused on helping others. Having said that, there were thoughts going through my head like;

"Not many people know about the differences and most won't read into the research articles"

"I can capitalize on the extract/tincture market and grow the business"

"The margin. The margin. The margin. IT'S SO CHEAP. I can support my family with margins like these!"

No. Wrong.

When I left my previous career, I vowed to never again work on anything that I knew would directly hurt or harm a human being  Ignorance is not bliss and I learned the hard way to always be fully in the know on what you're doing. Once I became more educated on the topic of kava extracts, It was obvious what the correct choice was, regardless of the financial gains that could come from it.

I looked into extracts, in depth. The more I dove into them though, the fuzzier things became. I couldn't find a single farm or manufacturer who would be completely transparent with the processes and would make me feel comfortable backing it with our brand. I couldn't find a single source who was willing to guarantee only noble roots in their extracts

More questions arose. During that time I was using my research experience (and university database access) to rigorously analyze the scientific research studies that have been done on kava. I found paper after paper pointing to various "complications" that can be derived from the use of extracts, a few pointing to the commercialization of extracts aligning with the emergence of liver hepatotoxicity cases, and a few pointing out the only liver hepatotoxicity cases that had legitimate data, were when patients were using kava extract pills, not traditionally brewed kava.

The World Health Organization even stated in their comprehensive review on kava, that they recommended only consume kava in the traditionally brewed form and to avoid kava extracts until more research is done

But before we get to that. Let's educate ourselves a bit. 👩‍🎓

Like you when I started drinking kava, I focused much more on percentages of kavalactones in the kava, I didn't realize I was only seeing a fraction of the whole story.

What's a Kava Chemotype 🧐

Kava can act as a natural benzodiazepine, calming one's mood and generating a sense of euphoria from within, without the common associated addictive withdrawls of its synthetic counterparts. However, unlike benzodiazepines, kava "appears not to adversely affect cognitive function, mental acuity, or coordination".

Good for kava, bad for the pharma market.

But this is all a generic interpretation of kava, because kava's effects differ dramatically depending on the percentange and specific chemotype of the blend.

"Kava chemotype" is a term that refers to the distinct order of kavalactone densities present in the kava. Kava comes in different kavalactone chemotypes depending on where and what variety is grown and/or blended. This is why we recommend to stop focusing primarily on kavalactone percentage, because it's generally more important to focus on the particular chemotype. There are 6 common kavalactones which are the major constituents to make up a particular strain of kavas chemotype, and the order in which these arrive create the unique synergistic effects that differ between varietals.

Like your own custom sundae at the local ice cream shop, you can customize the experience to your liking depending on the chemotype you pick.

The six major Kavalactones are ordered by the numbers as follows (High Performance Liquid Chromatography analysis is usually used to find chemotype)

  1. Desmethoxyyangonin - Potent MAOB Inhibitor
  2. Dihydrokavain - Sedative and Calming
  3. Yangonin - Lively, Creative, and Artsy
  4. Kavain - Happy and Euphoria Inducing
  5. Dihydromethysticin - Long Lasting Sedative
  6. Methysticin - Body Numbing and Sedative

👆 These are the actual numbers of the top 6 relevant kavalactones, and for every HPLC analysis this is universal (at least what I've seen so far). The effects stated above are our own interpretations and should not be used as the law

General structure of the kavalactones, without the R1-R2 -O-CH2-O- bridge and with all possible C=C double bonds shown - Wikipedia

Each of these kavalactones generates slightly different effects in the consumer, and the order they are in can give you an idea of the expected qualities and acute onset of each characteristic effect.

Example. Kavalactone chemotypes in the 42xxx range are known to exhibit a high headiness and anxiety releasing properties due to the much sought after "Kavain" kavalactone (#4), and followed up with a nice GABA-like calming enhanced experience from the Dihydrokavain kavalactone (#2).

And vice versa kavalactone chemotypes in the 24xxx range have will have a dihydrokavain effect over the headiness. Ie, the user may feel a more acute body experience over the experience of wellbeing.

The order of a particular kavalactone in the chemotype compared to another, will define roughly that it is either superior or inferior in presence to its companion. Take for example, a 24xxx means "2" Dihydrokavain will be in a higher percentage than "4" Kavain. So you can expect it to be Dihydrokavain heavy.

*WARNING*. 🤓 I nerd out on this stuff so it's not necessary to understand or learn this all

However, we can be even MORE vain and take it another step further. Because it is entirely possible to have two kava's with the same chemotypes, but drastically aggressive or flat levels of the chemotype distribution.

This is why kava is so interesting. It can change greatly from varietal to varietal even with the same chemotype. 🤯

Take again two kava's with 24xxxx chemotypes. One can have a relatively flat percentage of kavalactones across the board with a small hump around the front chemotype number, and the other can have a huge spike in the front chemotype number 70% Dihydrokavain, with 30% everything else. This is one of the ways how it is possible to sneak in a borderline tudei kava by mixing it in with a chemotype looking like a noble kava. It's about the distribution of the kavalactone peaks in the HPLC.

There's also a VERY fascinating potentiation effect observed when mixing marijuana (cannabis) and kava tea, which we went in detail about here

Anyways, in their analysis of the kava industry, the World Health Organization recommends us to only drink Noble kava varietals.

But.. Why?

What the heck is Noble kava anyway? An aristocratic kava? 👸🤴

Noble vs Tudei and Controversial Flavokawain B (FKB)

There are two rough categories for kava, Noble and Tudei. For a kava to be considered of Noble varietal, it will have to be grown for at least 5 years before harvesting and will usually have chemotype 24xxxx or 42xxxx, dihydrokavain and kavain heavy, or vice versa, with strong peaks in both.
 
Tudei Kava's are considered ignoble kava's. They are grown quickly, harvested quickly, and tend to have chemotypes with DHM in higher percentages compared to Noble. Chemotypes of 25xxx are quite common with tudei and they can have the same percent of kavalactones or even more than noble kava strains.
 
☝️This again, is why you do not judge everything based off kavalactone percent.
 
If that didn't click in your head, please read it a couple more times..
 
But of course this isn't the whole story, because why not drink Tudei?
 
Well, Tudei is known to give hangover-like symptoms, and very sedative effects familiar with kava. But they are also tend to have a much higher presence of Flavokawain B (FKB) and Flavokawain C (FKC).
 
Flavokawain B and Flavokawain C are a natural chalcones found in kava. Calcones are aromatic ketones, not the ones you're thinking of in terms of the diet, but rather a scientific classification for a simple organic compound with a carbon-oxygen double bond. There's also Flavokawain A, but that is usually found in the aerial portions of the plant, which is never supposed to be consumed. Since 2010, there have been several research trials on FKB and FKC, seeing how they influence cell in vitro growth. Most studies have pointed to the fact that these chalcones can be cytotoxic constituent.
 
In Noble Kava, FKB and FKC levels are extremely low, and through traditional brewing methods using water and filtering, the percentage is borderline non-existent
 
In Tudei Kava, the FKB and FKC levels are often 4x times higher than in Noble strains through traditional brewing methods.
 
But this is with traditional brewing methods. What happens when you use a kava extract-like brewing method?
 
The inorganic and organic non-traditional manufacturing extract methods have been shown to bring out FKB and FKC levels up to 168.5x times HIGHER than traditional methods with the same gram of Noble kava.
 
👆I wish I could send this single statement to all kava extract users out there. Read it yourself if you don't believe me ~> "Flavokawain B, the hepatotoxic constituent from kava root"
 
But this is not the whole story. because the real kicker is that extracts, while effective, are not known to pull out a VERY important consituent that resides in the kava root, glutathione, which is an essential antioxidant that plays a part in repair of liver tissues, and "..is important to provide protection against hepatotoxicity".
 
So kava has somehow evolved to have a natural combatant to reverse the possible destruction it can have on mammals. But extracts do not extract the essential glutathione that is possibly used to protect the liver from hepatotoxicity.
 

Educate. Educate. Educate.

Kava has been safely consumed traditionally for thousands of years in the South Pacific Islands and is considered to be the national drink of Fiji. It's an integral part of ritualistic ceremonies and everyday life. From hula ceremonies to business agreements, kava is there.
 
All I am saying is, respect tradition. There's a reason it exists. Be an intelligent human being. There are dangers in everything we consider common practice, just be safer by educating yourself.
 

For example, Alcohol, kava's obvious competitor, can cause hippocampal atrophy, the area involving memory and spatial navigation. You would think that is just for heavy drinking right? Nope. This measurable decline was with subjects who drank a little over 7 pints of beer per week. If you drink craft beer that's just 4 beers a week to cause brain damage (since the abv average is higher).

Or your standard "safe" pain reliever, ibuprofin, can burn your esophageal lining if you're not careful and don't drink enough water, or take it right before you sleep.

I'm not trying to be your mom, but I do care about people.

Point is, there are dangers in everything we do, just please be safer by educating yourself.

You have a moral responsibility to bring beauty into this world and make it a better place. Please take care of yourself. We (the people of the world) need you and the light you bring.

Our Solution. Keeping Traditions Alive ✊

In the end, we stuck to our values and beliefs and focused entirely on creating products only using traditionally practiced methods.

We trashed the route of kava extracts to invest in the process of creating a fully dehydrated version of pre-made traditionally brewed kava juice.

Each batch is made with love using the well-established traditional method of combining just warm filtered water and premium organic kava. The kava and water is meshed and mixed over time to generate the proper blend. Then the water from the final filtered kava juice is evaporated, to create a truly on-the-go experience. Ready to consume anytime, anywhere.

Our mission is still, to this day, to spread the love of kava by making it accessible to everyone. 🤗

And we are darn proud of it.

The Instant Connoisseur - Premium Vanuatan Kava

Quick Review - Six Reasons We Do Not Recommend Using Kava Extracts 👩‍🎓

  1. They don't state their varietal chemotypes and only flaunt percentages. Percentages are easy to flaunt but Chemotype is key and any reputable vendor will happily tell you the kava chemotype and source. This is important so you can ensure you're not getting Tudei kava, which is usually 25xxxx or 52xxxx, and can have the same overall percentage or more than certified Noble. You, being an educated individual, know chemotypes are key to the kava experience.
  2. Kava extract processes are efficient in pulling high percents of kavalactones, but also pull high amounts of cytotoxins. This refers to kava in pill, capsule, tincture, and concentrates. These are non-traditional extractions developed in a lab and have been shown to create VERY HIGH levels of cytotoxic chalcones known as "flavokavains" in the extract powder/liquid. These cytotoxic chalcones are usually non-existent in traditionally made kava. Rule of thumb is anything with very high kavalactone content that is not ground root, 15%-30% or more, is probably a non-traditional extract and should be used with caution. Remember the explanation of FKB and FKC?
  3. Kava extracts do not extract a possible counteracting agent available in kava. Glutathione is an essential constituent within kava that can help to protect the liver from hepatotoxicity and possibly couteract any cytotoxic situations from the above mentioned chalones
  4. Kava extracts were found to be a correlation with the well documented liver hepatotoxicity cases that lead to the kava liver scare. There's a reason the World Health Organization recommends to not use them.

Yes they are cheap. However, don't expect us to be supporting them anytime soon.

 

Conclusion

Kava is an amazing gift from the South Pacific islands. It continues to help hundreds of thousands of people with generalized anxiety disorder, fibromyalgia, substance addictions, and even people just looking to relax after a hard days work. But now that you know more, we recommend you make sure to consume from proper sources and consume kava traditionally

👩‍🎓 Congratulations, you're educated now. 👨‍🎓

Go back through the research articles, verify the information, and make your own conclusions moving forward. And if you are currently taking kava in pill/capsule/tincture or resin form, please conduct a careful analysis and ask yourself,

"Is it worth it?"

Our family drinks our kava. So for us, you know the answer.

At DrinkRoot we believe in the love of kava and making it accessible to everyone.

If this message vibes with you, share it with your friends and make sure to spread the love of kava ❤️

As always, from our family to yours, Mahalo! ❤️

-Kyle Shigekuni

Co-Founder DrinkRoot

 

*A quick message to kava brand owners: If you sell kava extracts, contact me kyle@drinkroot.com. I want to hear how you are dealing with this problem and I promise I will not publish anything about you unless you ask me to. Please let's only talk about solutions to this problem.

2.23.22 updates

  • found a few companies creating extracts here in the states so removed statements about most running through China. One a very respectible supplement manufacturer. We will still not work with extracts for other reasons.
  • learned about possible counter-balancing effects of glutathione found in aqueous solutions of kava which could be a reason there are no adverse cases of liver hepatotoxicity amongst islanders. Added points found
  • cleaned up writing. I still write like a child but I'm trying to improve. I apologize for making your eyes bleed

What People Are Saying

"I've been a Kava drinker for a few years. In the past I've always made my own, but Drinkroot is awesome! I was a little hesitant about how the quality would be, but this is some great quality kava. I travel a lot, for work and these individual packs are great to bring with me and easy to mix and make kava wherever I am at. "The quality is comparable to my favorite ground powder kava I have used to make my own."

Jason R.

" ..this product completely rocks. I love kava, but I'm not all that good at measuring out the correct dosage and 'brewing' it in the traditional manner. What I love about Drinkroot is the prepackaged and perfect measure ... easy to use, easy on the stomach, and, well, just an easy feeling afterwards. Good stuff and well worth the price."

Kathleen M.

"I’ve had some bad experiences with kava, but it could’ve have just been a couple one-off’s. A friend of mine recommended this brand so gave it a shot and I am sold. Clean and smooth onset, and just felt the stresses melt away."

Rob W.

"I almost gave up using kava after trying other brands with minimal success, so I kind of ordered this as a last ditch effort to keep kava in my life. Fast forward... I've been using this product for about 2 weeks and am thrilled with the results. It definitely helps with everything it says it does and more! "

James N.

"I ordered this product to find kava I could take with me on my travels. I loved the size of the packets, easy to tuck away into pockets in a small bag and easy to use. I just would add a packet to a water bottle and shake it up -extremely convenient, no matter where I was. It was a great product that worked well and gave me a nice relaxed felling of well-being. I'll get it again!"

Maureen C.

"I normally don't leave reviews but I'm impressed with the product. I have tried for a couple of days and it really works. I would suggest drinking it with an empty stomach so you can feel the real effect. I would say it last for 4 hours. Good quality."

Maxim T.

"one of the very few instant kava powders that seem to be actual noble kava - and a little does go along way-packets are very handy for on the go. Vendor is very courteous and prompt to respond."

Nikki S.

"This format really is fantastic for travel. The packets are innocuous, you're not bringing small ziplock bags of Waka through the TSA security check - the perfect solution to kava on the road, and for places where kava discretion is preferred. I'll be bringing this hiking for the end of a long hard day, and I'll be keeping it handy at my place of work."

Kalgari T.

"I've been a Kava drinker for a few years. In the past I've always made my own, but Drinkroot is awesome! I was a little hesitant about how the quality would be, but this is some great quality kava. I travel a lot, for work and these individual packs are great to bring with me and easy to mix and make kava wherever I am at. "The quality is comparable to my favorite ground powder kava I have used to make my own."

Jason R.

" ..this product completely rocks. I love kava, but I'm not all that good at measuring out the correct dosage and 'brewing' it in the traditional manner. What I love about Drinkroot is the prepackaged and perfect measure ... easy to use, easy on the stomach, and, well, just an easy feeling afterwards. Good stuff and well worth the price."

Kathleen M.

"I’ve had some bad experiences with kava, but it could’ve have just been a couple one-off’s.
A friend of mine recommended this brand so gave it a shot and I am sold.
Clean and smooth onset, and just felt the stresses melt away."

Rob W.

"I almost gave up using kava after trying other brands with minimal success, so I kind of ordered this as a last ditch effort to keep kava in my life. Fast forward... I've been using this product for about 2 weeks and am thrilled with the results. It definitely helps with everything it says it does and more! "

James N.

"I ordered this product to find kava I could take with me on my travels. I loved the size of the packets, easy to tuck away into pockets in a small bag and easy to use. I just would add a packet to a water bottle and shake it up -extremely convenient, no matter where I was. It was a great product that worked well and gave me a nice relaxed felling of well-being. I'll get it again!"

Maureen C.

"I normally don't leave reviews but I'm impressed with the product. I have tried for a couple of days and it really works. I would suggest drinking it with an empty stomach so you can feel the real effect.
I would say it last for 4 hours. Good quality."

Maxim T.

"one of the very few instant kava powders that seem to be actual noble kava
- and a little does go along way-packets are very handy for on the go.
vendor is very courteous and prompt to respond."

Nikki S.

"This format really is fantastic for travel. The packets are innocuous, you're not bringing small ziplock bags of Waka through the TSA security check - the perfect solution to kava on the road, and for places where kava discretion is preferred. I'll be bringing this hiking for the end of a long hard day, and I'll be keeping it handy at my place of work."

Kalgari T.

"I've been a Kava drinker for a few years. In the past I've always made my own, but Drinkroot is awesome! I was a little hesitant about how the quality would be,
but this is some great quality kava. I travel a lot, for work and these individual packs are great to bring with me and easy to mix and make kava wherever I am at.
The quality is comparable to my favorite ground powder kava I have used to make my own."

Jason R.

" ..this product completely rocks. I love kava, but I'm not all that good at measuring out the correct dosage and 'brewing' it in the traditional manner.
What I love about Drinkroot is the prepackaged and perfect measure ... easy to use, easy on the stomach, and, well, just an easy feeling afterwards.
Good stuff and well worth the price."

Kathleen M.

"I’ve had some bad experiences with kava, but it could’ve have just been a couple one-off’s.
A friend of mine recommended this brand so gave it a shot and I am sold.
Clean and smooth onset, and just felt the stresses melt away."

Rob W.

"I almost gave up using kava after trying other brands with minimal success, so I kind of ordered this as a last ditch effort to keep kava in my life.
Fast forward... I've been using this product for about 2 weeks and am thrilled with the results.
It definitely helps with everything it says it does and more! "

James N.

"I ordered this product to find kava I could take with me on my travels. I loved the size of the packets, easy to tuck away into pockets in a small bag and easy to use.
I just would add a packet to a water bottle and shake it up -extremely convenient, no matter where I was.
It was a great product that worked well and gave me a nice relaxed felling of well-being. I'll get it again!"

Maureen C.

"I normally don't leave reviews but I'm impressed with the product. I have tried for a couple of days and it really works.
I would suggest drinking it with an empty stomach so you can feel the real effect.
I would say it last for 4 hours. Good quality."

Maxim T.

"one of the very few instant kava powders that seem to be actual noble kava
- and a little does go along way-packets are very handy for on the go.
vendor is very courteous and prompt to respond."

Nikki S.

"This format really is fantastic for travel. The packets are innocuous, you're not bringing small ziplock bags of Waka through the TSA security check
- the perfect solution to kava on the road, and for places where kava discretion is preferred.
I'll be bringing this hiking for the end of a long hard day, and I'll be keeping it handy at my place of work."

Kalgari T.




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